How to write a press release
After my last post dove into probably the most challenging area of communications – crisis communications – I thought we could get back to basics today and talk about press releases. Let’s break down how to structure and draft a press release, or at least how I do it.
This is how I typically structure a press release:
Intro paragraph (3)
Detail paragraph(s) (4)
Logistics / CTA paragraph (6)
Optional drop-in section for bios, etc. (7)
About us / boilerplate (8)
Contact info (9)
Now let’s dive into each of the sections…
Keep this short and sweet.
Company Launches Product
Company A & Company B Partner to Build the Next Era of Industry X
Company Appoints Executive to Role
If your title is a word soup of “innovation” and “synergies” and crap, you’re just making it harder for your reader to grasp the hard, timely news. And hard, timely news is what gets you press coverage. (Side note, I tend to use title case for titles.)
The subtitle provides a bit of context and excitement in support of the short title, the “so what” of it all. So let’s say the title was “Company Appoints Jane Smith as CRO”. Then the subtitle could be something like:
Industry veteran brings track record of scaling and leading world-class revenue organizations
Industry veteran to lead sales and customer success teams for global expansion
If in the title you announced a new product, the subtitle would give a little taste of what that product does and for whom, or it might share how this expands your company into new markets.
Product brings stronger archiving and governance capabilities to enterprise customers
Product marks Company’s expansion into the enterprise market
(Also, I tend to use sentence case for subtitles.)
(3) Intro paragraph
This paragraph starts with your headquarters location and the release date. So write that down. Great job. Moving on…
I like to start the first sentence with “Today, Company X announced...” and then a straightforward telling of whatever it is you’re announcing “...the launch of its new cloud file-sharing service Product Y.” (Note, link the first instance of your company name to your website. Also, you can use your formal legal name for the first instance, and then go to your more colloquial name for subsequent uses.)
The rest of the first paragraph is two to three sentences that explain the “so what”. It’s basically a blown out version of your subtitle. So, say your subtitle was about expansion into the enterprise market, as above, you could blow this out in your opening paragraph to:
“Product was designed with the enterprise user in mind, with advanced functionalities including A, B, and C, while still maintaining the platform’s hallmark ease-of-use. It marks Company’s entrance into a new segment that will massively expand their customer base.”
You basically echoed in the key points of enterprise and market expansion, and added a little spice with the key functionalities.
(4) Detail paragraph(s)
The Details can go before or after the Quotes depending on the relative impact of each.
If you announced a new product in the Intro, then the Details is where you put the main features and benefits. If you announced a new hire or board member, this is where you put the highlights of their bio and what they’ll bring to the table.
Be judicious here. You don’t need to list every feature of a new product, just the top five or six. You don’t need to list everything the new executive ever did, just the key accomplishments from their last one or two jobs. Generally I’m trying to get the meat of my press release to be less than one page. Often that’s a tug of war with the internal subject matter experts who want to share all the details of a project that means so much to them. You have to put your foot down as the owner of the press release. It also helps to offer them other outlets for sharing the details, such as interviews and blog posts.
It’s best to start with a quote from one of your own executives. I tend to use the executive whose team would be most responsible for the news at hand. The CPO for a new product, the CMO for a new sponsorship, VP of biz dev for a new partnership. I save the CEO for BIG news.
This quote puts the news into perspective in terms of the company’s overall growth strategy. Often journalists pull these quotes directly to round out their pieces, so make these words count. You can use this quote to address questions like: Why is it a big deal? How does it help our customers solve problems? How does it further our strategy?
Then think about whom else should be quoted. If it’s a partnership, the partner is a natural fit, and perhaps a mutual customer. If it’s a product release, maybe one of your beta customers and/or an industry analyst. You should draft up the ideal quote that makes your company look amazing and this news look like a huge deal, and then they can always pull it back when they review it. For example, for a product release, the beta customer could talk about being a long-time happy customer, how important this new feature is to them, that they were thrilled with the beta results, and that they can’t wait to deploy it.
(6) Logistics / CTA paragraph
This section provides the boring-but-need-to-know stuff and lets readers know how they can take action on your news (call to action aka CTA). If you’re announcing an event, this is where you provide the registration link, cost, and deadline. If it’s a product release, this is where you say when it will be available and to whom (what pricing plans, geographies, etc). If it’s a new hire, here you can list their start date.
It is better to be a little vague on the details than to get it wrong. If your team has a history of letting deadlines slip, then don’t say a product will be available October 2022. Instead, say it will be available by the end of 2022 or in Q4 2022.
(7) Drop-in section
This section does not appear in all PRs. It’s basically a dumping ground for more information that would gum up the body of your release if you tried to fit it in above. For example, if you bring on a board member or executive, this is where you can put their entire formal biography. If you partner with or plan to acquire a company, this is where you put their boilerplate (though consider if you want your boiler to come first).
(8) About Us AKA Boilerplate
This is your company’s boilerplate. You probably have this already. If not, you can pull something respectable together if you include your mission, a sentence or two about what you do, basic info like where you’re headquartered and your founding year, and links to your website and top social property. These folks do a pretty good job of explaining it.
(9) Contact Info
For a private company, this is typically your PR employee’s name, job title, and email. I recommend using a generic group email like press@companyX.com that both your in-house and agencies have access to. Some people put a phone number, but I don’t think it’s necessary. If you have multiple PR team members, I recommend putting the name of the in-house person responsible for the PR strategy of this release (the product PR lead for product news, and so forth).
For a public company, you also put your Investor Relations contact information here.
The center-aligned three pound-sign thing at the end of the PR draft. It’s just to confirm “That’s it!” to the wire service and/or media you're sending it to.
A few more thoughts
On some releases, such as those about a financial transaction or quarterly earnings, there is typically a section at the bottom for legal CYA, such as a “Forward Looking Statements” disclaimer. Your legal team should provide those to you, you just drop them in, so no need to discuss them here further.
If you’re new to writing press releases, I recommend taking a look at the releases of any established company in your industry. If you’re a private company, I’d stick to the releases of other private companies as public companies sometimes have different considerations in how they draft their releases.
Always keep in mind the audience for your press release, which is typically journalists and customers. Think about how busy they are, how they have a few seconds to review this release before they have to either take action (write about it, sign up, buy the product) or move on to the next thing. Make sure that you’re to the point, explicit about what you want them to take away and why this is a big deal, provide a clear CTA, and don’t use too much jargon.
Finally, drafting the PR is only one component of a successful announcement. You can check out this blog post for more details on how you’d create a holistic campaign.