September 7, 2022 |

6 minutes

What is a Press Release? Definition

You’ve probably read a press release. Perhaps written by a big multinational, politician or anyone who wants to share some news. But what is a press release exactly? In this article, we explain what it is, how to create one, when you would use one and why it can be important for your business.

What is a press release?

The press release was invented by Ivy Lee in 1906, while he was working for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Unfortunately, there was an accident. At the time, journalists would normally decide on the narrative of the story based on facts they collected themselves. However, Ivy decided to take the initiative and wrote the very first press release to guide the story, explaining it was an accident and distributing it to journalists. It was published with no changes to his text. Since then, the press release has evolved and has become a staple of every communications team globally.

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”.

What is a press release. Definition.

We can see in both that the press release’s meaning and purpose is to reach out and communicate to specific parties, with the wider aim of receiving coverage and gaining 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 doing so.

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

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. Spend as much time researching and writing the headline as you do writing the press release itself. The importance of these words cannot be overstated. A good headline needs to capture the attention of the journalist and justify why it is worth publishing, but also not give everything away. If the complete story is in the headline then 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 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 to not 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 emailing you or calling you. Also, if there is a specific location and date that the news will be released then that can be added here as well.

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

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 company in a way you have control over it. 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 branding 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

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

1. Event press release

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

2. New product

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

3. New business

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

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. Whilst 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 had. The narrative might be initiated by them, 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 which can improve SEO and generate media attention. 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 their audience.

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