What is a Press Release? Definition

You’ve probably read a press release. When a company wants to make an announcement or apologize for something, a press release is where they turn to. But what is a press release exactly? This article explains what it is, how to create one, when you would use one, and why it can be important for your business.

published: September 7, 2022
updated: April 15, 2024

What is a press release?

The press release was invented by Ivy Lee in 1906 while he was working for the Pennsylvania Railroad. When the railroad suffered an accident, Ivy took the initiative and wrote the first press release to guide the story, explaining it was an accident and distributing it to journalists. At the time, journalists would normally decide on the narrative of the story based on facts they collected themselves. However, Ivy’s version was published with no changes to the text. Since then, the press release has evolved and become a staple of every global communications team.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:

“a public statement given to the press to publish if they wish”.

A slightly more in-depth press release definition of what are press releases from Wikipedia goes along the lines of

“a written or recorded communication, directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something ostensibly newsworthy”.

We can see that the press release’s meaning and purpose is to reach out and communicate to specific parties, aiming to receive coverage and gain positive attention from a larger target audience. To do this successfully requires skill and technique. Any company can write a press release, but not every business will gain media coverage.

What you distribute to journalists must match your branding and allow you to build credible relationships with journalists over time to reach existing and potential customers. Most press releases will be online. To craft an effective press release, it is necessary to understand its structure.

Learn more about how to write a press release
Example of a press release obtained by PRLab
Example of a press release obtained by PRLab for Chargebee. Published at Computable.

The format of a press release

1

The headline

The most critical part of any press release is the headline. This is what the journalist looks at first. In essence, this is the advertisement of the press release.

The importance of these words cannot be overstated. A good headline must capture the journalist's attention and justify why it is worth publishing, but not give everything away. If the complete story is in the headline, the journalist doesn’t need to read the rest of the press release.

2

The summary

This is a single sentence which ideally should have less than 25 words. This builds on the headline and adds more context, but again, it doesn’t give away the full story.

3

Main body

The main body of the press release should answer who, what, why, where, when, and how. Supporting evidence, sources of statistics, and quotes from experts add credibility. It is important not to sound like you are selling the story. No one wants to be sold to, especially journalists.

4

Call to action and contact details

To finish the press release, add a note about what to do if the journalist is interested, perhaps by email or call. Also, if there is a specific date that the news will be released, that can also be added here.

We invite you to read our article about press release formats if you wish to learn more in depth.

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Why are press releases important for business?

A press release offers you a free opportunity to promote or generate interest in your brand.

It is also important because it creates press coverage in a way that you have control over. Press releases offer the ideal way to share important corporate news and make official announcements.

Some specific uses of a press release for a business include:

  • Creating a new company
  • An event
  • Hiring a senior member of staff
  • Rebranding
  • New business partnership or merger
  • Releasing a new product
  • Telling shareholders or customers that the organization structure has changed
  • Opening a new office location, shop or factory
  • To get an award or other credit-worthy certification
  • Winning new business
  • Innovations in release and development

What is the purpose of a press release?

The key goal of a press release is to generate media coverage and increase brand awareness. In terms of cost/benefit ratio, a single press release, if picked up by a media outlet, can generate more brand awareness than a high-budget PR campaign.

Some other goals of a press release include:

  • Building relations with reporters
  • Becoming known for open and transparent communication
  • To help public relations

Different types of press release

The format and tone may need to be adjusted depending on the type of press release you are writing. These are some of the most common types of press releases, along with format variations.

1. New product

This type of release should focus on how the product differs from competitor models and the customer benefits of the new model. For example, if a car company releases a new model. It is also possible to offer a discount in some capacity.

2. New business

This type of press release should highlight why the brand felt there was a gap in the market. For example, if an airline company launched a cruise line brand. Why does the brand think it has what it takes to enter this new area? How can it compete with other brands in this area. From the customer's point of view, what is the value for them?

3. Event press release

This type of press release is both an announcement of the event and an invitation to attend the event. For example, a charity fun run or conference. In the who, what, where, when, why, and how, talk about if the event is open to the public and how to get access.

Learn more about event press releases

4. New executive hires

This should aim to reassure shareholders and consumers while generating publicity. Give an overview of the new hire’s education, professional background, and career history, detailing any notable professional achievements. Add in comments they have about the upcoming appointment and main aims.

5. CSR initiatives

With the rising concern for corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the environment, businesses have had to tackle and incorporate these issues into their daily operations. They need their press releases to stand out while simultaneously showing an empathetic side. Include the background for any initiatives, the scope of your role, why the organization is involved, the details of the news, and what you want to achieve. Include any third-party organization details that the initiative benefits.

Want to make an announcement like the ones above?

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Is a news release the same as a press release?

The short answer is, no.

The main difference is that press releases perform a marketing function for an organization, whereas a news release is about something that a journalist would decide is newsworthy or relevant.

It could be about anything. For example, politics, crime, or a general interest story.

As we have seen, the term press release originated in 1908 in a world where most news was printed. Since then, things have changed. The term news release represents a more traditional approach to communication, in effect, a one-way monologue where the media decide on the narrative. This two-way digital communications environment has, in a lot of ways, restricted the power that journalists have. They might initiate the narrative, but once published, the story will take on a life of its own.

Conclusion

The humble press release has evolved from a crisis management tactic in 1908 to a powerful communications tool that can improve SEO and generate media coverage. It’s not only an advertising tool but rather a means to communicate what is going on with a firm and to create effective content that will be picked up by its audience.

September 7, 2022
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Matias Rodsevich
Matias Rodsevich
CEO of PRLab
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