Updated: Jan 20, 2017
Whether you’re opening a neighborhood pizza shop or throwing a corporate fundraiser for a local charity, a press release is a helpful tool to announce important news about your business to your customers and community via the media.
Before you write a press release, though, you need to ask yourself a very serious question: is this story actually newsworthy? Remember, a press release is not an advertisement or a sales pitch. To squeeze your way into a newspaper’s editorial pages, your news must be new, meaningful, and relevant to its readers. To help assess whether your news will pique the interest of your local newspaper or trade vertical, consider the 5 Ws:
Who? Who are the main characters of your story, and how many people are affected by the news? Scope and impact are important. For example, people with existing public profiles, like your Mayor or CEO of your local Chamber of Commerce, will help bring weight and attention to your news. Think about creative ways you could get them involved — whether that’s cutting the ribbon at your grand store opening or supplying a quote for your press release on how your new store is expected to bring additional jobs to the community.
What? This is a simple one. What is the news and what makes it new and noteworthy. Think about this from the perspective of your target audience, and communicate the facts clearly and succinctly. For example, are you launching the region’s first vegan burger joint?
Where? Where did or will the news take place? Is there a geographical angle or is the location of the business/news moment relevant in any way? For example, opening pizza shop in the remains of a historic old movie theatre or in a town that hasn’t had a local pizzeria for years is something noteworthy.
When? What is the timing of the news and is this significant? Adding a timely “hook” to a story will help hook a reporter. For example, opening your pizza shop on February 9 seems like just another day — until you note that it’s also National Pizza Day!
Why? This is really important. Why is your news important to a reporter’s readers? Consider your audience. For example, you may be offering the first gluten-free or vegan pizza in town, capitalizing on demand from the local community for healthier fast-food options. Or, opening your shop may be creating 10 new, full-time jobs in your community.
How? How did you come about to choosing to open a pizza shop in the town’s old movie theater? What did it take to make it happened and who helped you along the way? Press release should be factual, but if there is a personal, human element to your story — use it! People love hearing about the people behind a successful business.
In terms of tone, remember that a press release is not a piece of creative writing. It is vital you are clear, concise, and factual — so avoid the fluffy language.
The date should appear at the top of your press release. If you would like a reporter to publish the news on or after a specific date, write “For release on [date] at [time]” or “Under strict embargo until [date] at [time]”.
The headline is the key message — the takeaway from the article. What is the most important piece of information your target audience needs to know, even if they don’t read the rest of the article? Use active voice and a strong verb.
Pacifica Pizza’s ‘Doughraiser’ to Raise $10K for Jacksonville Humane Society
Paragraph 1 should tell readers the story around your news. It should answer who and what questions clearly and succinctly.
Pizza sauce will be flying thick and fast at Pacifica Pizza in Jacksonville on March 3rd, as the team prepares to cook over 2,000 pizzas during its annual fundraiser to support the local Humane Society.
Paragraph 2 will expand on the information featured in the first paragraph. Give a little more detail and context to your company’s news.
Pacifica Pizza, the oldest pizzeria in Jacksonville, expects to raise over $10,000 to support the Jacksonville Humane Society’s new puppy wing, expected to open in early 2018. Five dollars from every pizza sold in store on March 3rd will be donated to the cause.
Paragraph 3 and beyond is where you can talk more in-depth about your business and the news. Think about the how and the why, and providing any more details on the who, what, where, when. Make this information approachable, bearing in mind that some readers may have never heard of your business.
Include a quote or two from the most relevant characters in your story to give context and color to your news. Try to include a quote by the third paragraph, or fourth at the latest. Think about who is most important to hear from. In the Pacifica Pizza’s example, this could be the business owner, who could explain why the Humane Society is a cause close to their heart, and the CEO of the Human Society, who could talk about how the money raised will be used.
Add “END” after your last paragraph, and beneath that include contact details for your spokesperson, or any footnotes about how you may have calculated figures in your release.
End the piece by adding general information about the business (also known as your boilerplate). This is where you should put a generic “about us”-type statement. Outside of the context of this news, what does your business do?
Your press release should not be longer than a single page (front side only), with rare exceptions made for especially complex concepts. When you send it to journalists, be sure to include a cover letter in the body of the email. This will include an overview of what information the press release include, and anything else that may be of interest to the journalist, such as an offer of an interview with the business owner.
Do some research to find out if a reporter from your local paper has written about a similar topic recently — it could be an area of interest for them and they may be keen to follow up on a story with a similar theme. It’s also worth knowing when a journalist’s deadlines are so you can send your press release at the right time. National deadlines tend to be very early in the morning, whereas regional press are likely to have a deadline day for the following week’s paper.
Generally, the best way to get your press release in the hands of a journalist is to email it to them. Think hard about your subject line — most people use their headline here given it’s a short, punchy snapshot of the news. It seems like such a small and insignificant part to your pitch, but one glance at the subject line will help a journalist decide whether they even want to open and read your email.
Read more: How to take your email from dead to read
Many media companies block attachments, so paste your press release into the email. Finally, reporters are inundated with hundreds of emails and press releases every day, so it’s important you follow up on your press release to check they received the email and pitch your idea over the phone.