Press Release Writing Intro

By Terreece M. Clarke

Press releases make up a nice little chunk of web writing and is good steady work if you are interested. Why? Because on any given day there are thousands of companies trying to catch the eye of the media and potential customers. Many of these companies don’t have a public relations team. Many freelance writers are curious about press releases, but are intimidated by the process. There’s nothing to fear, content is content, it is the approach that is different.

What’s the point?

Press releases are designed to get the media interested enough in a company, product or event, etc. to write an article about it. Press releases should also target clients of the company, because while the release may not crack the media for coverage, it may appeal to an alternative audience.

For example, a new business writing seminar may not attract a lot of media interest, but local writer’s groups, chambers of commerce and small business organizations are potential clients that the company can reach through a release. The key to any press release is the information to be released has to be newsworthy, like a product launch, business anniversary, mega sale, star studded event or research breakthrough. Now for the mechanics of a press release:

Head it up

As with any article, story or blog, the headline is your best opportunity to bring in the target audience so write a good one, but a short one. Any other info can be put into a sub-heading. A quick Google search produced these great headlines:

Healthy Halloween Habits to Build Bones, Bodies and Brains

LA Fashion Week 2008: Sjobeck Surprises Fashion World With an Extravagant Spring ’09 Collection and Fashion Show

Eat’n Park Offers Free Coffee to Voters on Election Day

Give me body

The body of the release begins with a straight lead (lede) – the who, what, where, why and how. Avoid cutesy stuff and sales pitches. The rest of the release should incorporate some really great pull quotes, more detailed information about the newsworthy item and contact information. A release should be interesting, but avoid flourishes. This is part of what separates a release from a sales letter.

Press releases have a particular format: headline, dateline, lead (lede), body, boilerplate (basic company info), close and contact info:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:
Name
Company Name
Phone Number
FAX Number
Email
Website

Terrific Title Blah, Blah, Blah Announces Blah, Blah

Insert possible longer headline here

City, State – Date -Lede with the who, what, where, why, how; the “So what?” factor.

Second paragraph, elaborate on the information from the lede. Use short paragraphs and only great – not good, not just okay – quotes. Remember no hype or hard selling, it’s just the facts ma’am, told in an interesting way to highlight the newsworthy item.

Company info paragraph – who is Greater Smurf Eradication Inc.? The leading Smurfing detection agency in the tri-state area with 10 year Smurfing veteran A.Z. Rael…

The last paragraph should give an action item, i.e. for more information call whomever or tickets are available at the web site, etc.

### (this symbol placed at the end of the release indicates the end of the release)

That’s it. The basic press release – see not so scary huh? The basic format of a release will probably always stay the same, but releases are going colorful with companies adding photos, video, sound bytes, additional attachments, etc. All the latest whizbangs and whatnots are cool, (did I just age myself 100 years?) but nothing replaces well-written copy and respect for standard formatting.

So any of you adverturous FWJ writers thinking about sticking a toe into the PR world?

Comments

  1. Yes, I’d LOVE to try my hand at PRs….However, getting that first opportuntiy is a diff story! I’ve study PR format & how to best write them but haven’t been successful in securing that first opportunity…..Any advice?
    Thanks!

  2. Terreece – perfect timing! My husband has just been asked to write the press releases for a horror convention he helps with and he has no experience writing them. This will be a huge help.

  3. You FWJ writers seriously need to get out of my brain. Just the other day, I was contmeplating writing a random comment with a question about press releases in one of the daily job lead postings. But here you’ve given us an entire topic devoted to them!

    I’ve written several press releases for events that the nonprofits I’ve worked for have hosted. My question: is this sufficient experience to go after some of the for-profit PR gigs?

    My gut says: hells yeah….but I have this weird fear of the for-profit world since I’ve only ever worked in education and social justice.

  4. It’s also important that the releases have real value to the other side of the desk. I see so many press releases that seem nothing like busy work, are poorly written and seem to be penned by someone just out of a poor (education, not socio-economic) high school.

  5. I’ve been thinking about press releases a lot in recent months, but never made the effort to get all the facts, so this was the perfect post for me! Can writers actually make an income writing these? Or are they a nice supplement? Thanks, Terreece!

  6. Thanks, Terrece. I’ve written press releases before, but it’s been a while, and it’s always good to have a sensible, straightforward guide handy for a refresher. This one goes in the keep file.

  7. The format isn’t scary. The idea that my headline might suck is, however. My fear is writing a press release that doesn’t deliver. Since I would be doing them for clients, you can see why this is a concern. ;)

  8. I just wrote my first press release the other day. The editor I’m working for (this is a small press) liked it, so I guess it was good! ;) I’m to write more, and will be contacting other companies as well. Thanks for the guideline!

  9. Thank you Terreece! I’ve never written a press release, but it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about trying.

