How to craft a winning press release

What is a press release and how is it used?

The first press release was facilitated by public relations industry “founder, Ivy Lee, in response to a 1906 New Jersey train wreck. Lee wanted to ensure that details about the crash were communicated from the Pennsylvania Railroad to media (in this case, The New York Times).

The idea was generated based on Lee’s philosophy that public relations personnel have an obligation to foster ethical public reporting—that is, to share company information in an unbiased and transparent way.

A press release provided an immediate and formal communication tool for directing accurate information to media personnel to ensure clear reporting from a reputable news source.

(Source: CSION)

From that day forward, public relations professionals began to use the press release as a go-between communication tool between organizations and the press. They were sent to media contacts with specific, previously unpublished or unpublicized details.

A press release would have, for instance, advised media teams of the scope of an emerging story (such as the train wreck), plus where and when reporters could arrive on scene to cover an important story. Having an easily recognizable format also ensured that editors would note a press release as a relatively urgent call to action and (hopefully) prioritize its distribution accordingly.

Back in the day, press releases would have consisted of a few formal elements which are still used today:

• A letterhead/logo
• An informative, brief headline
• Date information (e.g.: “for immediate release”)
• A soundbite (e.g.: a relevant quote from the CEO)
• Relevant information (e.g.: statistics)
• A company “boilerplate” (“about” section)
• A press kit/visuals
• Editor’s notes



Today, press release content is not limited to “newsy” events. We can use press releases to announce almost anything: mergers, product launches, openings, scientific advancements, new funding initiatives, etc.

Anything an organization deems newsworthy can theoretically be shared via this format. The trick is presenting it in such a way that the media personnel on the receiving end also deem the announcement as a story worthy of coverage, rather than an advertisement.

It’s up to the press release writer to maintain a journalistic tone, opposed to simply presenting advertising in a press release format, says Lisa Avery, previous publications manager for the Regina Regional Opportunities Commission (now Economic Development Regina Inc.).

“Essentially you are going to be in competition for ad space, but you aren’t paying for ad space. You have to make it stand out enough against both paying advertisers and other (non-PR) news, so you’ve really got to craft it into a story.” ~ Lisa Avery

Your story can certainly touch on your brand and products, but it must also offer something of value to the audience beyond just “here’s a product to buy.”

For instance, the Capital Records example above tells a story about factors that potentially contributed to its high profits—presumably for the purposes of attracting business investors—rather than just saying “buy our records!”

The relevance of the press release in the digital world

As media evolves from primarily print to mostly digital, the nature of the entire publishing industry is changing along with it. According to, in 2016, only about 20 percent of Americans got their news from print newspapers, with most others getting theirs from either TV or web-based media.

As far as written content goes, people no longer rely on professional journalists for primary news reports. All they need to do is check the latest app or open their Twitter feed, and the latest “news” is delivered instantaneously.

Businesses more frequently produce their own PR material for internal or affiliate publications, and small, indie publications publish blog articles from “armchair journalists” without necessarily maintaining professional journalism standards of ethics. In addition, some 60 percent of journalists are finding their stories online.

While there are many advantages to having a more open stream of information coming at us, there is far less regulation with regards to accuracy and ethics in reporting—basically, anyone can write and publish almost anything they want. Various forms of “fake news” are floating around everywhere. Or, at the very least, facts are not consistently reported thoroughly or accurately today.

Another concern is that the original intent of the press release seems to have gone astray—it’s often used as an inbound marketing device these days, rather than a reporting tool. Given this trend, and the shifts in the way businesses, consumers, and journalists are consuming and publishing media, some have been proclaiming the “death” of the press release.

It is fair to say that to the extent that the press release was originally meant to be a frequent, formal, and immediate communication tool, it’s not being used in the same way as it was, or as often.

But given the world’s affinity for (potentially) “fake news” these days, the press release may be more important than ever.

 Preparing and crafting a newsworthy press release

Press releases can still be effective tools for unbiased and interesting reporting when carefully composed and targeted appropriately.

But before sitting down to write a press release (or almost anything, for that matter), you need to have a clear understanding of their purpose, as well as how it will be received on the other end. If you don’t write something that will be of genuine interest to journalists and audiences, you’re just wasting your time.

