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Writing a press release

Top Tips

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Introduction

Journalists do not have to use your press releases. They can do what they like with them. They can delete them without even reading them, if they choose. The key to getting them to do their stories the way you want is to make your news release newsy, brief and easy to read.

Tips

  • Style: Tight and bright – using as few words possible to make your point, and making your copy eye-catching and interesting. Use ‘down the pub’ language – not stiff, multi-syllabic, jargon-littered piffle. Write how you talk.
  • Structure: News stories are constructed in an inverted pyramid structure, which means putting the most important, interesting points in declining order of importance.
    • The logic behind this is that a sub-editor (who may, for example, have to trim a nine-paragraph story to five) can then cut from the bottom up. Even if only the intro paragraph is used, the story should still make sense.
  • Intro: The first and most important paragraph, telling the story in a nutshell, usually in no more than 30 words – the fewer the better.
  • Paragraph: Try to keep each paragraph one sentence in length. This makes the copy more readable. Two sentences are OK but we really don’t want any more.
  • Length: Brevity is beauty. A press release should be one side. If it is somethin extraordinary, let it run, but even then try to keep it tight. And bright. (Oh, and never use exclamation marks! They’re naff.)
  • Bullets: You may sometimes need to list a series of points, eg, a range of features at a newly-opened site. Bullet points (ideally three to five) are a good way to do this.
  • Target audience: Generally speaking we are writing for the man on the street, often taking complex subject matter and boiling down into pithy, clear language, so no jargon or needlessly long words.
  • Opinion / Quote: News stories are meant to be objective so don’t write, for example, “Brilliant Thames Water today announced a fantastic new project.” It will be laughed at by news desks – then deleted.
    • Instead use a quote to bring in your positive “spin”, for example, Chief executive Martin Baggs said: “This scheme will bring benefits to…” Quotes also add a human element to the story. But be sensible. A ridiculously positive quote will not be used.
    • There is no rule dictating where quotes should come in a story. Use your judgement on this. Also, never say: ‘Mr Baggs commented” or “Mr Baggs explained.” Always use “said” in the past tense. People say things. They don’t explain or comment. And once the say things, those things are “said,” so please, no past tense.
  • Ending: End with the word “ends.” That’s so readers know where it ends. Simples.
  • Notes to editors: Sometimes you will need to include explanatory info that would be cumbersome if placed in the text. The best option is to include this in a section at the end of the release entitled “Notes to editors.” These can be as long as the release itself if needed.
  • Branding/attachments: Journalists hate getting press releases as attachments. Send them instead within the body of an email. They’re also not interested in your corporate logos. So don’t include them. They’re only interested in the story.

Courtesy of:

Simon Evans, Press office manager, Thames Water