Writing press releases: Tips, advice in 500 words

While enjoying the glorious 68 degrees inside Heritage Media’s SPARK Ypsilanti Community Media Lab, I took a phone call from one of our freelancers, Leslie McGraw.

McGraw was writing a press release for a local author that recently won a few awards and had a few questions. I worked for about a year as a public relations writer in Monroe County before venturing into journalism, so I was able to pass on some advice.

For more advice and another take on press releases, check out Heritage Media Editor Erica McClain’s post.

  • Don’t take up an editor’s time, write it in AP style: Editors are very, very busy people. They don’t want to dig through a poorly-written PR newsletter filled with sensational language and exclamation points. Write it as if you work for a news publication.
  • Keep it simple, keep it short: No need to write a novella about how great some business or person might be, just make sure to use that good ole inverted pyramid. In my experience, releases range anywhere from 200 to 500 words, but it’s very subjective. Also, include a photo whenever possible. If the pub decides to print your release, it makes it all the easier (provided the photo is a GOOD photo, that is).
  • That first paragraph is the most important: Try to get those “Five Ws” in the lede (the lede is the first paragraph)– Who, What, When, Where, and Why. A great lede incorporates the most important, and at times most interesting, info first. I’ve seen editors and reporters, myself included, shun a press release by looking at the lede alone.
  • Proofread: One of the worst things that can happen to your release is to get pitched in the trash because of typos and grammatical errors. Find somebody — your roommate, friend, sibling, even your mom — to look over what you’ve put together, especially if you’re sending it out to a news organization.

Now, you have that nice, fancy press release ready to go out into the news world, but where do you send it? At first, it may seem like this is the hardest part of the press release process, especially if you’re new to the area or work remotely.

Start by looking up what news publications are big in the area your client operates in. Newspapers and online-only news organizations are the most obvious. The organizations almost always have its editors, and even reporters, listed on its site with email and mailing addresses.

Check out the contact info for Heritage Media West here.

Send the release to the editor that handles the section you’d think your release is most relevant. For example, if you’re writing a release for a new restaurant opening up in a popular part of town, send it to not only the Foods editor, but the business editor and any reporters that frequently cover that beat.

Don’t forget blogs.

Successful bloggers are experts at networking content. Doing a quick Google search of popular blogs that relate to the release’s subject matter can help track down the right people. If you can get a popular blogger interested in your release, it could result in exponential exposure to your release and to your client.

What’s the best part about all of this? You can come into the Community Media Lab anytime Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and we’re here to help with press releases in person!


Danny Shaw

Multimedia Journalist

Heritage Media


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