How to write a press release for digital media

While working as a web content manager at Ejecutivos magazine, I dealt with tons of news and press releases. I both had to choose what we were going to publish on our website and had to write press releases to pitch our own stories to other media. Thus, I learned how to create a press release that the journalist I am pitching it to is going to like, greatly increasing the chance to see my story published.

First it’s important to understand that online media have a never-ending need for stories. They make their living on advertising and therefore they need a constant flow of new content to attract traffic and generate advertising revenue. Big media and famous blogs might have the resources to keep writing all those stories, but the other thousands of news-like websites out there are definitely short on writers and time. Writing the press release in a way that could be directly published by the media (the first lesson I was taught at university) gets more important: save the online magazine time and work and they will be pleased to receive and publish your story.

But while working at the magazine I realized that there aren’t many companies and agencies understanding this fact, so I put together a few key points to keep in mind that will help you get your press release published:

infograph press releases
Click to enlarge
  1. Attach as much multimedia content as you have. The great advantage of online media over print media is the fact that they can add videos, audio files and images almost without limitations. Why would you send only one picture if you have seven and the website you are pitching your story to can create a photo gallery? As readers, we all love multimedia, and sites like YouTube or Pinterest are a vivid example of its importance. So keep in mind that press releases with visuals boost views nearly tenfold, as shown in PR Newswire’s infographic to the right of this lines.
  2. You might not be a journalist, but if you are working in public relations you better know how to write a news article. Always follow the basic structure of the news article in your press releases: header, lead and text. That’s what a journalist needs to create the article, and that’s what the CMS of their website is ready for. When creating the title and the lead think that most probably they will become the Meta-Title, Meta-Description and H1 tags of the webpage when they get published, so think about SEO and keywords when writing your header and lead. If you bring organic traffic to the media’s site they’ll like you better, plus you are obviously increasing your exposure.
  3. Don’t forget to add at the bottom of your press release, and clearly separated from the article, your contact information and some background about your story and company. For the journalists with time to work on each story that’s basic information, plus it makes it easier for them to reach you in case there is an opportunity to follow-up the story or get an interview.
  4. Whether it’s a personal blog or an international magazine, in any media’s website the first person refers to the media itself and the second person refers to its readers. So if you want to talk about your company you have to use the third person. This is not negotiable, so assume your role when writing your text.
  5. Only send press releases when you really have a story to tell. As I mentioned before, media people are too busy to be bothered with little things, and you should work on your relationship with them. You want the media to trust you, to open all your emails because they know you only send interesting stuff (or rather, interesting to them). When pitching your story to a big media think about their sections (sports, technology, life, business, travel…) and where would your story fit better, and write your text accordingly. Send your story only to one section in the same media.
  6. Media publish news, not corporate brochures, so keep it objective. You are obviously not going to send press releases against your interests, but just don’t go too far. And of course never ever lie, it’s not only your trust that is at stake but also the media’s. Again remember that what hurts the media will hurt you too.
  7. Don’t assume the media will have translators, or anyone able to translate your press release. Always send your stories in the same language the media will publish them. Even if they get it translated you risk loosing some details with the translation. If the media is bilingual choose one language, preferably the one the journalist (your contact) uses more often.
  8. If you are pitching a story, send the press release in the same email. Why make the journalist go to your website to download it when he could have it in his inbox right away? There is one exception to this, which is sending the multimedia formats mentioned before, since those might be to big for an email.
  9. Make it easy to edit and copy/paste. The easier it is for the journalist to work with your press release the more possibilities to get it published. This includes:
    • Keep it simple and don’t waste time on text formats (colour, size, fonts, etc.).Media have their own styles and won’t change them because your blue font looks cool.
    • Maybe the company’s logo is really cool, but within the text you should write the company’s name in plain text. Again, the media is not going to use the logo when publishing your story. Also, journalists understand brands are copyrighted, so you don’t have to add the copyright symbol beside every single term. Imagine that all the times you read Apple and Samsung these days on the media they had to add the ©… Annoying, right?
    • Use a simple and highly compatible format. PDFs don’t allow editing and are a pain to copy/paste into a Word document, and you can’t assume all journalists can read the latest version of Microsoft Office (.docx, .pptx). An older version of Microsoft Word is probably your best option to create a nice layout yet a simple text file.

5 thoughts on “How to write a press release for digital media”

  1. Here’s a true story: When I first started learning copywriting I found out that large parts of our newspapers and many magazines are written by press release writers. Once you move past the main stories, virtually all of some newspapers are simply press releases an editor has grabbed, re-written the lead, and published.

    1. Yes, I think that’s how small media work. I think bigger organizations have the resources to work on their stories, but still: the easier you make it for the journalist the better.

  2. When writing killer press releases remember to minimize technical or industry jargon. Although relevant for certain professionals or groups, jargon may confuse your audience and turn them off to your message. To engage new readers who may not be as skilled in industry language, write for a broader audience and increase the likelihood the content is shared. Keep it simple, and don’t be afraid to offer explanatory resources if some industry or brand-specific names or words are needed.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I think you might be right, but it all depends on your public: if you are sending your press release to an specialized media, then you should use the technical terms because that’s what the readers expect. And for SEO those keywords will probably work better too.

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