Classic Press Release Formatting and Modern Press Release Styles

Sean Lund-Brown

In 1906, productivity consultant Ivy Lee worked with the Pennsylvania Railroad, after the company experienced a massive accident that killed more than 50 passengers. Lee believed that it would be better for the railroad to explain what happened from their perspective. Lee distributed a document to The New York Times, who published it without changing a word. This was the first press release.

A press release is a brief yet informative announcement, apology, update, or product release a business, organization, or other entity releases to the public. It is a business's newsworthy news. It is also a smart and clever way of letting a business speak to what happened before public gossip hits sensationalist media outlets. In other words, it's an invaluable tool.

You can easily learn how to craft and use this tool, too. This article will cover how to format a press release the classic way, plus eight modern styles to help your press release get more media attention.

How has the press release evolved?

In terms of structure and content type, not much has changed about the traditional press release from its inception. What has changed is culture, societal expectations of business transparency, and how we distribute press releases.

With the advantages of the Internet and social platforms, press releases don't even have to be consumed as written words (more on this later). Meltwater terms it best. Press releases have changed in terms of distribution and media.

With a society that has evolved so much technologically, this should come as absolutely no surprise. One, the world was way less populated in 1906. Two, we can reach almost anyone we want or need to — basically 24/7 if we try hard enough. We achieve instant communication using the platforms we've designed for this purpose (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram Live, TikTok, personal blogs, RSS feeds, etc.). The distribution of press releases is affected by innovations in multimedia.

But if you were to sit down and write a traditional press release today, intended to circulate from reporter to reporter, newspaper to newspaper, and even online, it would probably feel like something you would've written a couple of decades ago.

Why are press releases difficult to write?

There is so much to a press release and yet so little. You must provide the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your circumstances in so many words. You must also remain as objective as possible about the situation. If this press release is to discuss something that may draw negative attention to the institutional entity, you could mask facts with an unprofessional aversion to responsibility, e.g., blaming others.

This is why large companies usually have a public relations specialist who knows:

● How to phrase things

● What to keep and take out of the release

● How to work their magic with the language of appeasement, excitement, or any other emotional response the company wishes to elicit

Still, we get it. Not every business has the money to spend on a trained PR specialist. That's why, to take advantage of its usefulness fully, you should learn how to master the press release.

Let's break down a press release's anatomy to understand best how to write one.

How long is a press release?

An effective press release should be about 400 words. This amounts to almost one page of text.

The structure of a traditional press release

Source: Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned before, not much has changed about the traditional press release. Again, it should be brief and concise and cover the five Ws and an H:

● Who: the key players

● What: the issue, product, event, accident, etc.

● Where: where something took (or will) take place

● When: the date of the event in question

● Why: answer to the best of your ability the reasons for the accident, business decision, or other action

● How: explain how the business plans to handle the issue, how they raised money for the event (if concerned about transparency, i.e., political fundraisers), etc.

Save the fluff for later and keep to these key content points. Keeping this in mind, follow this basic structure for a press release:

● Logo

● Headline (subheadline optional)

● Leading paragraph

● Body paragraphs

● Boilerplate

● Contact Information

Logo

You'll want to include your logo at the top of your press release so people immediately recognize who is releasing it. This will help you catch the attention of people interested in your brand while establishing a public presence among others who may not be so familiar with you. Smart marketing dictates that anything that leaves your company should contain an identifier, anyway.

Headline

If you've ever heard someone say they read the news in headlines, they probably aren't lying. The modern equivalent to this would be Twitter. That's why your headline needs to be attention-grabbing and informative, encouraging the reader to keep reading.

Headline writing is an art, and you won't perfect it overnight. But fortunately, as long as you aren't a boring person or intend to lie, you can come up with a decent headline that will satisfy an average number of readers. But since this is a press release we're talking about, you want to put in the same amount of effort into the headline as you do the body of the press release—maybe even more so.

Tips for writing an effective headline

People may tell you that it doesn't matter what your headline says. They are probably about 35% accurate. People will judge your business one way or another, so you might as well convey your company’s tone while effectively informing your audience.

Don't cover up the "personality" of your business just because you're trying to connect with consumers. If you do, your target audience may start to question how genuine your company is.

We need public relations for a reason, though, and you can't just write whatever you want. You need to follow etiquette to maintain as much public interest and sympathy for your business as possible. For instance, limit the hyperbole you include in positive press release announcements. Let's look at the most important “rules” to follow that will help your press release.

