Eric May – Media Consultant




Press releases are a notoriously poor form of communication


Very rarely does a press release deliver the intended result: to inspire or persuade the news media to cover your story.

While many organizations believe sending out a press release is an essential element of any communications effort, the target audience sees it very differently. 

For the news media, press releases are:

• not unique or special (newsrooms get dozens of them a day, and hundreds every month)

• about “you” and your organization – not about what audiences want 

• about “spin” or selling – not about news

For news organizations, sorting through all those press releases is mostly a waste of time (particularly in today’s increasingly pressurized and demanding news environment).

Result: most press releases are immediately thrown away (or used as scratch paper). But it doesn’t have to be that way.

To create a successful press release, put the “news” first.

Step 1: the headline of the press release must be compelling enough for the reader (the editor, producer, or journalist) to read on.

Good headlines for press releases are:

• Short
• Clear and easy to understand
• Provocative
• Compel the reader to read on
• Human; show how people are affected

Step 2: the first sentence should immediately tell what is newsworthy: why the reader (and their audience) should care.

Step 3: the first paragraph must explain the significance of the news in your press release. Tell who is directly affected, when it is happening, and where it is happening. This is not the place to explain who attended a meeting or prepared a study.

Step 4: the second paragraph is the place for a quote from the author of the report or an official, with the key message from your organization. 

By the end of the second paragraph, the editor or producer has enough information to know if it is a story worth covering.

Step 5: your contact information should appear at the end, and is by far the most important element of an effective press release. The contact named is a person who can be reached immediately by journalists wanting more information.

Writing tips for effective press releases:

• Concise, clear, conversational writing

• Avoid jargon and institutional language like the plague

• Avoid “spin” and selling – news is not PR

• One page maximum; ½ page is better still

To create a successful press release, focus 95% of your time and energy on the headline (title) and the first paragraph.

The rest doesn’t matter if the editor or producer isn’t compelled to read on.