A press release is an official statement from a business regarding a new development. The press release is usually disseminated through several channels, traditionally news media (the “press”).
While the term “press release” sounds very official and a little intimidating, they’re really quite mundane. You likely consume press releases nearly every day without realizing it.
They’re an important part of business development, as well as a comprehensive marketing strategy, so here’s a guide on how to build an effective press release for any industry.
The Goal of a Press Release
There are three primary reasons to do a press release:
- Generate buzz about your company or product. While press releases themselves rarely get much traction on social media, the message they communicate might be shared anyway.
- Create engagement or conversions. A press release is, in many cases, pre-marketing marketing. It alerts potential customers that you have a solution for them. It also begins the lead process.
- Make impressions and improve branding. Simply getting the company name out there and in front of people is a success. Digital marketers pay good money for impressions, even if they don’t immediately convert to paying customers. The long-term benefits of brand awareness shouldn’t be underestimated.
A press release is more than just an announcement. It’s a marketing tool. That’s why it’s important to treat it as a targeted advertising effort, not just throw a few sentences and a picture up on social media.
When to Use a Press Release
There’s a fine line between spamming the audience and delivering useful, timely announcements. Only create a press release for newsworthy events such as the following:
- Significant Business Change – Opening a new location? A seasonal sale? Different store hours, or unexpected closing? If it directly affects regular clients of the business, it’s worth considering for a press release. Don’t annoy people with unimportant details, though. A press release isn’t necessary for an event as routine as repainting parking lot lines.
- New Service or Product – One of the most common reasons for a press release is when a business expands its offerings in a significant way. For example, a web design company announcing it will also offer content management services.
- Change in Leadership – Nobody needs to hear about the new intern that just got brought on (unless your audience is very small), but bigger changes are pertinent to people outside the company. A new president or CEO signals impending changes, and that’s worth notifying people about.
- Awards or Recognition – Humility is a virtue, certainly, but sharing accomplishments in a press release is a common practice. Having the business associated with prestige, such as a film editing company working on a winner of the Sundance Film Festival, is valuable. Being featured in a national publication is also an impressive feat to share.
- Events – Upcoming events, an annual fundraiser or a gala, are prime subjects for a press release. Not only does it help advertise the event, but the company being recognizes as an active member of the community is appreciated by clients.
- Partnerships – Announcing that your business is teaming up with another business lends some of their authority to your own business. For example, it sounds really impressive that Company XYZ is partnering with Microsoft to bring internet to Sudan. On that note – always announce partnerships with charities. It breeds goodwill.
The Components of a Good Press Release
Writing up any document for the public eye can be a daunting endeavor, but don’t let a simple press release be a stressor.
A good press release is short and sweet. Rarely should it ever exceed 500 words. If the content can’t be explained in less than a few minutes, it’s probably not a good subject for a press release.
Over the next section, we’re going to break down a press release into its constituent parts. We will build a press release for an imaginary online course and tutoring company called “Tutor10” which has just released a new language course.
Find the entire example press release at the bottom of the page.
1. Headline and Subtitle
The headline, or title, of a press release is without a doubt the most important part. There are two things that make a good headline:
- It needs to have a hook. The headline needs to grab the attention of the audience and actually keep it. This is the part people scan first – it’s the deciding factor on whether or not they’ll stick around to read the rest of the piece.
- Not only does it have to be interesting enough to warrant further attention, it also has to be representative of the content. Simply saying a shocking phrase isn’t enough, it has to be relevant. Otherwise, when the reader realizes they were duped by the headline, they’ll immediately leave and be peeved at your company.
- ¡Hola Amigos! Tutor10 Releases New Spanish Course
In this example, the use of familiar (but foreign) language is enough to catch people’s attention. Most people know what “Hola amigos” means, but they’ll look twice because it’s unusual. The second part of the headline identifies the company and the subject very succinctly.
For subtitles, or subheaders, the goal is to expand a little bit on the subject but still be concise. Think of it as a secondary hook.
- Learning the Spanish Language has never been easier thanks to this revolutionary technique.
A Spanish course isn’t very exciting in and of itself, but what’s this about a ‘revolutionary technique’? That’ll pique the interest of anyone interested in language (which is probably most every Tutor10 would send this press release too).
2. Lead Paragraph
The lead paragraph is distinct from every other paragraph in a press release for the sole reason that the aim is still to convince people to read.
People are picky, after all, and don’t like to waste time on irrelevancies. Especially where business is involved – many people just assume all correspondence from business is for the purpose of taking their money.