Answer the question

Don't know where to start? Here's an easy way to get yourself on track.

Every press release must answer a question: what happened? Use your headline to tell us what happened. If your headline doesn't answer that question, it isn't relevant to your situation or it's ambiguous. Now is not the time to engage in philosophical discussion; it is time to tell people what happened.

Don't try to sell anything

Now is not the time to sell your audience on your product or service. Your "why" is not a "let me tell you why you should buy into this." The why is a "why I am initiating this" or "this is why it happened."

Plus, reporters are not your marketing team. They are unbiased news writers. So, give them a newsworthy headline, not a section in a catalog — that’s what listicles are for.

Data is helpful

If there's an exciting figure in your future, report it. Nothing draws people in like the announcement of significant change, and verifiable data from reliable resources or studies are intriguing. Take any kind of stock news, for example. If a well-known company closes for the day with a 10% loss, that's something investors want to learn more about. Why did it drop so much?

On the flip side, if a generally low-key or average performing company suddenly skyrockets, pointing out that the stock jumped 30% is the kind of interest-generating material you want to push out there. Numbers are effective; use them wisely.

Avoid calls to action (CTA)

Similar to sales language, avoid putting CTAs in your headlines. Don't know what a CTA is? It is a phrase that strongly suggests to a reader or leads that they should do something. When they do something you want them to do, that is a conversion. Again, reporters are not here to market your business. Avoid using phrases like:

● Sign up for free

● Subscribe to our newsletter

● Read on to learn more

● Discover what we do

● Buy your tickets now

Additionally, stay away from words and phrases that might imply the reader needs to follow up with a visit to your website or store.

Let your news speak for itself; you'll convert leads just as well as if you did use CTAs.

Avoid using names

Sometimes you'll want to include names of key players in your headlines (these can be both individual's names or a business), but for the most part, avoid it. You'll have your logo and company information in the document already; no need to remind people who you are for the third time.

Be creative within reason

A headline needs to be catchy enough to hook people in, but it is not the setup or punchline to a joke, nor is it your opportunity to showcase your poetry prowess. Instead, hone in on the language you're using to transform an ordinary fact into something that people will be compelled to read. You can do this without being sensational, too.

For example, using words like "very," "pretty," or "a lot" to signify a degree of something takes away from the meat of your story. Instead, find words that represent that idea appropriately.

● Very good = amazingly

● A lot of people = several people

● Pretty bad = deplorable

● Very tempting = tantalizing

If words aren't your forte, check out this Your Dictionary grammar resource. It includes over 150 words that get rid of the need for "very" when expressing ideas.

Follow grammar rules

Do not release a press release with a grammatically incorrect headline! You are a professional, and everything needs to follow, including your documentation. If you aren't confident in your proofreading abilities, have a few trusted employees look at it for you.

Understand the audience, and target them accordingly

Your headline should draw as many people in as you can. But, since you may not reach everyone — nor are you relevant to everyone — don't try to appease the world with your headline. Pick words that will excite your target audience and loyal customers — they are your priority.

The journalists who report on your press release couldn't, or rather shouldn't, care about your niche. They're going to write about it regardless. So do yourself a favor, and write your headline for the people who care.

Pretend your headline is front page news

After you write your headline, walk away. Give yourself 20 minutes, if you have it, and look at it again. Now read it out loud. If that headline appeared in The New York Times, as Lee's did for the Pennsylvania Railroad, would you agree that it's newsworthy, or would you shake your head and wonder why the paper is still in business? If your headline isn't newsworthy, you need a new one.

Add a sub-headline

This is technically a separate piece of a press release's structure, but optional enough that it is more a tip rather than a necessity. A sub-headline, or subheading, is your opportunity to expand on the headline. This may be an optimal spot for giving a preview of who some of the key players in your press release are.

Lead paragraph

Once you've settled on a headline, you'll have to tackle the lead paragraph. Consider people's attention spans here. We've quickly become short-form intake humans who don't have time to sit and read an entire press release.

Even journalists don't want to sit around and filter through fluff all day. That's why you should write your first paragraph to include the basics of the situation. Summarize the story.

Body paragraphs

Secondary paragraphs are your chance to expand on your summary and go into greater detail about what's going on. For example, if you're announcing the release of a new album, you can discuss who you collaborated with, the studio at which you recorded it, and any singles released from it.

