H=How to Write a Press Release (Feb 9)

Michael Jordan’s team knew that when you have big news, you don’t need to pump it up. // Shutterstock

There are two ways to write a press release: flattering or factual. Which way you go depends on whom you consider to be your client. This illustrates the principle that no matter what sort of writing you are doing, consider it from the audience’s point of view.

Typically a press release is written internally or by a public relations agency for an organization such as a company and distributed to members of the news media.

Sometimes these releases describe the organization as the embodiment of the current corporate virtues – innovative, dynamic, world-class, pioneering. This reflects a view that the organization is the client.

But if you think of the news media as the client, then your writing must adapt. Journalists want facts, not fulsome or abstract phrases. When they read a release they are searching for a fact that is new and significant enough that they can use it as a headline. Otherwise it’s just spam. In short: verbs, nouns and numbers, not adjectives.

The factual route removes the feelgood factor for the organization but it does demonstrate that they are confident enough in their news that they needn’t puff it up. When you have important news, you can let it speak for itself. Consider the press release issued in 1999 when Michael Jordan returned to pro basketball. It did not go on about his greatness, stature or titles. After a brief intro from the PR agency, it merely quoted Jordan as saying:

«I’m back.»

That was all, and that was enough.

The catch with all this is that nowadays news spreads online mostly; the old gatekeepers are few. This new method of dispersion is influenced more by keyword-seeking bots than by humans. But for access to the remaining bastions of “quality media”, and the prestige associated with them, you need to provide meaningful facts.

One more thing: while the text of a press release often runs through several drafts, typically far less thought goes into the subject line for the email that conveys the release. That’s a mistake. Journalists receive hundreds of releases a day and the subject line is often the only part they look at; it’s your headline. A good subject line should include time sensitivity and a peg, eg: «Company X to unveil new product on Tuesday morning».

LEARN: Read up on the 1912 Titanic sinking here …


USE: … and then write the first paragraph of a press release on the disaster, viewing your client as either the shipping company or the news media.


Published by robanderik

We are long-time writers and editors, now living in the Middle East. Our idea is to create a series of tips to help others improve their writing and editing skills. Think of it as a lesson plan for ESL learners that combines the practical with the aspirational.

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