So, before you start, ask yourself:

  • What is your intent in getting the message out? Is it self-serving, or genuinely educational/interesting?
  • Who will genuinely care about this issue—beyond the scope of this industry or business context—enough to respond to your call to action?
  • Is it newsworthy? How important is this story in the grand scheme of things? (Consider such factors as timing, relevance, implications, conflict, human interest, call to action, crosslinking potential, etc.)

You’ll want to ensure that you gather your information carefully as you prepare.  This may include clearing details with your company’s CEO, collaborating with relevant staff, and double-checking details about other participants who may be involved in the resulting news story.

Elma Glasgow, copywriter and PR consultant for major charitable organizations, recommends that people working with sensitive information take extra care with the preparation step.

“Be very mindful of the content you are including in the release, and which spokespeople you are using. For instance, if you’re working for a social welfare charity you will need to confirm that any beneficiaries mentioned or quoted have given their permission. Some people are more than happy to talk about the amazing help they’ve received, whereas others prefer not to get involved. It’s essential to treat individuals or communities with dignity and respect to ensure their own welfare, and to retain the integrity of the charity’s work.” ~ Elma Glasgow

Here are some more expert tips on designing your press release:

  • Leave out hyperbole, clickbait, long-winded explanations, and claims that cannot be backed up.
  • Include contact information, including names, for people in your organization.
  • Craft a headline that is clear, specific, informative, and unbiased. Depending on the context/industry, you may have a little more leeway to play this up and make it sexy—but stay relevant. If you’re not sure, keep it simple for editors, and they can spice it up if they decide to accept it and re-work it.
  • Follow these Associated Press style guidelines.
  • Send the press release in the body of an email rather than as an attachment. Anything that ends up being an extra step for a busy editor can end up working against you.
  • Include your own relevant visuals (videos, charts, graphs, and high-quality photos). You will want to include high res, JPG images as attachments and clarify that you own the rights. Depending on the context, you may want to offer the publication exclusive rights to the images. If you don’t have images, journalists will find their own if they choose to publish, so don’t include things like Creative Commons images.
  • Your boilerplate, which should include a mission statement and contact information.

How to get busy editors to notice your press release

Editors on the hunt for stories are on major information overload 99 percent of the time—so part of creating an effective press release submission is really about capturing their attention…and fast. Offer them something of interest to their readers, and be up front and respectful as you build relationships with them.

Jamie Khoo, former journalist for a major women’s fashion magazine, recommends that you get to know the ins and outs of the publication itself—what types of articles it features, the voice, what types of images work best in the given context, and so on. She also stresses the importance of personalizing each press release.

You should also:

  • Keep an updated database/media list for industry-relevant publications.
  • Understand the tone and voice of each publication before submitting your press release, and keep abreast of articles so as not to send duplicate ideas.
  • Find the hook! The more specialized your industry/content is, the more important it is to connect with editors of publications in your specific area.
  • Frame your story in such a way that it stands out. Editors need you to show them something new.
  • Get to know your editors!

“Make a personal connection without being annoying. Face time dramatically decreases the chances of them ignoring your name in the inbox. Reporters are busy. If they don’t want calls, respect that. But invite them to have coffee or lunch, reach out to them at networking events, follow them on social media, and show you appreciate and follow their work.” ~ Amy Robertson, Strategic Communications Specialist

The editor should be clear on why they are reading within the first few seconds of scanning the piece. They should understand clearly what the message is for the end user.

The press release is often used as an implicit branding tool, but remember that in this genre, form fits purpose. By its very nature, it’s not the same as a pitch or an ad. This is information to send to the press for them to re-work and distribute as they see fit, so it’s crucial to send them relevant information, not fluff.

Press releases as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools

Given the digital format of most media today, it may seem like a logical step to format press releases to be published online as traffic-generating tools. While this is entirely possible and can be a good method for some, sending press releases “on the wire” (e.g.: through sites like PR Newswire) does not have the same sort of story and connectivity power behind it that a well-written and targeted press release can.

Even though journalists and editors are finding some of their stories online, many media professionals are still interested in receiving compelling, well-crafted, relevant press releases for story material.

Here’s an example of a press release distributed via PR Newswire that was subsequently posted word for word by this digital publication:

Does the ease with which we can publish digitally mean that we should just put advertorial content online and call it a press release in the hopes that it gets picked up by the press, or should our targeting be more deliberate and specific?

