One of the primary tools still used by PR professionals to garner media coverage is the press release. Now, understand that the purpose of a press release is to grab the attention of an editor, not to offer a word-for-word story to a publication. Most professionals as well as small business owners misunderstand this concept and are therefore frustrated when they can’t seem to make it work for them.
If you understand that the purpose of a press release is to grab attention, then you might also begin to realize that there is a bit of an art to writing an effective one.
This art actually begins with proper format. It probably shouldn’t matter how you format a good story, but editor after editor has told me that if a press release comes to them and is not properly formatted, it often doesn’t get read. Read that again if you are bit of a maverick. If you want to read about your company in the news, then you might just have to follow the rules.
Ultimately, your story will have to stand on its own; but follow this accepted format, and you stand a better chance of making that all-important first impression.
For Release Timing
The very first thing to appear on your release is the release date or time. If your story is for immediate release, say so – ‘For Immediate Release’. If there is a reason to hold some news or a seasonal deadline, say so – ‘For Release Before Halloween’. Some background type releases can also carry the ‘Release at Will’ tag.
Contact Information
Don’t make it hard for them to get in touch with you. Right under the release info, state your name, address, direct phone, and email address under the heading “For more information”. Remember, the real point is to get them to call you.
The Headline
90% of all advertising effectiveness rides on the effectiveness of the headline. It is no different for a press release. Most readers will decide whether or not you have anything to say based solely on the grabbing power of your headline. Pull them in quickly. Write five to six attention-grabbing headlines and then put your release away for day or so. Come back and see which ones still grab you. It is that important.
At the start of the body of your release, you are expected to provide some useful information. First give the date of the release and then the city the release originates from. Put a dash after the city and then start the body of your release. ie: February 18, 2003 – Kansas City, Mo – Today in history…
Double-space the body of your release. This probably goes back to the days when reporters made notes by pencil in the space between the lines, and I guess some still do that.
First Paragraph
Okay, so now your headline grabbed them. Tell them what you’re going to tell them in the first paragraph. Don’t beat around the bush or try to be cute here. Hit them with your best shot.
Quotes and Credentials
Quotes make for interesting reading. Try to find a newspaper story without a quoted source of some sort. Add your own quotes, and then add some credentials to the person you attribute the quote to. If it’s you and you’re a master plumber with 25 years of experience, then say so. “The flora and fauna was breathtaking,” said Bill Sphenkle, one of Kansas City’s most experienced plumbers.
Call to Action
If you want them to interview or visit your website to find out more information, then say so. Bill Sphenkle is available for interviews. Just don’t hype your company or product. Nothing gets your release tossed faster.
At the end, add the symbol # # #
So…now you know – Go get them!
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John Jantsch is a veteran marketing coach, award-winning blogger, and author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide, published by Thomas Nelson, 2006.

He is the creator of the Duct Tape Marketing Small Business Marketing SystemTM.