This information isn't significant enough to the main idea to rank in the first paragraph, but it is interesting enough to garner attention from a wider audience. Perhaps these readers know the studio or someone in the band. They'll want to know what projects they've been in and may come out to your release party just to support them.

Quotations

Quotes are great! A relevant quotation, ideally from upper management or an executive member of your business, bases your press release on reality. Just remember, though, that you should only have about 400 words.

As English majors know, adding a quote to an essay short of the required word count is a fabulous way to fill it out. You shouldn't need to do that with a press release, though. Only add what is necessary.

Boilerplate

A boilerplate in publishing and public relations lingo is a short paragraph at the end of a document. It is generally the same in any application. For press releases, a boilerplate is usually a standardized summary of the company releasing the document.

Contact information

Don't forget to include your business's contact information! After you release the press release, reporters and other figures from the media may want to contact you for further information and fact-checking.

Why lean on traditional press releases?

Source: Sword and the Script Media, LLC

Don't confuse the word "traditional" with "antiquated practice." Traditional simply refers to a good old written press release distributed to the media. This strategy is still just as effective as it ever was. You can increase foot traffic to your business, reach a large audience, and most importantly, have the first word on pressing issues. A press release should always be one of your first go-to strategies in times of crisis and celebration.

A classic press release is a PR staple and something you should never overlook. Though print and page may not be the most popular method of reaching people nowadays, the concept has adapted to new platforms. People still read; they still look for their newspapers — just online!

We now publish our news over the web, good and bad, and we want you to be a part of that transition. Add some modern tactics to your press release circulation plan and see how you can be a part of the future of PR.

How to distribute a press release

Source: Thrive Internet Marketing Agency

Once you've finished writing your press release, you'll need to distribute it. Otherwise, you're not doing your PR job correctly. You can always hire a distribution company to do this part for you. Unless you know the proper channels, it can be a challenge. Fortunately, we're going to help you find those proper channels if you’re going it alone.

General distribution tips

Before we get into distribution sources, here are some helpful tips passed down from years of traditional press releases.

Use local resources

If you're a smaller business or consider yourself local to a certain area, send your press release to local media outlets. These include local radio stations (they can read your release over the air), newspapers, town bulletins, and local Facebook pages.

Send your release to journalists directly

If you want your press release to bypass the pool of emails a newsroom receives daily, go straight for the journalist. If they work for a newspaper or local news station as a regular reporter, you should be able to find their contact information on their respective websites.

Can't find a reporter's email address? Pick up the phone and call them.

When it comes to press releases, you can't be lazy or afraid to find a way to get your document out there, even if you have to make the opportunity yourself.

Send your press release on a Thursday

According to a study conducted by Prowly, Thursday is the best day to send a press release. Open rates sit at an impressive 26%. Send the email between 10am and 2pm to increase your chances even more.

Wednesdays and Fridays spell doom for press releases. 85% of emails will get lost in a journalist's mailbox on those days. It makes sense seeing one day is the dreaded middle of the week slump/peak busyness, and the other is filled with TGIF distraction.

Follow up

Following up with a press release doesn't mean you are annoying. It makes you noticeable and professional. After you send your press release, wait a few days or for the weekend to pass. Email them again asking if they need any more information. They probably have a ton of material to get through, and your friendly reminder will help them do their job. Always be polite, never rude.

If your press release needs a quick turnaround, it is perfectly acceptable to follow up the next day. You should, however, send your press release about a week to two weeks in advance. This will give a journalist time to write a more thorough report.

Distribution channels

Source: Trust Insights

Print and page are the OG distribution channels for a press release.  However, enough time has passed with the Internet to consider Internet distribution channels a classic way to go. Here are the top three digital press release distribution services for you to consider.

1. Newswire

Newswire is one of the more popular options for PR services out there, and its press release services promise to "target major media, distribute to the right audience, and deliver on time." In addition to Newswire's own media list, their packages include contact with GoogleNews, Yahoo! News, and Associated Press (AP).

2. EIN Presswire

For a speedy distribution service at an affordable price, take a look at EIN Presswire. The service's media list includes major outlets like GoogleNews and NBC, FOX, and CBS affiliates. They also distribute to relevant radio and television outlets, offer same-day distribution, and can contact outlets via mobile device.

