As a content writer, you may be asked to write a press release unless you have a specific public relations writer. In case the opportunity arises, I want you to be prepared! So let’s talk about press releases.
Before we get into it, I want to make sure your portfolio is in top shape! On average, writers update their portfolio every six months or so. If you’re due, I have a guide that will show you several types of writing samples you can create to give your portfolio a strong boost. Check it out:
What is a press release?
A press release is like a mini news article for the press to pick up to create their own news story or publish on their platform. If you’re familiar with news writing, press releases will feel similar. If not—don’t worry at all. You’ll get the hang of it.
How do you prepare to write a press release?
First, define what the press release will be announcing. From there, you can identify individuals in the company to interview for more information and for direct quotes.
If you’ve never written a news article or press release before, you will basically need to provide the main facts about the announcement and direct quotes from relevant individuals regarding the announcement. Have this in mind when forming the questions and going into the interview.
I love interviews. There’s something about asking a ton of questions and the challenge of transforming their responses into writing that excites me, and will hopefully excite you, too!
First, you’ll want to prepare your questions. Make sure you address the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Get every angle that you can. Also, come with something to write with/on and a voice recorder (like the voice recording app on your phone). A voice recorder really comes in handy to obtain direct quotes from your interviewee so you don’t have to scramble and write exactly what they’re saying.
One thing about recording the interview—once I hit “record”, I always say, “Okay, it’s recording” so that I have it on the record that the interviewee is aware that they are being recorded for legal purposes. I also always like to ask them to let me know if there’s anything they do not want me to quote them saying directly (I use my best judgement, but you never know sometimes).
What if your interviewee is just not giving you good responses? Maybe they are only giving you yes or no responses or maybe just a couple words. When this happens, I tap into the journalist within me and kind of reverse engineer my questions. Instead of trying to think about what questions to ask, I think about what answers I want.
For example, if I’m writing a press release about a new school opening and I’m interviewing the superintendent, I may want to know about what special education resources the school will provide. Instead of asking, “Will there be special education resources available?”, I would ask, “What special education resources will be available?”. The first question was phrased as a yes or no question, so that won’t help me get some good info and direct quotes—and I can’t assume they will automatically go into detail. Phrasing it as an open-ended question will force the superintendent to provide a specific answer. And don’t be afraid to push back with more specific questions for more specific answers.
The interview can be hard when you’re just starting out, but a good way to practice is by interviewing your friends or a family member to see how it feels first. They may provide some valuable feedback before your first interview as well.
I have always kept press releases short and sweet. Typically, one page single-spaced is the average length (250 words). If it goes to a page and half, that should be okay also. But it doesn’t have to be long. Keep your release tight and to the point and it should serve its purpose well.
Writing the press release
After all of the prep and the interview(s), it is finally time to write.
First of all, I always like to preface this with how I approach first drafts. Learn more about my first draft strategy here. The most important thing to know is that the first draft is only for you, so get those words on the page—no matter how bad it all may sound. We can’t create a great press release without something to start with first. So just let loose and dump everything out onto the page and leave the editing for later.
Here is the general outline for press releases that I follow:
- Media contact info (who should the press contact in the company if needed?)
- City/state line
- Boilerplate (a brief description of the company)
For some real-life examples of what press releases look like, here are two that I’ve worked on:
- PCS Retirement Acquires Alliance Benefit Group–Rocky Mountain
- PCS Retirement welcomes two new executives
And here is another article with examples:
How to submit
Okay, so you have your release drafted, revised, edited—the whole shabang. Now you’re ready to release it!
There are two ways that I’ve done this:
- DIY. You can research different local newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, and websites that may want to feature your story. Look for contact information for the outlets you choose and see how they’d like to receive your release (probably via email).
- Release service. Pay for a release service that will distribute your press release to a variety of different channels. I’ve used PR Newswire and it is very simple to use and you get GREAT visibility. This is paid, but they have immaculate customer service, easy setup for each release, a wide range of distribution channels, and they provide you performance metrics like how many times your release was picked up, what publications picked it up, and the estimated audience reach. (Not sponsored lol)
Get that story out
This may be a totally different style of writing that you’re used to, but a great skill to have in your back pocket. I personally love writing press releases because it is something that changes things up a little bit from my normal tasks!
Good luck and, as always, happy writing.