Some writers groan a bit when faced with
a press release to write. Is this what I got
into copywriting for? Shouldn’t I be away
on a Tahitian island doing a photoshoot for
some ad what I wrote? Welcome to the
real world! Press releases are your bread
and butter and, though they are certainly
not exciting, they demand certain writing
skills and, when done well, should give
you something to be proud of.
There’s something very refreshing
about producing something that’s
pure and clear with no flimflam or
emotional stuff going on.
So then, how do you go about
gargling, rinsing and spitting out a
cracking press release?
1. THE ANGLE
The ‘angle’ is vital. Don’t just retell what the client told
you. Turn the brief into a kind of story, give it a
“narrative” in jargon speak. So, for instance, don’t
settle for just saying that XYZ product has been
launched but find something unique about what this
means. Is it the biggest, best, longest? Was there
something interesting about how the product was
conceived or produced? How will life be different now
it’s out there? There’s always a story there somewhere
if you dig deep enough.
Your average journalist will receive tens or hundreds of
press releases each day, most of which will be deadly
boring. Yours needs to be different. Give the journalist
a reason to read further. Imagine what will turn him or
her on, professionally speaking. You may even need to
write different versions with different angles for
2. THE HEADLINE
Some people say that you should write the
headline after writing the body of the press
release. They think that it’s easier to
summarize the content once you know what
that content is. Personally, I’d write it at the
beginning because it will help you define
the angle I’ve just been banging on about. It
helps you focus because, as you’re writing
you can constantly ask yourself: “Is what I’m
writing supporting what the headline says?”.
If it isn’t, delete it.
Bear in mind though that yours is unlikely to be the headline that ultimately appears in print so don’t bother
trying to get creative with loads of clever puns. Think mouthwash: how can you say something interesting as
crisply and cleanly as possible?
And let’s not overlook the basics. Type your headline using bold type and a slightly larger font size than for the
body copy. Don’t do it in ‘all caps’ because the journalist who reads it won’t know if certain words should start
with a capital letter when they come to edit it.
3. THE BODY COPY
In the newspaper world, if an article doesn’t fit the
space available they’ll edit it from the bottom up. So
whatever you do don’t put all the juicy stuff down
there. In fact you should get the whole story told in
the first paragraph. That makes it safe from the
editor’s red pen but it also takes into account the fact
that the average reader is only going to skim
stories, not read them in full.
The classic formula is to cover all the Ws in that first
para: Who? What? When? Where? Why? (And maybe
How? if it’s relevant.) Incidentally this old fashioned
approach probably also helps with all that new-
fangled SEO shenanigans although the rules of how to
get a good ranking seem to change every day.
It’s amazing what a difference it makes to
put in a quote from someone. It really lifts
even the most boring topic by giving it a
human face, making it all a bit more real.
Try and get a quote from the client or –
better still – from someone at the
coalface who was actually involved in a
product’s development or who was
closely linked to whatever story you’re
telling. You can even make up a quote as
long as you get permission from the
person you’re going to attribute it to.
As for the basics, keep it concise and on message. One or two pages max. About 250 words should do the trick.
Use short sentences and short paragraphs too. It’s also good form to begin the body copy with the date when it’s
being written (or sent out) and the city where the story is coming from. End it all with three #s right at the bottom.
4. THE CALL TO ACTION
This is important. Generally the whole point of a press release is to get a journo
to call and find out more about the story. So after the three #’s at the base of
your press release you must have a call to action, something like:
If you’d like to find out more
information about this topic or to
schedule an interview with <person
issuing release>, please call <pr
5. OTHER PRACTICAL STUFF
Remember that you’re writing a press release not an article. If a journal
is pushed for time or it just needs fillers it may stick your first paragraph
more or less as is in their ‘News in brief’ section. But generally you’re
just giving another writer the bare bones of the story for them to fatten
up in whatever way they see fit. So keep it simple and factual.
Most press releases include a ‘boilerplate’ at the
end. This is a paragraph of copy all about the
company involved. It’s a kind of mini biography to
wouldn’t be suitable for putting in the press
release itself because it doesn’t directly support
the headline but it could still be useful to know.)e
Last but not least, don’t bother with any fancy
formatting in your document. Graphics tend to
just get in the way too. It’s sometimes a good
idea to let a journal know that photos or graphics
are available but don’t let them clutter your
lovely, simple and clean copy.
And that is how to write a press release.