Writing@CSU Guide

Press Releases

As a mediated form of communication, a press release is an extremely effective way in which to communicate with the public. Corporations and organizations do this on a regular basis. Rather than reacting to specific media inquiries, not all of which are necessarily welcome, they proactively manage the news about themselves.

Through press releases, business intentions, priorities and accomplishments can be converted into newsworthy items. As news, information in press releases invoke a certain level of legitimacy in the eyes of the media and, when properly issued, the media will be happy publish or broadcast them free of charge.

The trouble is that many press releases (actually most of them) are quickly recognized for what they are: cheap end-runs at getting free publicity. These end up in the wastebasket. Advertising never ends up in the wastebasket. Guess which one creates the revenue stream in a media organization.

There are many legitimate topics that press releases cover. Depending upon the specific topic, they serve one or more functions, all strategically related to public relations goals. Regardless of topic and functions, all press releases follow a preformulated structure and style.

Instruction for writing effective press releases can be found by clicking the guide links on the right hand side of this page. These guides provide helpful instruction, video commentary and samples. Included also is an interactive template for drafting, saving and editing each step of your work.

History of Press Releases

The term news management was first used in 1955 by James Reston in testimony before a U.S. congressional committee on government information. But it can be argued that news management actually began as early as 1919 at the Paris peace conference.

Regardless of when it is claimed that news management was first practiced, or when the term was first introduced, the appearance of what have come to be known as press releases date back to the 1880's.

It was quite common back then for members of the U.S Congress to drop by Newspaper Row, located on 14th Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and F Street in Washington D.C., with the odd piece of information, generally about themselves and their agendas. Their purpose was to provide and manage the news. Many went so far as to interview themselves (Schudson 1978: 20).

More recently, companies and organizations as well as individuals have realized that they need not wait for the media to contact them before pro-actively managing the news about themselves. In fact, to wait actually invites innuendo and rumor being spread by ill informed, self-appointed news analysts. This cannot be altogether avoided but, with a little proactive news management, it can be diminished.

Ivy Lee, one of the first public relations practioners, after receiving a substantial gift of newspaper space from John D. Rockefeller to be used in a campaign on behalf of Johns Hopkins University, had this to say:

"…in view of the fact that this was not really news, and the newspapers gave so much attention to it, it would seem that this was wholly due to the manner in which the material was dressed up for newspaper consumption. It seems to suggest very considerable possibilities along this line."

He was right and today most organizations take an active role in creating and distributing the news about themselves. And, of course, the very considerable possibilities available in Ivy Lee's day have come a considerable long way since. Today, the news media is informed via E-mail, in close to real-time, when newsworthy events or stories are happening.

Be it a simple press release or a complex audio-visual feed, the media can instantly download information from the Internet and place it in print or live broadcast form.

Press Release Topics

Major corporations in many countries around the world are required by law to publicize their annual (and sometimes semi-annual) financial reports. Often they do it by issuing a press release. The financial position of a corporation is not the only topic a press release can cover, however.

Morton & Ramsey (1994) report that they are used to cover a wide range of other topics as well. Among them are education and human resources, teaching and research, the economy, politics, health and the environment. Social issues of every imaginable sort, even fashion, home decorating and gardening, are legitimate topics for a press release.

Regardless of the importance or seriousness of the topic, a press release should include a fair measure of newsworthiness. Writers must be very selective regarding this if they expect the media to accept and publish them. Providing a news hook, linking a topic to the latest news, or demonstrating how it is relevant to what people are interested in, is one way of enhancing the publishable quality of a press release.

Functions of a Press Release

The primary function of a press release is to quickly publicize information that may have a significant impact or be of particular interest to a large and unrelated group of people. A wide range of public and private organizations make use of this form of communication on a regular basis.

Government agencies, schools and universities, trade unions and professional associations are but a few of the common issuing sources. The fact is, anyone can issue a press release. Charities, sports clubs, art galleries, even private individuals, will find themselves having a need or reason for doing so. It is a highly efficient and cost-effective tool with which to accomplish the following goals.

  • Contain a crisis
  • Provide consumer information
  • Launch a new product or service
  • Recall an existing product
  • Cease providing an existing service
  • Announce coming events
  • Report on past events
  • Welcome new staff members
  • Profile existing staff members
  • Highlight awards received

Notice that the common component of each of the above goals is a public relations objective. Of course, some of these may have an advertising component but it is best to keep marketing and public relations efforts separate. The media takes a dim view of providing free publicity for its own sake.

Structure of a Press Release

All press releases are structured in the same manner as a standard newspaper article. Information is presented in an inverted pyramid, descending in a logical order, from the most important to the least. It is an anti-climactic method of presenting the facts of a story and the most common approach to news reporting.