Several years ago, when companies started to print a lot of their content on their own sites, they figured out that press releases could be solid SEO tools and began to use them frequently in inbound marketing.

“This shift led to a glut of releases that were no longer “real news,” but promotional content stuffed with keywords and hyperlinks to affiliated sites and networks designed to ‘game the system’ and put the content on page one of the search engines.” ~  Sara Callahan, owner of Carter West Public Relations.

This trend essentially tempered the strength of the genre as a credible reporting tool: without the neutrality offered by professional reporting, these “press releases” were akin to self-promotion. But Google noticed this, and responded by adjusting their algorithm to punish organizations setting up clickbait-type press releases by reclassifying these types of sites as link schemes.

Today, going heavy on the SEO is clearly not going to benefit your business, and publishing at sites like PR Newswire may or may not be of definitive benefit. Either way, it appears the more companies try to “dress up” their digital ads as press releases and either self-publish or distribute via somewhat anonymous channels, the more their press releases are perceived as blatant, biased PR tools rather than informative stories.

Beyond that, there is a growing trend towards high-quality, engaging content, so whether you’re publishing digitally or not, there is a definitive benefit in preparing, crafting, and targeting press releases as a part of an effective and respectable marketing strategy that benefits organizations, publications and the public in a genuine way.

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You have way too much to write, but you don’t have time to train someone new. You need a standby writer who catches on fast, produces work you barely have to edit, and who works with minimal guidance.

It’s that time again. Time for change. You’re dealing with a merge, an acquisition, a downturn, or explosive growth. From shareholder reports to employee-facing emails, you need a writing team who can keep stakeholders informed and positive.

You have a delicate situation and you need to respond quickly – there is no room for mistakes and you don’t have time to babysit. You need a team that understands the nuances of business, can produce meticulous copy in volume, and can ramp up fast.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Do you need to manage key messages across multiple channels? Employees, board members, public, investors, clients, media, and more?

With backgrounds in journalism, business and marketing, our writers know how to craft and convey messages with the intended effect. They’ll quickly learn your business and culture, then incorporate facts and data to create compelling, convincing, even calming content.

But in addition to talent, we use our award-winning project management system to manage your project efficiently, no matter how large it gets.

Stakeholder Communications Services

Our writers bring insights from various industries, companies, people, and assignments to your project.

  • Concept development. We’ll collaborate with you to develop the right approach, message, and tone for your audience.
  • Interviews. Our writers know how to ask the right questions to get the best responses.
  • Project management. A dedicated project manager will see that all the moving parts fall into place on time.
  • Editing and review. We know there’s no room for error. Our editors will improve clarity, flow, and organization, and ensure there are no mistakes, factual or otherwise.
  • Proofreading. Always completed by a previously uninvolved proofreading resource to ensure squeaky-clean copy.

Consider us for projects in:

SME-Driven Thought Leadership

Thought leadership has helped super-majors, like Shell Oil, refashion their image from producer to high-tech energy solutions guru.

And it enabled DrillingInfo to shed the “data company” label and be seen as an industry intelligence leader. Saudi Aramco sponsors an annual global thought leadership forum; news source PennEnergy has launched a Global Thought Leaders Series on trends and technology. And those are just a few examples.

What is thought leadership? In his blog, Thought Leadership Marketing At the Age of Online Influence, Digital marketer and influencer marketing expert Ron Sela offers a helpful definition. “Thought leadership is the process of establishing a relationship with your customers and stakeholders and delivering something of value to them. During this process, you go beyond simply selling a service or product and establish your brand as the expert in the field, differentiating yourself from the competitors.”

Identifying Your Resources

If you’re planning to develop a thought leadership campaign for your company or organization, one of your most accessible sources of help is probably your company’s subject matter experts (SMEs)people who have been practicing in their field long enough to develop deep knowledge about it. Not all SMEs are potential thought leaders, but most thought leaders are SMEs, writes Peggy Salvatore in The Difference between Thought Leaders and Subject Matter Experts. “A thought leader who is a SME with deep and broad knowledge is suited to lead many. A thought leader who is developing their expertise but willing to step out front will lead fewer. Both will have impact but one will have much greater influence on the future because they are speaking into many lives,” she writes.

