In the old days when press releases were always printed onto A4 paper, stuffed into envelopes and sent to journalists in the post (can you believe that was how it was done?), it was reasonably easy to format it how you wanted without fear of things getting messed up. Now press releases are sent by digital means, controlling the format of a press release is more difficult. The rule here is keep it simple. Whatever you do avoid colour, fancy fonts or ‘clever’ formatting. It looks amateurish and is very unlikely to arrive at its destination looking how your first intended.
This shouldn’t be too long and should be in sentence-case. That means the first letter should be a capital and proper names should start with capitals, but the rest should be in lower case. Some people think that headlines should be all capitalised but this actually just makes them harder to read and annoys journalists.
Don’t forget most people will be reading your headline in the subject line of an email or on a website. Short and lower-case is much easier to consume than long and capitalised.
You can follow two lines down with a sub-heading. This is optional but can be useful to highlight another angle to the story that may grab people who haven’t been drawn in by the main headline. However, the sub-heading is losing favour in the days of digital press releases as it can be better to just go straight into the first paragraph in the body of an email. This is especially pertinent if using press release distribution services that send out alerts which just include the headline and first few lines of a release.
The first paragraph should be just one sentence. Between each paragraph should be an extra space – ‘double spacing’ between paragraphs. It can make it your release easier to read by breaking up the blocks of text.
Quotes should attribute the speaker, including full job title, and follow the following convention:
ResponseSource founder and chairman Daryl Willcox said: “Your quote goes in speech marks like this, with a full stop inside the speech marks.”
Once you’ve introduced someone with their full title like that you can then just use their first name or surname (but be consistent).
Facts should be included in the main text of the release. Many people make the mistake of putting facts in quotes. For example:
Daryl said: “Ten per cent of press releases come from digital marketing agencies, PR agencies should sit up and take notice.”This is a fact mixed up in a quote. A better way to write this would be:
Ten per cent of press releases come from digital marketing agencies. Daryl said: “PR agencies should sit up and take notice.”
If you are using statistics from a reputable third party, always cite the source – it adds weight.
You should avoid assuming too much knowledge on behalf of the reader, it will bog people down. So avoid jargon. Unavoidable acronyms should be spelt out first with the acronym in brackets, and then you can use the acronym – for example, public relations (PR).
At the end of your release you must put your contact details. Some people put their contact details at the top – this worked OK in the days of paper but it doesn’t work so well online. Whatever you do, do not miss out the contact details. Include the name, email address and phone number of the person you want to take calls from the press (yourself, presumably), plus the full address of the company. You can include two sets of contact details, one for yourself and one for the spokesperson you have quoted in the release. Apart from ensuring journalists can follow up the release it also lends gravitas.
Once you’ve written your press release and formatted it correctly, including a snappy headline that includes your primary keyword (the word or phrase you would imagine someone searching on), then you’re ready to unleash it upon the world. Before you do though, if you’ve quoted anyone or mentioned a customer it is considered good practice to get approval from these parties before you send it. One trick to avoid people meddling with your hand-crafted release is to ask them to just check facts and quotes for accuracy. Oh yes, and make sure there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes in your release – you’d be surprised how many of these kinds of mistakes we see on the ResponseSource Press Release Wire – get a couple of reliable colleagues to read it through very, very carefully.
Go to the next in the series: Press release writing and distribution part five: distributing your press release
Check out all the posts in our full blog series on press release writing and distribution