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A professionally-written press release announces your news to the press, and the general public, in a format and writing style that reporters find useful in their work. The goal of a press release, after all, is almost always to get a reporter interested in writing about your news. Or, you want a news outlet to pick up your press release and publish it. Achieving these goals requires having a properly written press release.
Most press releases contain the following elements:
A headline – a succinct, not overly promotional announcement of your news, designed to make the reporter care about your story, e.g., “Acme Launches New Product Line”
A sub-head – a supporting secondary headline that offers more detail to support your main story, e.g., “New product line features extensive updates to old product line”
A “Lede” paragraph – this is the first paragraph of the press release, which quickly answers the standard journalist questions of “who, what, when, where, and why?”
An executive quote – a personal comment by you or your spokesperson
Supporting paragraphs – these flesh out the story and support your main message, e.g., why the new product line is better than the old product line, etc.
The headline and sub-head together convey the news being announced and your key message. Then, there’s a dateline, which lists the city, state, and date. That first paragraph is called the lede. L-E-D-E. It’s a funny little word. It’s sometimes called the lead, L-E-A-D, but it’s really spelled L-E-D-E. The lede explains the entire story. It highlights everything that you’ve got going on. If someone just read the first fifty words of the announcement, they’d have a basic understanding of what you were announcing and why it mattered.
After the lede, you usually see a quote. Some people put the quote further down in the press release. We like to go with it right after the lede. The quote is a comment by someone important in the company, such as a spokesperson or leader. Then we have supporting paragraphs that bolster the news with additional facts and points.
Sometimes, press releases are broken up into multiple sections. There’s usually a paragraph at the bottom called “About Us” that lists facts about the company. Then there’s media contact information. Sometimes, we like to put that right at the top because, obviously, the purpose of the press release is to stimulate media engagement, interviews, briefings with reporters, discussions, and so forth. You have to have a media contact listed right in the press release.
How Long Should a Press Release Be? There’s a lot of discussion about how long a press release should be. In our view, few press releases are improved by being made longer. There’s no official rule on this, although some press-release services may have guidelines or rules. A press release can be as short as 150 words. You just want to get your news out succinctly. Anything over 500 words, which is a full page in Microsoft Word, is getting kind of long for a press release. If you’re a big company announcing a stock buyback or something with a lot of fine print, then a huge press release is required. Otherwise, shorter is better.
A good press release can be about 300 to 400 words. That’s plenty of space to communicate what it is you want to communicate. Really, if you can’t say what you want to say in 300 words, you probably haven’t done a good enough job at focusing your message.