Lots of freelance writers I know offer press release writing as one of their services, as it is a great way of diversifying what they offer to clients. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of terrible releases. I’ve also received a few good ones, but those have been few and far between. I was recently chatting to a copywriting friend and web designer about what makes a good press release and she suggested I share the secrets of writing a killer press release.
How to write a press release
A press release (sometimes called a media release or press statement) is a document that provides information about an event, news item or happening to members of the media.
The idea behind distributing a press release to members of the media is the hope that media outlets will be interested in the story idea and will want to cover it in some way.
Lots of freelancers straddle the fence between PR and writing and if you can write press releases that generate interest from editors, then that’s another way you can boost your income and diversify your skill set.
The key parts of a press release
There are four main elements to a great press release:
1) an informative and interesting headline
2) an opening sentence that hooks the reader in
3) main body which gives all the vital information about the story
4) contact information.
The importance of a great headline
As I’ve said before, one of the best ways to get noticed by editors and clients is with a striking subject line or headline.
Regardless of whether you are pitching to an editor or writing a press release on behalf of a client (who will ultimately be approaching editors with the release), you need to ensure your headline is succinct, snappy and informative.
Often that’s easier said than done.
Sometimes if it’s a ‘simple’ story such as a hotel opening that you are writing about, it’s fine to have a headline that focuses on information.
For example, “New hotel [name of hotel] debuts in Melbourne’ or (let’s hope this one isn’t too far away) ‘The Freelancer’s Year launches new course this summer’.
I’ve received savvy press releases that make me immediately click through, such as: “Go inside Australia’s only sake brewery’ or “[Celebrity chef] creates new dessert menu at [restaurant]”
If you’ve got a story that is ’under embargo’ (meaning you can distribute the information, but journalists and writers can’t publish anything about it until a particular date), it’s definitely worth putting this in your subject line, e.g.: “Under embargo: 16-year old finds cure for cancer”.
An opening sentence that hooks in the reader
Once you’ve written your headline, it’s time to turn your attention to your opening sentence.
This is essentially a short summary of the press release so whoever is reading it knows exactly what they can expect from the body of the statement.
An opening sentence may be something like:
“Zarbon welcomes new driverless technology into all of its cars rolling off the assembly line from July”
“The world’s leading Scotch whisky maker has announced the Australian launch of its renowned green elk label.”
“RescueWaste opens the UK’s first rescued food supermarket”
Give the crucial information quickly
The crux of a good media release is that you want to succinctly communicate why this story needs to be covered now.
Your press release might be about an event, an opening, a milestone or anniversary, an award, new product or you might be writing a response or commenting on a particular news event.
The body of your release should be as short as you can make it while still giving all the essential information, and definitely no longer than two pages (the sweet spot is one A4 page).
When I receive press releases, I am looking to see why this is an important story now, if there’s background information on the subject, and a couple of great quotes from someone related to the story (e.g. if it’s a story about a dessert bar opening, some colourful quotes from the chef is what you need).
How to end a press release
A boilerplate is the last paragraph of a press release that summaries the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ – so here you might recap and include details about the business, event or product. Sometimes this comes under a “notes to editors” heading.
You also need to ensure that you include contact information so that the editor, writer or journalist knows who to get in touch with. Usually it says something like: For more information or to organise interviews please contact: XXX.
It’s also usual to conclude your press release with -ends-
The most common mistake I see in press releases
Right release, wrong person
Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with the press release I receive, but as I tend to focus on travel, food and lifestyle writing, I’m generally not the right person to receive a press release about financial markets, real estate or automotive technology.
So if you’re writing a release and you’re also responsible for sending out the release, make sure (even though it’s time consuming) that you send a targeted, personalised introduction to your release.
How much should freelance writers charge to write press releases?
As I mentioned, most press releases are single page documents (two pages maximum), and I’ve found that many freelance writers tend to charge around $1/word.
This includes the research, the writing time and one or two rounds of revisions.
Writers might not necessarily tell their clients that it’s $1 a word, but instead offer a flat fee (e.g. $500 for a press release of 400-500 words which includes research, writing and changes).
But what about if you’re also expected to distribute the release?
If, over the years, you have developed a strong network of editors or a decent contact list of people in the media to send releases to, then you want to make sure that your client is compensating you for this resource you have built up.
I know writers who charge between $1000 – 2000 to write a press release and either pass on contact details or pitch it to editors on behalf of the client.
Creating press releases can be a great way for freelance writers to diversify their income. Of course, you need to consider the ethics of being both a freelance writer and acting in a PR role, but I know many writers who successfully do both.
What is your experience with press releases? Do you offer them as part of your freelance writing service?