How to… write a press release

Seasoned PR Jenna Lee gives us her top tips on how to write a killer press release. Check out her advice in her handy guide...

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 4 Dec 2013
  • min read
If you work in public relations, then writing press releases becomes second nature.

But if you’re a songwriter or artist without a publicist, writing a self-promoting press release can seem like a daunting task.

Press releases written well can open doors to many opportunities. They create laughter and joy in an informative way and ultimately boost coverage of your music and help build your fanbase.

Check out these ‘Five Cs’ from seasoned PR Jenna Lee for some helpful hints and ideas.

1. CHECK… check and check. Then check again.    

This may be an obvious one but it’s probably the most important. Even when you feel you have thoroughly checked everything in your press release, you should check one more time. Then get somebody else to check your copy for you. Then maybe check again. 

Make it grammatically flawless. PROOFREAD! Otherwise you risk giving journalists a reason to laugh at you/not take you seriously - Aimi Lewis-Mattock, media coordinator, The Zeitegiest Agency.

Believe it or not, there are people out there who just waiting for a PR person to fuck up. Mistakes can happen, of course, but to ensure they’re infrequent, give yourself a little check list when you’re about to send off your press release - Joe Parry, publicist at Division Promotions.

It’s amazing how often essential details are missing. Dates, venues, links, where they’re from, what they sound like. Put some of this information in the subject header - David Smyth, chief pop and rock critic, London Evening Standard.

2. CUT… the crap, the waffle, the gobbledygook. Get to the point!

Of course you want to make your press release stand out and ensure that your client’s brand, product or service gets noticed. BUT the bottom line is the facts and that’s what your contacts need to read about.

Cut to the chase. I will skim-read the email first to see if it’s worth a closer look. I need a USP, why it’s relevant to our readers and something that piques my curiosity. If I’m not interested at first glance, neither will our readers be - Rosie Mullender, deputy features editor, Cosmopolitan.

I have bugger-all time to read stuff! Couple of paragraphs is fine. You can be more comprehensive later if we take it further - Ed Potton, rock and pop editor, The Times.

Obviously it’s great to be creative with your wording to try and make the relevant people take notice and give the music a listen. However, press releases should really be factual and to the point - Joe Parry, publicist at Division Promotions.

Get all the key information up the top, very clear and simple, eg. release date, tour date and link to some music. I don’t want to have to search through reams of biog to get to those facts, I just want to clear things out of my inbox quickly - David Smyth, chief pop and rock critic, London Evening Standard.

Waffly adjectives about how marvellous your client’s products or services turn journalists off. Be factual and to the point! - Jessica Lowe, owner, Jello PR

3. CREATIVE… get it. You can have a laugh as well!

Think of how many press releases a journalist receives in just one day. That little twirl of creativity might be the thing that makes them favour yours over the others sitting in their inbox. Obviously, it is important to get the facts out there and make your point but you can do it in a creative, imaginative and funny way. That’s okay!

Lively writing always helps. Even jokes! - Ed Potton, rock and pop editor, The Times.

Be funny or creative. Journalists receive hundreds of press releases a day, ensure to get noticed - Aimi Lewis-Mattock, media coordinator, The Zeitegiest Agency.

4. CUSTOMISE… your writing, style, tone and story to suit.

Once again, think about how many releases journalists receive. I would imagine that a journo is much more likely to write about your product, service or brand if you are actually appealing to their style of writing and the publication. Do your research into the writer, the publication and their recent articles. This may seem time consuming, but it is well worth it! 

Make sure it’s tailored to the publication, section and writer. For example, we’re not a music magazine and need to attract passing non-expert traffic so when pitching music include interesting non-musical info to emphasise why the act is worth covering: their topical relevance, which other musicians like them, which TV shows or films they may have appeared on, who they’re mates with etc - Ed Potton, rock and pop editor, The Times.

Suggest in the accompanying email which section of the magazine you envisage your client appearing in - Rosie Mullender, deputy features editor, Cosmopolitan.

5. CATCH… them with that catchy headline!

Your headline is the first thing they will see. It is the reason why they might open that email and can have the power of creating a new opportunity for coverage with just a few words. Remember, of course, that it has to be relevant. Don’t force it if it isn’t there.

Make sure you give it an attention-grabbing subject line - Rosie Mullender, deputy features editor, Cosmopolitan.

You don't have to include a pun or catchy heading and definitely don’t shoehorn one in if there isn’t a natural fit. However, it can often be the one thing that get’s the media’s attention and becomes the story. When we launched an exercise class for GYMBOX that was focussed solely on increasing height, the catchy name was the one that made the headlines. ‘A-GROW-BICS’ was born and the media coverage followed. As the journalist from The Sun told me: ‘you nailed it with the name, the editor loves stuff like that'. A punchy title should always have a subheading which gives a little more detail (but is still relatively punchy – confusing I know) - Sophie Raine, account director, Frank PR

A strong, novel, ideally unique angle that you can sum up in a sentence - Ed Potton, rock and pop editor, The Times.

Here are a few more quick tips and tricks from the lovely folk who helped create this guide (who I want to say a big thank you to)..…

My signature move to get noticed is a glittery gif. It always works a treat - Aimi Lewis-Mattock, media coordinator, The Zeitegiest Agency.

Timing is of the essence. If you get that right, the other points don’t matter. E.g. offering us a Miley Cyrus interview the day after the VMAs - Ed Potton, rock and pop editor, The Times.

When I first started doing this, I used to have palpitations before sending out press releases, worrying that I’d made a really stupid mistake, which is not a good thing to do. Don’t panic. Sometimes these things do happen and really, it’s not the end of the world - Joe Parry, publicist at Division

Put the press release in the body of the email, not in an attachment - Rosie Mullender, deputy features editor, Cosmopolitan.

Make sure you cover off the W’s (and the ‘h’) - who, why, what, where, when and how. Depending on your story, at least three of these need to feature in your first paragraph. Remember likelihood is only your first paragraph will be read so make sure you save the best for first and tell the most pressing points early on - Sophie Raine, account director, Frank PR.

Pictures are VERY important, more important than words in a lot of cases. If you have a good picture that’s most of the battle won. If you don’t, get one! - Jessica Lowe, owner, Jello PR