How to write and distribute a press release and a pitch for your business; it’s my Silver Jubilee so I am writing one myself too

1995-2020: Celebrating 25 Years of Getting Clients Noticed

By Jim James,

Founder, EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

EASTWEST PR has reached 25 years, and so it’s our jubilee anniversary, and that’s one not to be squandered from a PR point of view. Years and years ago, writing press releases was what EASTWEST PR did as an agency day in, day out. It’s my own story, so I’m really the best person to tell it.

The basics of writing a press release

Coming to the practicalities of writing a press release, first of all, one needs to have background information. The media get lots of press releases every day, but majority of them don’t make the cut, as journalists are looking for something special, something that’s going to resonate with their readers and make their own publications stand out above the others. They’re not interested in hyperbole and opinion. They’re interested in facts, because that’s what interests their readers. To assess a headline’s quality and strength, there is the Headline Keyword Planner Tool, and this is really helpful because a headline needs to be relevant and attention-seeking for the readers and SEO bots, and this is the art or magic of writing.

The next part is writing the press release itself, which isn’t as easy as it might seem. A press release should usually not be longer than 700 words. The opening paragraph should explain the entire story, so that readers can understand the entirety of it. It would be wise to send it out two days before the event itself, so that if anyone’s interested in an interview or a story, there’s enough time for that. The second paragraph is often called the standfirst, because it is the “meat and potatoes” of the story. The third paragraph gives a little bit more detail, and then the fourth one could contain a quote or inspiring message and why this is newsworthy. The next paragraph would be customer or partner testimonials for the brand, and the last paragraphs would give some industry context: the nature of this industry, the size, and the growth along with statistics that make the story resonate and give the journalist who may not understand the industry a sense of why this is important to people other than you. For the final paragraph, give a conclusion and put the media contacts, such as your contact details or the agency’s. It’s often worth using an alias for the email address (e.g. to reduce the amount of spam that a personal email will get, because once the press release goes online, if the media channels do issue the press release in its entirety, the email address will be picked up by spam bots.

A press release would not be considered complete without graphics, so one can include the company logo, a photograph of the spokesperson, a product photograph, or an infographic, and when laying out the press release, keep the corporate identity in mind. Also, ttachments are not necessarily embedded because that can make the file size too big, and so they are attached, not linked because the journalists don’t want to be opening or may not open, in fact, the links for security reasons. So, explain that there are press attachments available and say what those are and where they might be.

Press release distribution and pitching to the media

Apart from writing a press release, one also needs to pitch to the media and get interviews with the company spokesperson. The pitches are a different document, and would only be 150 to 200 words or just one to two paragraphs long. It’s not too wordy, but it has to get to the point, and it also has to have a catchy headline. It helps to begin with a personal story, lead on to why the business was created, and end with a call to action and a display of contact details so journalists know where to reach you. After all that planning then comes distribution of the press release and pitches, and this can involve free or paid tools that can send out your press release. There is IssueWire, which can send out one press release for free to over 150 US outlets, after which, it will cost you $21 per release. There is also Prowly, which offers a free trial, and they will provide you the media contact details for $210 a month. Another optin is PressRush, which is $49 a month or $490 a year. PR Fire is another one, and they publish press releases for free but to a limited distribution network after 48 hours. If you are willin gto pay £60, they will give you a better and more speedy distribution. Next is Journalism and for £60 pounds plus VAT, they will deliver your press release to over 18,000 email recipients, tweet it to 15,000 followers, and share it with 24,000 professionals on LinkedIn. 
Basically, two documents are needed. One is the press release, which goes to a general audience, and that may be tier one media and tier two media. Tier one media deserve a pitch, as these are the top 3-10 media you’d want to get interviewed by, and this will require the effort to research what the journalists have written before. Each pitch should be uniquely written for that journalist to angle the story according to their editorial emphasis. It’s important that the facts and figures are accurate, so that the press release has detail. Make sure to use good quality photographs, infographics, and diagrams, because that is what journalists will use to assemble the story. As mentioned before in the reports by Cision on the State of the Media, journalists have almost no time at all, and while they may be getting up to 100 pitches per week, majority of what they’re sent is irrelevant to them. So, in order to move out of the 100 and be in the top 10 that they might write about in a week, pitches should be accurate, informative, and well supported with other information so journalists can take what they like and fashion that into the narrative that suits their reader.

Media monitoring

There is no right or wrong to all this. It’s about the scale of public relations and the scale of the business. If you want to level up, there are companies like Cision that have phenomenal dashboards, media contacts, media histories, and treports. You can purchase their services on a one-time basis or an ongoing basis, and they become very flexible at this time with their pricing. This leads to the topic of monitoring the press release, because it’s one thing to send out a press release, but it’s another one to know where it’s all appeared, and tools like Cision or Meltwater have integrated into their suite media monitoring to determine the reach of a press release. Individual pitches will need to be monitored and followed up, since the media are extremely busy and they’ve got better things to do than to wait for interesting articles to come as a result of interviewing a company. So ideally, follow up to see what they like, if there’s anything else that can be done for them, and possibly schedule a time now or in the future when the story may be of interest to them.

In summary, press releases form the bread and butter of the public relations work. They are the preferred medium of choice for journalists, because it’s easy for them to file and easy for them to read. It’s essential, therefore, to learn how to write press releases or to outsource that by hiring journalists or freelance writers on sites like Upwork so that the central tenant of your public relations activities is to issue out cogent and well-researched press releases accompanied by compelling pitches.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

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