The headline is followed by a lead paragraph containing one or two key sentences in which the end of a news event or story is announced first. The succeeding paragraphs make up the body of the press release and provide supporting information, followed by underlying background information.

Print and broadcast decisions are always made relative to the available media space and time. By telling the story backwards, the length of a press release can be adjusted, cutting the least important information from the bottom without compromising the integrity of the most important information positioned at the top.

When information is presented in this manner, readers get the gist of the story in a hurry. They can then make their own determinations as to a press release's importance or relevance and choose for themselves whether or not to read past the first paragraph.

Style in a Press Release

For a press release to stand a chance of being printed, verbatim, by the news media, it must be well written and factually accurate. Hyperbole, cute spins, and overt sales pitches are not acceptable. Here are some style guidelines for writing effective press releases.

  • State the Facts - Avoid being vague. Instead of announcing "wonderful results," say that you have "a $1.2B profit to report."
  • Stick to the Facts - Don't hesitate to show the kind of feelings that the general public expects in a time of crisis, but don't overdo it.
  • Apologize - Say you're sorry when a mistake has been made. When people are suffering as a result, say that you care, and mean it.
  • Emotions - Avoid strong expressions. Boasting and bragging, anger and finger-pointing, etc., are all inappropriate. A clever way around this no-no is the quotation.
  • Keep it Simple - Make sure the news you are reporting is not obscured by technical jargon or complicated grammatical constructions.
    • Example: Knowledge tool, rapid results implementation approach and services deliver maximum value throughout PeopleSoft lifecycle
      PeopleSoft today announced general availability of PeopleSoft Advantage, a framework of technology and customer service designed to provide maximum value of ownership throughout the PeopleSoft systems lifecycle, including planning, implementation, production and enhancement.
  • Be Specific - Place and time cannot be vague. Words such as here and today are not acceptable. They are inadequate for the job of reporting a news event or story.
  • Avoid Personal Pronouns - Words such as I, we and you should not be used in a press release unless they are part of a quotation.
    • Example:
      Don't Do
      Today… On April 24, 2004…
      We, here in our factory… Bekaert, a world-wide leader in steel,…in its Manchester-based factory…
      We expect our profit last year was… The consolidated profit for 2002 is estimated to be…
      We have made a profit again… The company has returned a profit despite the difficult economic situation…

Formatting Press Releases

Formatting a press release is simple. It should be laid out in full block style using universally accepted font selections.

Keep in mind, it is very important that a press release to be formatted for maximum consistency in transmitting across multiple computer platforms.

E-mail being the generally accepted method for delivering press releases, avoid using bold, italicized and colored text. It is unpredictable how that same text will appear on someone else's monitor.

The five basic elements of a press release are:


A press release should always begin with the title words, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, or simply, PRESS RELEASE, printed in uppercase letters at the top of the page. This indicates to the media that the communication they are receiving is, in fact, a press release, and that it can be published immediately. It also eliminates the need for a cover letter.

If a press release should not be published immediately, the issuing organization must include an embargo, or lock up notification, in which the media is kindly but firmly requested to hold back publishing until the date and time indicated.

For example, before a press conference officially announcing a corporation's financial situation, the media will traditionally be sent a press release spelling out the full details, with an embargo inviting them to delay publication until after the press conference.


The headline, separated by one space, should follow the title of a press release. If at all possible, it should contain no more than ten words. The first letter of each key word should be capitalized. Articles, conjunctions, and prepositions should be capitalized only when they occur at the beginning or end of your headline.


The body of a press release should contain all the information the media outlet is being asked to publish. It should be separated from the headline by one space, as should each of its paragraphs. A press release should begin with a lead paragraph and conclude with a boilerplate. A disclaimer should follow whenever an opportunity exists for information to be misconstrued.

Contact Information

The sender's contact information should always follow the body of a press release, separated by one space. This information should never be placed at the top of the page.

The top of a press release is premium copy space and should be reserved for attention grabbing copy such as a headline and lead paragraph. It should never be used for incidental information.

When a press release, delivered by E-mail, pops up on a computer monitor, the headline and lead paragraph should display prominently. The reader shouldn't have to scroll down in order to find these elements.

If a member of the media wishes to contact the source of a press release, they know to look for that information at the end of the document.


The end of the press release should be clearly marked with one of the universally accepted character sets used by the media to indicate that the end of a document has been reached, that all information has been received. Any of the following three will do the job:

-30- ### End

If your press release is delivered by any other method than E-mail and exceeds one page in length, the word More should appear at the bottom of all but the last page.

Citation: Please adapt for your documentation style.

Jacobs, Geert, & Peter Connor. (2011). Press Releases. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University. https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=75