PR 101: What is a Press Release?

Even though the public relations industry is changing fast, some things never change. And that includes the need to write a kick-ass press release.

The humble press release has been a key component in the marketers’ toolbox for years. And with good reason. If it’s well written, it can be your ticket to precious free media coverage. But what exactly is a press release? And how do you write one that’s going to grab a journalist’s eyeballs?

Let’s start with the ‘what’. Press releases are short, factual news stories written in the third person. They’re sent to targeted members of the media with the goal of piquing their interest, so they’ll cover your story.

If you’re lucky, your press release will be picked up by a journalist or blogger. But it’s not guaranteed so temper your expectations.

So now you know at a very basic level what a press release is, how can you ensure the next one you write gets used?

Craft a hook

If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head, you know what a great hook is. It’s that chorus or beat that you just can’t shake. Just like in pop music, a great hook is key to writing a killer press release. To find your hook, spend some time researching press releases and blog posts of industry competitors, gathering information about which ones have received coverage. Use these as a guideline for your own release, with an eye toward the type of content your audience is reacting to and sharing.

Reduce the basics of your message down to one sentence that answers the 5Ws of reporting: who, what, when, where and why, and find a hook that will help them write a story their readers won’t forget.

Consider the headline

The headline needs to grab journalists’ attention and make them want to carry on reading. In an overstimulating environment, it’s easy to miss amazing news if the title doesn’t cut through the noise.

Here are a few pointers:

Length: The length of your headline plays an important role in attracting readers and encouraging social sharing. Keep it in the neighbourhood of 90 – 120 characters.

Include a keyword: Put your most important keyword at the beginning of the headline, within the first 65 characters.

One fact per headline: Like a good advert, a press release headline should focus on delivering a single key message in a way that will grab the readers’ attention. It’s a discipline that should be stuck to avoid detraction from the core message.

Avoid jargon

Keep technical and industry jargon to a minimum. Although it’s relevant for certain groups, jargon may confuse your audience and turn them off your message.

To engage new readers who may not be familiar with your industry, write for a broader audience, as it’ll increase the likelihood of the content being shared.

Provide resources

We don’t live in a one-dimensional world, so your press release shouldn’t be one-dimensional either. Provide added value by including photos, videos, or any other relevant material to give journalists the assets they need to fully report your news.


Errors in grammar and spelling can kill your credibility and take away from your overall message. Once you’ve drafted your press release, print it out and proofread it. Correct, rewrite, then proofread again.

Investing additional time before submission is what separates a professional press release from a clumsy, amateurish effort.

What a press release is not

It’s important to remember that press releases are not adverts. In fact, journalists are quick to spot – and bin – press releases that dress something up as news to get free advertising. You’ve been warned.

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