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The 4 Fundamentals of Writing a Good Press Release

I can’t tell you how many bad press releases I’ve read in the 30 years I’ve been doing PR. From typos to issuing marketing collateral as a release, it never ceases to amaze me how many companies don’t get what it takes to issue a solid release. Writing a press release worth reading is really very simple.  Just follow these 4 Fundamentals!

Fundamental #1 – Formatting. Press releases have a traditional format. Journalists and news organizations are used to reading news releases in a certain way, if you break from the basics, they might ignore your announcement all together. The basic format is pretty simple.

Carter West Press Release format

  1. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE should always be in all caps, bold and in the upper Left corner of the release.
  2. Contact information for the agency and/or the company should be directly below.
  3. Your headline comes next, in bold, usually 12 to 14 point font. Speaking of fonts, use a Sans Serif font like Arial or Helvetica for greater readability
  4. Next is your dateline. This is where the release is being issued. It is usually the location of company headquarters, but if they are launching a product at an industry event or a special location, then you would put that city, state and the date of the release.
  5. After the dateline the company name, followed by a brief description of the company’s business and then the purpose of the announcement.
  6. Then you are off to the races and can write the rest of your content, elaborating on the announcement, benefits, partnership details, release dates, etc.
  7. Finish off your release with the company’s Boilerplate – a concise bio of the company, what they do, where they are located and how to get in contact with them.

Fundamental #2 – Length.  It’s hard to boil down a new product announcement, but it is essential to keep your releases as short as possible to keep your readers engaged. There is nothing wrong with a one-page release if you can say all you need to say within a page. Remember, quality over quantity. The purpose of a press release is to get the word out to the industry, press and customers. You are trying to tell a story, but it’s not a novel, keep it short and sweet. Your word count should be no more than 1200 words, but try to keep it around 750 if possible. Look at Twitter for example, in only 140 characters you can deliver an effective message. It is possible to get your point across succinctly!

Fundamental #3 – Content.  The basic content of any press release:

  1.  PR and marketing are too different styles – write the release as a press release and not a marketing piece that is trying to sell something. Make it newsworthy
  2. Details about the announcement. Include the who, what, when, where and why of the subject of your announcement.
  3. Quotes. Usually attributed to the CEO, President or other executive at the company, quotes are meant to shed additional light on why the company believes in this product or service and how it is going to be a positive thing for the company and/or the company’s customers. Some releases contain additional quotes from a key customer or a strategic partner. Keep quotes interesting and avoid too many superlatives if possible. No one wants to hear “We are so excited for the launch of this amazing product that will change the course of our industry”.  A couple of journalists have lamented to me that they read a press release and were disappointed to find nothing useful in the content. They said that if only the company had a decent quote, they could have used that quote in an article, what a wasted opportunity!  Journalists rarely find quotes they can use directly from a press release. Sadly, most are just filler rather than compelling content.
  4. Contact information, availability and pricing. Not all releases will have these details, and you may choose to not announce pricing, but customers, journalists and the industry will need to know availability and how they should contact you, so don’t forget to include in your release!

Fundamental #4 – Keywords.  Press releases are a highly effective way to increase organic search rankings. Be sure to include one or two keywords throughout your press release. A word of caution, however, be sure to include them when it make sense. Don’t pepper the release with your buzz word until it no longer makes sense to the industry or journalists. Also try as much as possible to avoid jargon and acronyms.

That’s it! Those are the basics. It’s not difficult if you develop a template, follow it, and write something YOU would want to read. Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist. They get hundreds of press releases every day. Think to yourself while writing, “Would this catch my attention?”, if you can answer, “yes” then you are on the right track. Good luck!

Carter West PR


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Comment by Shellie Pierce on May 8, 2012 at 9:38am

With all the new media swirling through our heads and open on 80 windows on our computers, it's nice to be reminded of the basics!

Comment by Leonard Buchholz on May 8, 2012 at 9:27am

Thank you Sara. This will come in handy shortly!

Comment by sara callahan on May 8, 2012 at 9:24am

Thanks so much Ralph. I thought it would be a useful best practices piece.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on May 8, 2012 at 9:06am

Sara, thank you for a really great tutorial on how to write press releases... I have read many articles about the subject, some of them rather lengthy in nature, but yours is one of the most practical, easy to understand and clearly constructed guides in a compact piece that I have ever seen.

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