There is a catch though: SMEs generally are busy people; they may be less than enthusiastic about supporting a thought leadership campaign, especially if it calls for a significant time commitment on their part.

Motivating your SMEs begins with developing a trust relationship with them, a relationship based on respect and empathy. And how do you do that?

First, Involve Them

Sure, encouraging SMEs to contribute their own ideas achieves buy-in. But what if their ideas aren’t on-point or aligned with your business strategy? Instead of promoting a free-for-all by asking your SMEs, “What do you want to focus on?” start with these questions:

  • What are your customers’ most pressing issues or concerns?
  • What regulations, industry news or trends are customers talking about?
  • How have your ideas or insights helped solve a customer challenge?

Or consider gently providing topic suggestions: “Hey, Joe, I just read about such and such. Are customers thinking about this? How could we contribute to the conversation?”

Next, Make Writing Easier

Journalist Gene Fowler said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Don’t subject your SMEs to that. If you want them to contribute white papers, blogs or speeches to support a thought leadership campaign, you’ll need to help your SMEs eliminate the blank sheet of paper (or monitor screen) by:

  • Giving them concise guidelines, explaining what a thought leadership piece is not (it’s not an ad or a technical how-to), and including clear examples of what you are looking for.
  • Providing a fill-in-the-blank template for SMEs who need a little more structure.
  • Taking the time to write a short project brief, reiterating the three W’s: Who is it for? What are your points? Why should readers care?

Or, Don’t Make Them Write

A short disclaimer: asking your SMEs to write your thought leadership content isn’t always your best option.“When most subject experts write their own articles, books and other content, the insights can be underwhelming,”  Robert Buday and Tim Parker of Bloom Group warn in their blog, Moving Your Firm Up The Thought Leadership Evolutionary Chart.

“The ironic thing is these professionals usually don’t lack unique expertise or impressive client work. What they do lack is an ability to develop nascent ideas sufficiently for publication and communicate them in a way the unenlightened can understand,” Buday and Parker explain.

Listen Carefully

If producing compelling copy for non-experts isn’t in your SMEs’ skill set, you may want to handle the writing yourself. In that case, you’ll need to conduct an in-depth interview with your SMEs.

“The SME interview is one of the most critical steps in the thought leadership content generation process, providing one of the few opportunities for substantive, direct interaction among the main parties in the effort,” thought leadership expert  of Alterra Group writes in How To Optimize the Thought Leadership SME Interview.

Whoever is doing the writing, SMEs want a chance to communicate what they want to say in the piece so it ultimately reflects their best thinking and positions them well in the marketplace, Thiel says. “For writers, (the interview) the prime venue for gathering the key ingredients they need to shape the SME’s thinking into a strong, compelling piece of content. And for marketers, it’s an opportunity to ensure the project stays on time and results in a document they can effectively pump through the company’s marketing channels.”

If you’re strapped for time, you might prefer the option of hiring a professional writer to handle the interviewing and collaboration with the SMEs. Working with someone who will gather information and provide wordsmithing can make it faster and easier to develop high quality content.

Finally, Remember to Say “Thanks”

Once your thought leadership pieces are complete, resist the temptation to sprint off to the next to-do item. Remember to share the published or digital pieces with the SME. Forward positive feedback from clients and upper management; thank the SME in front of their colleagues. Not only does success feel good, it helps create commitment and future cooperation.

Managing ‘Open Door’ Policies

By Tina M. Liljedahl

Tina Liljedahl is a marketing and business consultant who has over 10 years of experience in leadership development with an emphasis on improving communication in the workplace.

Open door policies are designed to increase communication by providing a safe and secure way for employees to voice concerns, resolve issues, and provide new ideas. In my work as a business consultant, I have specifically noticed the increase of this trend in industries that rely on creativity, such as software companies, marketing, and IT companies; as well as industries that pride themselves on a servant leadership atmosphere such as human resources companies and consulting firms.  According to Hewlett-Packard  (2015), their open door policy is “open communication in an environment of trust and mutual respect that creates a solid foundation for collaboration, growth, high performance and success across HP.”

However, in consulting with companies over the last 10 years, I have also discovered even companies with the best intending leadership can fall into three major traps of the open door policy: damaged trust, ill prepared management, and inefficient work days. Likewise, I have witnessed first hand companies that avoided these pitfalls by bringing a little more awareness, and clear communication to their strategy. As a result, they successfully implemented effective open door policies.

