What is a press release? And why does it have to be written in a formal way?

Every day journalists receive hundreds of press releases, providing competitive story ideas for the limited space available for news in print, on broadcast channels and online.

The opportunity is to inform large or informed audiences of people through a trusted news or information title, helping raise brand awareness and drive engagement or action among your target market.

With news now shared via a dizzying number of platforms, including Facebook and X for text and images, Instagram for image-led news and YouTube for videos, it may seem restrictive to have to produce a formal news release.

What is a press release?

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations defines public relations as “the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

As part of this professional approach, a press release is a written communication that is issued by an organisation to announce or report on something newsworthy. It is typically written in a formal style and distributed to media outlets in order to generate coverage.

One of the first releases to lay claim to being the original submission to the press came in 1906 after a train wreck in the US state of New Jersey led to more than 50 deaths.

The rail company’s publicity expert issued a press release detailing what happened, which was published in titles including the New York Times.

Why are they written in a formal way?

More than a century on, there are still many reasons why press releases continue to be written in a formal way.

Firstly, they are intended to be read by journalists, who are used to receiving information in a professional and objective manner. They are flexible enough to be able to find news stories from a range of formal and informal sources, but a written press release is expected to be presented in a polished way to gain their interest amid conflicting demands on their time.

Second, press releases are often used to communicate sensitive or confidential information, so it is important to use language that is clear and concise. Some releases, like the 1906 rail crash story for example, convey bad news so they must be produced in a way that can be used as the basis for the story which you hope will appear.

Third, press releases are often archived and used as reference material, particularly if they touch upon contentious issues or stories which may be in the public interest for an extended period of time, so it is important to write them in a way that will be easy to understand and interpret in the future.

What should be included in a press release?

Here are some of the basic pieces of information that should be included in a press release: 

  • A headline that summarises the main message.
  • A brief introduction that provides background information on the topic, summing up the story below.
  • All the main information, including quotes from significant people involved.
  • A call to action, which tells journalists what you want them to do. This could be a URL for a web page where people can find out more.
  • Your contact name and email address for more information.

Get your news featured

If you are writing a press release for your business, you are representing your organisation so it is important to get it right.

Getting your news in front of journalists and getting it featured can be challenging.

At award-winning Osborn we work with every client to ensure their stories reach the widest range of media platforms possible, building links on their behalf to strengthen relationships over time.

We have a track record of securing coverage for clients in regional media, national titles, industry titles, across online platforms and on TV and radio.

The clients to benefit from our support include Aspire Active Education Group, who say: “We have worked with the Osborn PR team since 2020 and have experienced an extremely professional service. Osborn have helped our business gain more exposure through written and broadcast media.”

BCRS Business Loans said: “Osborn Communications have really impressed us with their creativity with their other clients and this was reinforced with the fresh ideas and strategic thinking it brought to the pitch. We are really excited to see what can be achieved by working together.”

Contact Osborn if you would like to know more about how our clients benefit from our support.

Additional tips on press releases

Finally, here are some additional tips on press releases from our team:

  • Keep it short and to the point. A press release should be no more than one page long.
  • Use active voice and strong verbs.
  • Avoid using all capital letters, exclamation points, jargon or technical language, all of which will have to be removed by the journalists and therefore cuts your chances of being included.
  • Proof read carefully before submitting.

By following these tips, you can write a press release that will be effective in getting the attention of the media and generating coverage for your business.

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