5 Golden Rules of Press Releases

The world of media has changed, but press releases remain central to any smart public relations strategy

By Betta Stothart, PR Editor, Ethos

My foray into the world of press releases was in a newsroom back in the early 1990s. As an entry-level editorial assistant, it was my job to read the press releases mailed (yes, snail mail) to the office and determine which of them deserved the attention of our Editor in Chief. The world of media has changed a lot since the early ‘90s as well as how news gets delivered, but press releases that tell an impactful story remain an essential ingredient of any thoughtful public relations strategy.

The job of a good PR executive first and foremost is to work with clients to identify and develop ideas that can be shaped into something compelling, that will capture the attention of editors, journalists, and eventually the community or world. So how can you make your press releases stand out in a reporter’s crowded in-box?

While the structure of a press release is somewhat formulaic, the content is not. Writing a strong press release takes skill, insight and perspective. When done properly, it should be smart, engaging, and artfully written. Here are some golden rules to consider when writing your next press release.


1. Develop a strong story.

Before you even begin to draft your press release, take time to develop a winning concept with your client or team. Gain perspective on the matter, collaborate, and put some brainpower into your ideas. If you are writing about something that already happened, talk to the person who was there and get the story first hand. If you are announcing a new initiative or planning an event, take time to brainstorm the deep questions about why it matters and why people should care. Don’t send half-baked ideas to the media, and if it helps, think of yourself as a journalist.


2. Write a strong first paragraph.

Reporters have million of words and ideas coming at them daily, so yours really need to shine. Assume that a reporter will only read the first sentence or paragraph of your story and make a quick decision about whether it’s worth pursuing. In that very first paragraph you must communicate your message in a way that has them hungry for more.


3. Write an attention-grabbing headline & subject-line.

While short and seemingly inconsequential, the headline and email subject-line are arguably the most important elements of your story. A strong subject-line is key to persuading editors or journalists to open the email in the first place. After that, your headline is the most important way to showcase your key message. Your headlines and email subject lines should be engaging, compelling, accurate and newsworthy.


4. Do your research—include facts and figures.

Great writing is essential in a press release, but quantifying and grounding your argument in facts can make it even more compelling. Facts and figures will support the significance of your announcements and give them deeper meaning. If you are making the case that your story is part of a larger trend, then you must back up that argument. Take time to do (and cite) research, provide context to a story so it actually educates your audience of journalists and gives them food for thought. They will respect you for it.


5. Include strong and memorable quotes.

The quote gives an important human element to your press release and gives voice to the news being delivered. In the quote, your spokesperson also has the opportunity to make a claim that the neutral voice of a press release cannot. Avoid vanilla quotes that don’t add value. If your press release is quoting a CEO or a company leader, make sure they sound authentic, thoughtful or memorable in some way. This does not mean every quote has to be serious, but they do need to be noteworthy.

Once you have a great press release it goes without saying that your work is only as good as your media contacts. If you don’t have a great media list and, ideally, some relationship with your media, then your well-written press release may languish in the lonely land of unopened emails. Take the time to cultivate your media relationships. You want to become known for sending interesting and compelling news for your clients so their work gets recognized in the community.

About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside of Maine.

At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – its ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference for each client’s unique marketing and business objectives.

With Ethos, you get more than a marketing agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.

Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!