Press releases are an essential element of public relations (PR) for any business. Because they require writing and don’t always get a response, some small business owners find them intimidating. But with practice and the right formula, anyone can write a press release that gets results.
Lessons from the first-ever press release
A former journalist named Ivy Lee wrote the first-ever press release on behalf of his client, the Pennsylvania Railroad, in response to a 1906 train wreck. To ensure that the media had accurate information about the accident, he wrote a statement, and the New York Times ran his release verbatim.
The very first press release teaches 2 key things about what they should always provide:
- Timely background on a compelling story
- Impartial, factual details that allow for honest coverage
What the press release is for
Press releases exist to share news about your business. Therefore, what you’re sharing should be newsworthy—meaning that there’s a reason you’re sending it at the moment you send it.
First, draft a short piece—just a few concise paragraphs will work—that provides essential background information about your business. You’ll build on this information as your business has news like a new hire, product, service, or merger. Be mindful of where you hope to find media coverage as you write these releases. A small local newspaper may be interested in your new teammate, but bigger publications will require bigger news.
Your press release should be written for a specific journalist or outlet. Let them know if you’re interested in being featured in coverage about a wider industry trend, a feature article, or as an expert with a timely opinion. Be sure to indicate that you know who you’re writing to and why it’s a fit for their particular publication.
How to write a press release
Your press release has a better chance of getting a response if you know what should go into it. By following this format, you can write a release that tells your story and helps you get press coverage.
- Write a clear, captivating headline. Your headline should convey the point of your story and capture your recipient’s attention. Think about the headlines of articles in the publication you’re writing to and try to craft something similar.
- Include the date and your location. Let the recipient know the date the press release is being issued (or the date of the event you’re notifying them about), as well as where your business is located. This helps establish its relevance.
Quickly tell them what they need to know. The opening paragraph should contain the five Ws, telling a journalist all the most important facts:
- Who is this story about?
- What is happening?
- Where is it going on?
- When will it occur?
- Why is it important?
- Then give more context. In the paragraphs that follow your introduction, include other details of the story in descending order of importance. Keep it simple and straightforward. Write about what you do and why you do it, but don’t write an exhaustive history of all that you’ve ever done.
- Be honest and unbiased. Journalists won’t be fooled or amused by a press release claiming that your product or service is the “best.” Unless you’re notifying them about an award that entitles you to the claim, watch out for hyperbolic language. When in doubt, just state the facts.
- Eliminate industry jargon. Make sure your press release isn’t laden with industry jargon that doesn’t mean anything to the average person. To check, ask a friend who isn’t in your field to read your release. If they find it boring or complicated, edit for clarity and conciseness.
- Include relevant, colorful quotes. To add color to your press releases, include bold, purposeful quotes. If you are the business owner, it could be something in your own words, or you could include a quote from an employee who’s important to this specific news item. It can be personal and opinionated, but make sure you attribute the quote.
- Sign off appropriately. This part of the release differs depending on where you are in the world, but you should sign off in a way that indicates the press release is over. Some common options include ###, XXX, or -30-. Do a little research about what’s industry standard for the country where you’re sending the release.
- Tell them who to contact (and how). At the bottom of the press release, be sure to include contact information for the person you’d like them to follow up with, whether that’s you or someone else in your business. Include a name, email address, and phone number. Also include URLs and social media handles for your business.
- Summarize your business in a boilerplate. At the bottom of your press releases, include a short business biography, the equivalent of what you’d write on your website’s “About” page. This is called boilerplate text; it’s the information that rarely changes, but you should always make sure it’s still true before you send a new release.
Before you send your press release
Be sure to send press releases only when you have a newsworthy announcement, and keep it succinct. Most people won’t open attachments from strangers, so limit your release to a length and format that can be sent in the body of an email. Research which journalists cover the story you want placed and write a short, tailored note to that person.
With practice, you’ll perfect your press release writing skills and build relationships with journalists who want those stories. In turn, you’ll get more exposure that helps your business grow.
Written by Lucy Werner for Mailchimp. Lucy is an expert in PR for small businesses.