3. PRWeb

PRWeb has been around for 20 years, doing what you need it to — distribute press releases. After uploading your press release and any images or media that go with it, they will send out the package to journalists and bloggers who cover news or are interested in your industry. You can also view your press release analytics to see how well it is performing.

8 modern press release styles to get more media attention

Source: Reboot Online Marketing, LTD.

Everyone loves a classic, but balancing tradition with modern practice doesn't hurt. This kind of synergy can produce successful returns on your press release efforts. Several of these modern release styles have something to do with social media.

So, if you aren't yet aware of navigating more modern messaging and social media apps, it would behoove you to take a crash course. Why? Because these modern styles can help your press release get more media attention.

1. Turn your written word into a short-form video

The short-form video trend may not be so much of a trend at all. It seems like it's here to stay. And while other institutions are jumping on board with it, education, law enforcement, etc., public relations might as well, too!

You may think that TikTok is all for fun, but businesses can grow a decent following for themselves and build hype around their products through short-form videos. So, consider this a chance to showcase your headline creatively.

Overlay text on a video of your new product. Include your headline, when you'll launch it, and how people can find more information. Follow up this press release with a video of you demonstrating the product, using hashtags to enter into searchable communities where people who need what you're selling will go.

2. Tweeting, the original social media PR

As we mentioned before, Twitter is a great place to get the news if you mostly focus on headlines. Release your press release as a link on Twitter, using the headline as your tweet. Optimizing your headline for Twitter will also force you to condense important information and create a hook, and hopefully, a better headline.

Tweets are shareable and drive engagement, too, so you'll be able to tap into niche communities, and they'll be able to share your link.

3. Ask influencers to promote your press release

Influencers typically have large audiences. If you can find one who aligns with your business's attitude and goals, have them announce your press release. Make sure they link your official press release in their profile bios and mention all the essential details in their video to fans.

4. Go live with your release

Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok all have the option for a user to go live. "Live" is a live feed of you from your device. Followers can tune into the broadcast and leave comments and reactions. It's an excellent way to engage with your followers.

5. Research keywords

SEO is everything when it comes to ranking high in search engine results. Research keywords relevant to your press release and use them once in the heading and a few times throughout your document. This way, you can better match someone's search and, therefore, see a higher rate of click-throughs to your press release.

6. Less is more

Just because you have a full page of text for a press release doesn't mean you have to use it. Sometimes shorter press releases, around 250 words, are the most effective. Don't force what you don't need to add.

Ditch the supplemental paragraphs altogether and attach a video to your press release. This video could be an interview with a key player, a visual presentation of your press release, or even a slideshow of relevant photographs.

7. Capture the attention of the editor

When distributing your press release, sell your story like you crafted your release. In the subject line, give a catchy heading. Your lead paragraph should be just as catchy as it is in your release. Every day, a journalist and department editor go through repetitive content; you want to stand out.

8. “Premiering” your press release to drum up attention

You can hype a live broadcast a few weeks in advance. For example, have a countdown to a big announcement going and when it's time to distribute the release, go live to relay the information to your followers. You can advertise your press release before you even publish it!

You can announce on social media that you have news about your business and give your audience a time and website to read or watch the release. This way, you can get people talking, and you’ll know you will have eyes on your press release as soon as it goes live.

You can do this on Youtube by planning a “livestream” premiere and playing your video release onstream. This can work well for a product launch, as Apple and other technology companies’ regular press conference streams show.

Use Smith.ai to help your press release

After submitting a press release, you're bound to receive phone calls from media outlets asking for more information. The problem is that sometimes this can get overwhelming and it takes you away from the daily operation of your business. Enter Smith.ai’s many features, like our sales development receptionists and after-hours answering service.

Smith.ai is a 24/7 live answering service. Our company's trained professionals can answer these incoming calls for you and respond to inquiries as you'd like them to. They can also schedule interviews, filter bad leads, and answer callers' FAQs about your press release.

When you can streamline this process, it'll make it easier for the media to get in touch with you and follow up with interviews or other press release-related events. Our company can save you time and effort. Running a business involves many moving parts, but delegating tasks to automated technology and live chat professionals can help your press release and allow you to reach your potential.

Email Smith.ai at hello@smith.ai to discuss our pricing and services. You can also set up a 30-minute, free consultation. We are available 24/7 at (650) 727-6484, as well. We offer a 14-day, money-back guarantee for our services. We can’t wait to help you reach your goals.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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