Approaching the press release as a journalist

The press release, long an important tool in the public relations toolbox still remains relevant. With the disruption in the news industry, I think a well-written press release is more relevant today than ever before. 

As a professional writer, I’d hate to count how many press releases I’ve written and as a journalist with 20-plus years of experience, I’d really hate to count how many I’ve received. However, it is these experiences that inform how I approach writing a press release. 

First thing

Is the press release the right tool? Writer and PR pr Michelle Garrett covered some important questions to ask yourself when considering a press release. 

A press release is a tool. Like any tool, it is not always the right tool so it is important to consider what you want to accomplish. Is the goal best served by a press release? 

The key is turnkey

Editors and reporters are busy and there just aren’t enough of them anymore. Give them something they can use immediately with little to no work on their part.Press Release

My checklist includes:

  • Before I do anything, can I answer this question: Why the heck will anyone outside the company or organization care?
  • Did I write the article like a journalist would?
  • A good, relevant news hook.
  • Interviews and other research.
  • Claims supported by evidence.
  • Be careful with the superlatives (the first, best, only, etc.). 
  • Inverted pyramid (probably). 
  • Have I included art – photos, graphics, etc.?
  • Do the photos include well-written cutlines with all people in the photo identified by name and title?
  • Are the photos original (not stock photos)?
  • Is there video available for the news website?
  • Is additional information, such as background materials, readily available?
  • Have I given the reporter or editor multiple easy ways to contact me if they want to set up an interview, need more information, or want to verify something?

As I said, the key is turnkey. Can the editor take your press release, copy and paste it, and publish it immediately on their website or in their newspaper? In addition to a great story, are you minimizing the journalists’ workload

When I write a press release, I am a journalist. That’s why I need the hook. It’s not about promotion, it is about story. And yes, sometimes writing a news story isn’t the answer, particularly if it is something of human interest. In those cases, more of a feature approach may be the answer, but the basic idea remains. 

Not everyone agrees

A couple of years ago, I had a freelance client for whom I pretty regularly wrote blog posts. These were subcontracted for various clients of theirs and it was decently paying regular work. 

One day, they asked if I’d write a press release. The mother of the owner of this agency opened a cupcake shop in a huge metro area and wanted an announcement. Media coverage for a press release like that in a market like that is a tough sell but I went after it anyway. 

Explained my approach. They proclaim how much sense it makes. 

I found an interesting story angle and wrote it as though I were writing for a newspaper and sent it to the client.

His reaction was … unexpected. Chewed like a dog would be an understatement and I was told I know nothing about media. He sent his rewrite, filled with superlatives and false claims. Voted “major city’s” number 1 cupcake! Voted by who?

I never got paid. 

The response was bad enough that I resigned from the client. Sometime later, one of the editors I worked with at that company is on the phone begging me to come back. I explained it wasn’t her, and stuck to my guns. She conceded that the “new” press release never got published anywhere. 

I don’t know if my version would have gotten published. You actually never know. However, I know that it would have been turnkey and that it was written like a journalist would write. 

But I know this. Give them a story they can use, and make it easy to use, and there’s a good chance they’ll, you know, use it. 

Need help with a press release? Reach out. You can email me at