They’re not totally wrong, either. That’s why the lead paragraph explains how it is relevant to the reader, usually by offering supporting information.
Example lead paragraph:
- Tutor10, in collaboration with the preeminent Spanish linguist Emilio Velasquez, has just released a brand-new course series on Spanish Language. The course utilizes word-image association techniques and gamification to increase memory retention and to make learning habitual. The course is available as of October 1st, 2018 on the Tutor10 website (tutor10.com).
In the above example, we get the 5 W’s:
- Who is involved? Which companies or people?
- What is the story about? What’s the subject of this press release?
- When is it happening? When did it happen?
- Where is this information relevant? My town? Nationally? Globally? Where can I go to learn more?
- Why does this matter?
Pretty basic, but it’s a good start. Other things to consider when crafting your lead paragraph:
- Don’t get bogged down in details. Those will be expounded on in the body paragraphs.
- Short, concise statements are best; limit it to 3 or 4 sentences.
3. Body Paragraphs
The meat and potatoes of a press release. There shouldn’t really be any new information in the body, just supporting info and fleshed out ideas.
By this step in the process, there are probably about 100 words in the press release already. Here is where the remaining 300-400 are filled out. Don’t ramble, though – as soon as there is nothing relevant to say, stop. It’s not a college essay where you have to hit a word count.
Example body paragraphs:
- “Applying principles from the game industry to learning has exciting possibilities. Forming positive, productive habits by encouraging competition and self-improvement is hugely transformative for the education field.” – Emilio Velasquez
- Word-image association is not a new concept for language tutors. It’s especially useful when learning through a software program instead of in a face-to-face lesson. Companies such as Rosetta Stone have used word-image association to great effect. It has a limited effectiveness in audiences that lack self-discipline or attentiveness, however. Children make up the bulk of pupils and can rarely stay engaged long enough to effectively learn. ADHD-affected individuals also sometimes find difficulty staying on task.
The above is just the first part of the Tutor10 press release body paragraph, but it illustrates the important concepts.
The ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the subject are expanded with brief, interesting information. Since this press release is about a new service, it touches on customer pain points and the proposed solution.
Quotes can be utilized in the body to lend authority. People will assume that the person quoted is an expert in a relevant field. That doesn’t mean the quote can be bland, however. Inane quotes are more damaging then helpful.
Quote content shouldn’t be too long or too jargon heavy. Unlike the rest of a press release, however, they can be opinionated.
Tips for writing effective press release body paragraphs:
- Stay objective. The press release should read as if it were published by a source other than the company it’s about. It should still cast the company in a positive light, however.
- In that vein, use third person – not we, us, I, etc. It maintains the illusion of impartiality and lends a formal air.
- Keep it simple. Don’t use industry jargon, or if you have to, explain it succinctly. The audience probably won’t be experts, so don’t expect them to be.
- Ask yourself: “What questions will people have after they read the lead paragraph?” Write them all down and answer those questions in the body paragraphs.
- Proofread. Better yet, let other people proofread after you’ve used a free grammar checker. A press release, or any official correspondence, with a typo is just embarrassing.
4. Boilerplate Copy
Boilerplate copy is a standard, reusable chunk of copy that’s shared across most advertising efforts, newsletters, reports, proposals, etc.
Good boilerplate copy will have 4 components:
- Name of the company.
- A short blurb about their history or notable achievements.
- Why or how the company positively influences people/the world.
- A “Learn More” link – their website, social media, etc.
Boilerplate copy is not interesting or engaging. It’s not really supposed to be. The reason it is included is because it’s free branding. By the time a reader comes across the boilerplate copy, they’ve already settled in for a read and they’re gonna read that too.
Example boilerplate copy:
- Tutor10 is an online course and tutoring company founded by former US Secretary of Education George Brown. By combining the expertise of tenured educators with top-notch application developers, Tutor10 is making learning easy, fun, and accessible. Find new horizons and improve yourself by visiting Tutor10.com.
The first thing this boilerplate does is tell you who and what Tutor10 is, then it quickly follows up by name dropping its famous and powerful cofounder. A short mission statement that resonates with the audience, then a snappy Call To Action at end.
Don’t draw out boilerplate copy (or any part of a press release).
A press release generally follows a specific formula. Adhering to those guidelines helps smooth wrinkles out of the process of pitching or distributing the press release to news agencies or syndicates.
As an added bonus, using the press release template will help bots scraping for PR news to pick up on the press release.
