One of the mantras of the contemporary media world is “Content Is King.” If you have something to say, there is a market ready to hear it, and the most effective way to get your message out is by a well-written, concise press release. The press release forms the basis of the information you'll add to, and elaborate upon, across platforms.
The Rule of Five
The rule of five is a way to check that you have the key points covered in your release. They are:
It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised what you forget to include when you get involved in writing the body of the release.
The Top of Your Page
Before you even start writing the copy, the top of the page should include two vital pieces of information - the release date and the press contact information.
For 99% of your releases, you will head your copy For Immediate Release, which tells the journalist that they can use anything in the release at any time.
The only exception is if you have time sensitive information. For example, you are holding an awards ceremony during which the winners will be revealed with much excitement. You want as much coverage for the event as you can muster, but you also don’t want the press to run the details of the winners until after the awards ceremony. In this case you use an embargo. You give the press enough time to layout their pages, write their pieces, and meet their deadlines by giving them advance notice but marking the top of your release Embargoed Until After 10:00pm, Saturday, February 24, 2020. (or whatever your date actually is.)
There is a tacit understanding that, in return for making their lives easier, the press will respect your embargo and keep your surprises a surprise.
Think of this as your headline. It should convey the essence of the release and if possible pique the curiosity so that the editor wants to know more. Channel the spirit of some of the classic headlines - e.g. The New York Times: Headless Body in Topless Bar - and always back it up with a picture.
Your First Paragraph
Editors are busy people. The first paragraph should give them the first three of the Ws - date and time, location and what the event is.
This is also the place you put your most newsworthy information - the thing that makes your event unique, intriguing, or interesting to their readers. This may be a What - such as a marathon, or it maybe a Who - such as a celebrity speaking in support of your cause. It may be that it is first time such an event has occurred, or the fiftieth.
Writing in the Active Voice
Technically your press release is about an event that is yet to happen. However, if you use the future tense, saying “the exhibition will open” or even worse “the exhibition will be opening”, you distance yourself from the reader and lose immediacy. For that reason, all press releases are written in the active voice - “the exhibition opens.”
The active voice is also used in most features and listings, so your copy will fit right in when it comes to editing time.
Your Second Paragraph
Now you’ve mastered the active voice, and given the basic details of your event, you can add some texture. The second paragraph is the favorite place to put a quote from someone involved in the event - the Director, CEO, or a recognized authority in the subject. A couple of lively sentences, written by you and sanctioned by the ‘speaker’, should express pleasure at being connected with the event and endorse the whole venture.
Your Third Paragraph
Time to catch up on any of the five you haven’t got round to yet, but don’t go too long. If your journalist is still reading by now, you have whetted the appetite. Keep some nuggets of information back that you can expand upon when they call you. The copy section of your press release ends here. Draw a small line underneath or write the word “Ends” to show that what follows is for the convenience of the journalist alone.
Checklist for Journalists
- Reiterate your basic information of what, when and where.
- Add any further information that you think will help, such as gallery opening hours, special event parking instructions, venue website and contact numbers, admission charges etc.
- Attach an assortment of images if you have them, no more than three, published at 72dpi (low resolution). Be sure to include the captions for the images, including any credits and copyright information.
- If you are sending to a printed magazine or newspaper, let them know that you have high resolution images available, and have them prepared as jpgs at 6 inches by 4 inches at 300dpi.
- Finish with your press contact information (again).
I can’t emphasize enough how important this is, especially if you have auto correct, you need to go through and check that everything is as it should be. Get a friend to read it too, they may spot something you have missed.
Associated Press (AP) Style Check
Many print publications and those descended from print publications use the AP style for consistency. You can purchase a style guide from Associated Press, or you can follow the most general of their guidelines through Thought Co
In sending out your press release be aware that it will be one among many in the inbox. Be professional by using the subject line to flag the content, including the relevant date.
So now you have completed your press release. Send it into the word and await for your call from a journalist or editor requesting further information. If you have written it well you may find that your entire release has been copied and pasted into the editorial page. You have, in effect, written your own article. Hurray!