1. Damaged Trust

You want your employees to tell you if they have concerns or issues and share their ideas; that’s why the open door policy is so appealing. However, if an employee feels he or she isn’t taken seriously; it will not only damage his or her trust and behavioral integrity, that lack of trust will spread like cancer throughout your organization. Research shows that when there is a trust violation in the workplace that is left unresolved, it will create a downward negative effect on the overall morale of the company (Savolainen, Lopez-Fresno, & Ikonen, 2014).


Keep in mind employers who respond respectfully, and follow up with action will foster an environment of trust. Actively listening to the employee, providing him or her your full attention by shutting your door or stepping into a conference room, and putting email, cell phones, and work aside will show the employee you are taking the issue seriously.  Repeating the problem or idea back in your own words will ensure that you and your employee are on the same page and will reassure your employee that you do understand. Be sure to let employees know how you will be taking action, even if the action is to follow up in a day or so to make sure the employee is feeling better about an issue.  Then, follow up on your promises. Employers who do what they say they will do, when they said they will do it, have employees who will go to bat for them every time. That is because, as The Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization revealed, employees who trust their management actually exhibit higher levels of workplace performance (Brown, Gray, & McHardy, 2015).

2. Ill-Prepared Management

When employees are told they can come to management for anything, rest assured they will! Employees may not turn to human resources like they did before, or they may sidestep their direct manager and seek out someone higher up in the company.  So, everyone needs to be prepared.

Management that is ill prepared to handle the type of employee interaction they receive could lead to embarrassment for the employee and the manager, or even legal ramifications.  For example, an estimated 2 percent-5 percent of individuals in the United States are transgender, totaling between five and 12 million individuals (Hendrick, 2015).  With recent media attention on the subject, it is likely that businesses will experience a rise in the number of individuals who choose to openly live this lifestyle and have specific needs as it relates to gender identification, bathroom usage, and informing colleagues (Hendrick, 2015).


Open door policies really work best when department managers and the hierarchy of matrix organizations are working together.  Soft-skills and communication training, along with educating management on how and when to go to Human Resources with an issue, can aid management in side-stepping uncomfortable situations and avoiding legal actions.

Large firms may have a training and employee development team that works in the Human Resources department with the expertise on the best way to train management on issues such as cultural diversity, harassment policies in the workplace, and the basic state and federal laws

Of course, if your company does not have this type of resource readily available, I encourage you to seek out a Human Resources outsourcing company to train management on these issues.  It’s definitely an investment that could save the company in the future.

In addition to ensuring your management is trained properly, having your open door policy clearly and thoroughly documented and providing managers with a copy is a way to reinforce the expectations on how to respond to employees.

3. Open Door Policies Can Lead to Inefficiencies.

Because an open door policy’s very nature is to encourage communication and the ability for an employee to speak with management at anytime, it can lead to an unfocused and unproductive day for management (Yates, 2015). Open office work areas without doors leave managers especially vulnerable to unending daily interruptions (Yates, 2015).


Let’s be realistic, you hired your managers to complete a specific job and oversee the department, not act as on-going mediation service.  Deadlines and projects are still important and vital to their role, and a stressed-out manager will not be good at managing or as a sounding board for employees.

Managers are most successful in retaining productivity when they communicate clearly with their staff about their needs to get projects completed.  Managers can do this by sharing calendars and blocking off time that is to be uninterrupted, or having a cue they share with employees that means they are focused on a project (such as, “When I am wearing headphones, I am focused on project xyz”). They can emphasize and assure the staff they will be available to address basic concerns later at a specific time, making sure the employees know they can always be interrupted for emergencies.  This provides employees with the knowledge they need to allow managers to work without feeling like they are being dismissed.

Your employees will be receptive to the information and will genuinely understand your request. It’s recommended that communication with employees be handled in advance as much as possible and never directly after an employee’s request. This will diminish the chance the employee will feel as though their concerns are being dismissed.

With precaution, most open-door policy dangers can be avoided making the policy more beneficial than harmful. I have observed companies that reap the most benefits ensure their open-door policies are well documented, clear, communicated to everyone in the organization, and management is educated and prepared.