The end consumer of a press release, usually a customer or client, will normally only see what’s between the headline and boilerplate copy. The intermediaries – periodicals, news sites, etc. – will want the rest of this information. It helps inform the distribution process (or whether they decide to distribute at all).
Before the Headline
Much like an essay, there are a few formalities to cross off before you get to the writing.
Release Date: When can the media company drop the press release? Either a specific date and time or the phrase “For Immediate Release”. Note that many campaigns are more effective if releases are coordinated, rather than pushed out of the pipeline whenever.
Contact Information: For the person who wrote the press release OR the person that will field inquiries related to it. Since this won’t make it into the final release, it’s mostly for the benefit of media companies who need to confirm details. Include Name (maybe Job Title), Phone, and Email. Fax isn’t necessary (or relevant for the last decade).
(Optional) Logo: A letterhead or logo banner across the top is a nice touch, but not worth going out of the way for.
After the Boilerplate Copy
Wrap up your press release with these couple niceties.
End Notation: Any sort of divider to indicate the end of the message. Many people just use “###” centered in the middle of the page.
Final Words: Theoretically, anything could go here. Realistically, most just reiterate their contact info and open themselves to questions or comments.
The content after the boilerplate copy (end notation and final words) may or may not be distributed in the actual release of the press release. Maintain the professional tone and wording all the way through the end.
What Format to Distribute Press Releases In
Odds are that, up to this point, the press release has been drafted in Microsoft Word or a similar text editor. This is the file format the press release should be distributed in.
It’s tempting to “lock in” a beautifully crafted press release by converting it to an immutable .pdf or the like, but that’s a bad idea.
The press release will be sent to many editors, each of which get many, many, press releases every day. Every publication has its own style guidelines and formatting requirements, so this template (while broadly accepted) might need to be tweaked if published by a specific source.
Sending a non-editable PDF file is the best way to have a press release tossed out. Keep it in .docx, it’s only a few clicks to change to any other format from there.
Tutor10 Sample Press Release
Below is the press release we built together for the imaginary online courses and tutoring business, Tutor10. There are a couple additional body paragraphs not present in the example used above.
Examine the formatting for tips on how to format a press release for your own business.
RELEASE DATE: October 1st, 2018
Phone: (000) 000-0000
Email: [email protected]
¡Hola Amigos! Tutor10 Releases New Spanish Course
Learning the Spanish Language has never been easier thanks to this revolutionary technique.
Tutor10, in collaboration with the preeminent Spanish linguist Emilio Velasquez, has just released a brand-new course series on Spanish Language. The course utilizes word-image association techniques and gamification to increase memory retention and to make learning habitual. The course is available as of October 1st, 2018 on the Tutor10 website (tutor10.com).
“Applying principles from the game industry to learning has exciting possibilities. Forming positive, productive habits by encouraging competition and self-improvement is hugely transformative for the education field.” – Emilio Velasquez
Word-image association is not a new concept for language tutors. It’s especially useful when learning through a software program instead of in a face-to-face lesson. Companies such as Rosetta Stone have used word-image association to great effect. It has a limited effectiveness in audiences that lack self-discipline or attentiveness, however. Children make up the bulk of pupils and can rarely stay engaged long enough to effectively learn. ADHD-affected individuals also sometimes find difficulty staying on task.
That’s where the Tutor10 system comes into play. Using a system of rewards and (minor) penalties, as well as a time-restrictive environment, the pupil is compelled to stay alert and active during the session. Sessions, or “levels”, are kept to short 5-minute intervals to mitigate mental exhaustion. Bonuses are rewarded for completing multiple levels in a row, otherwise known as going on a “streak”. Accuracy scores can be uploaded to a local, global, or customized-participant leaderboard to foster friendly competition. Rewards are in the form of unlockable content, different learning exercises, and cosmetic differences to customize the player avatar.
George Brown, co-founder of Tutor10, hopes to see the new program used in settings beyond a one-on-one or solo tutoring session.
“While most of our customers purchase courses for private use at home, this new Spanish course has much broader applications. With the leaderboard system and planned updates for multiplayer capability, I really think this could be a valuable tool for school classrooms.” – George Brown
Tutor10 is an online course and tutoring company founded by former US Secretary of Education George Brown. By combining the expertise of tenured educators with top-notch application developers, Tutor10 is making learning easy, fun, and accessible. Find new horizons and improve yourself by visiting Tutor10.com.
For more information, please contact George Brown at [email protected]