  10. Fiona & Melissa – We read minds here :) When you’re hired Deb gives you a username, password and mind reading kit. It is quite helpful! LOL

    Good call Phil, I get clients who want to do a release with no real news. It’s Tuesday, let’s send out a release, so I try to work with them to get them to see what’s news and what isn’t I think a lot of the poor writing comes from people doing it themselves. Kind of like cutting your own hair – a trim (email) go for it, a layered look or bangs (a press release or article) go to a professional!

    Misty – A solid living solely from releases, probably, but most writers do them in conjunction with other writing i.e. brochures, web content etc.

    Brandon – You’ve got my smile for the day :) I appreciate the save!

    Kathleen – I understand your concern, but you know, it’s like any other writing project. Before you get going on writing a blog you look at other blogs, good ones to see what makes them successful and you get better as you go. No different than delivering an article to an editor. Identify your audience, hook the audience…hey wait, I’m giving away another post!

    You’re welcome Anali!

  11. A nice post, Terreece.
    @ Misty – A good chunk of my work involves writing press releases. Here’s how I get clients (I’m sure it is applicable to different types of industries):

    1)My readers – I write for B2B publlications, and so my readers are also my potential clients. So when we meet at events i make it clear that I’m a freelance writer and I’d be happy to do PR writing for them. Usually the tech engineers are happy to chat with someone who is interested in what they do, and can explain it in simple English.

    2) PR firms – I’m on the list of PR agencies that specialise with technology clients for my journalistic-type writing. I also make sure I meet the PR people at events that I attend/cover.

    3)Referrals – I belong to a network of local technology journalists/writers/pr network. Facebook and LinkedIn are very useful tools for me to keep in touch with them and to keep up with what they are doing.

    4) From other writers and editors – Former journalists and editors cross over to the “dark side” and become PR people:-)

  12. At last, my question answered – where do I find clients! I have done a few press releases and enjoyed the work for the ones that I did. I have often wondered how to expand on this area of work and Damaria answered my questions. Thanks!

  13. Terreece – this is great, thanks.
    I noticed you are a parenting examiner at Examiner.com. I had seen that site advertised before and wondered if you might share your experience.
    Thanks!
    Lela

  14. A possibly stupid question: Are the writers generally responsible for sending the press release out to the media, or do they just write the text and let the client do the actual releasing? I interned in my college’s PR department and wrote my fair share of press releases, so I’m familiar with the actual writing of them, but then when I was finished I just gave it to my boss and she took it from there. I’ve hesitated applying for press release gigs because I’m not sure if finding places to send the press release to is normally part of the deal, and if it is I’d be worried about not doing a very good job for any client that isn’t local.

  15. @Melissa – you bet you have enough experience! If your releases have gotten attention (i.e., stories published) you have evidence to show that your releases get results.

    @Terreece – you did a great job with this! I spent years on the receiving end of press releases, and your tips are perfect.

    @Sonya – if the gig includes sending the releases out, it should say so. Some organizations maintain their own media list but just don’t have a writer. If the gig includes creating a media list, that’s a whole ‘nother skill set that not all writers have.

  16. Great post! I love your summary. :)

  17. Thanks, Terreece. And Damaria, a huge thanks to you for sharing your trade secrets. ;)

  18. Any suggestions on places to find telecommuting gigs writing press releases?

    I’ve got a years experience of writing press releases local non-profits, with a proven track record of strong placement in regional print outlets — but are there any freelance PR sites where I can consistently drum up clients out of the area?

    I haven’t seen many of these gigs posted.

    Thanks
    Dave

    PS. Cheers

  19. Thank you Hazel!

  20. Christa – your baby is too cute!!! Congrats on the gig!

    Thanks Damaria!

    Chris – see everyone’s got something to give here at FWJ!

    Lela – I’ve been an examiner since August, but just recently things are starting to really move, so I’ll hold off expounding on it until I have some real info to give. I do have to say our new editor Colin Bane is terrific and has really helped to push our parenting channel to new levels. On a really great note, I got a huge boost yesterday when the New York Times blog Motherlode picked up my Halloween post from the examiner “Sexy kid Halloween costumes spook parents” and sent traffic through the roof!

    Thanks Hazel, Misty, Hana!

    Sonya Hazel’s correct, it depends on the company. The ones that send it out on their own are my fav. :)

    Dave – I get a feed read that I’ve set for press release posts from various job sites. I know Deb just posted one yesterday, but I think she’s been swamped and I will have another post soon on where to find release work, you’re just a little bit ahead of me :) At least I know someone’s interested!

  21. Christine says:

    Damaria’s suggestions are great, but what about someone who has never written press releases before? I have lots of experience with gathering and organizing facts into pieces for publication so I know I could do it, but I’ve never worked in the press release format before. How would I go about getting into the business?

    Thanks!

  22. This is a great template, Terreece. Thank you! I haven’t tried any PR’s but now I feel like I could stick my neck out and do one

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