My blog posts thus far have focused on fiction writing and editing. For a change of pace, let’s talk about business writing. Working in investor relations at a large company, I had firsthand experience with press releases, especially those in which we announced our quarterly financial results. Recently I’ve done some further thinking (and research) on how best to structure press releases, and I’ve compiled a set of tips which I hope you find helpful.
1. Be newsworthy
To create a newsworthy press release, you need to put yourself in the target audience’s shoes. Most good press releases are issued when something happens at a company or an organization—a product launch is a great example. Regardless of whether an event has occurred, you should ask yourself if your target audience will care. You may need to find a unique angle that will matter to the reader.
2. Grab attention with an engaging, accurate headline
Be direct in the headline. Although you may be tempted, don’t try to be overly clever—it might just obscure your message. If a potential reader doesn’t immediately understand what your press release is about, he or she will just ignore it.
3. Get to the point
First sentence. Your reader’s time is valuable, so your first sentence is critical. In addition to your headline grabbing the reader, your first sentence needs to keep their attention and make them want to read the rest of the story. Janet Murray suggests that your first sentence should “read like the opening of a news story. . . .If your story was going to be featured on the radio today, how would the presenter introduce it?” She gives an example of a presenter’s introduction that could be adapted into a good first sentence for a press release: “And coming up next . . . why a local café owner is giving a free coffee this weekend to anyone born in July.”
Be brief throughout. Getting to the point is important for the entire press release. State the purpose of the press release, explain the meaning behind the purpose and provide some interesting detail, then wrap it up. There’s no uniform prescription for the best length of a press release, but here are a few opinions (keep in mind that these don’t count the material you can and should include at the end of the press release, such as contact information and company summary). And make sure you provide a link to your website for additional information!
250 to 475 words, according to Chris Well
300 to 400 words in three or four short paragraphs and a couple quotes, according to Janet Murray
One 8 ½-by-11 page with short paragraphs and lots of white space, according to Michael Long, who stresses that the point of a press release is to act as bait, luring the reader to find out more
One page (best) or two pages (maximum), according to Zach Cutler
4. Tell a story
There’s a reason journalists are trained in the “who, what, where, when, why, how” approach—it works. Readers will pay more attention to a narrative than to a recitation of a bunch of facts.
5. Write clearly
Readers shouldn’t have to work to understand your point. Avoid jargon, break your content into easily understood chunks, and use headings, bullet points, or lists to make reading easier on the eyes.
6. Include quotes
Use quotes to provide insight but preferably not to state facts. This is where you can inject a human element, so the quotes must sound like a real person said them.
7. Use numbers
Hard numbers used as support can make your story more compelling.
8. Edit and proofread
Check, check, and check again—as many times as necessary. A single mistake can damage your credibility.
Chris Well, “How to Write a Press Release: 8 Tips for Authors,” DIY Author (blog), accessed November 21, 2014.
Janet Murray, “How to Write an Effective Press Release,” Guardian Small Business Network, November 19, 2014.
Russell Working, “7 Tips for Writing a Killer Press Release,” PR Daily, March 19, 2014.
Zach Cutler, “8 Tips for Writing a Great Press Release,” Huffington Post (blog), January 13, 2013.