14 tips on how to write a great press release

At our event on writing press releases, we heard from the brilliant Nick Parker, a journalist, writer and consultant who has worked at a number of magazines as well as running workshops with writing consultancy The Writer. He's even published a collection of short stories. We'll be publishing further advice from Nick in the next week or so, but here are a few of Fuel’s own hints and tips as well.

Personalized Typewriter (detail) by Jonathan Boyd, GSM&J 2009

You might find yourself writing a press release for your own work or someone else’s; perhaps for a show, a product or an event. The main thing to remember is that the press release exists to make people who don’t know your work feel interested in it. Anything you do that makes this possible: great! Anything that gets in the way: not great.

There are no hard and fast rules, but here’s how to avoid a few pitfalls and hopefully end up with a press release you can be proud of.

  • Clarity is important! Cut long sentences, never use five words where you could use one or two, and try reading draft versions out loud to yourself to check that they sound like they were written by a real live human
  • Keep it short – definitely no more than one, well-spaced side of A4. Yes, it might be tricky to fit in every last detail, but at least people will actually read it
  • Read other people’s press releases – what works, what doesn’t? What made you keep reading and what made you stop? Apply this knowledge to your own press release
  • Write a list of what your basic points are – logistical information like dates for a show or where you can buy a product, plus the main ideas you want to convey – and check them off so you can be sure you’ve included everything
  • Don’t send it as an email attachment – no one will read it! Send it in the body of the email instead
  • Yes, spelling mistakes can be the kiss of death, and no, you shouldn’t just rely on spell-check – if you’re bad at spelling (and a lot of otherwise brilliant people are), give it to a friend to check before you send it out
  • Same thing goes if the language you’re writing in isn’t your first language – unless you’re totally fluent, get a native speaker to check it over before you go wild with your contacts list
  • Start with something interesting – it doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but if you begin with an arresting quote, an interesting fact about your product or just a great title, people are more likely to read on
  • Similarly, if there’s an easy and obvious current-affairs angle – say you’ve just patented a product for pet owners and there’s something in the news about the health benefits of owning a cat, or you’ve made a film about economic crisis and Greece has just defaulted – then try putting that in, but don’t stretch the point, and don’t try relating your work to huge geopolitical events unless they’re directly relevant 
  • Tailor your press release for different platforms – email and print versions might have to be slightly different, and the same thing applies to blogs or Facebook event pages
  • Don’t make huge theoretical claims about your work – does it really challenge everyday ideas of time and space, or is it more that you’re interested in perspective? Not only does this kind of thing ring a bit hollow, it’s likely to put people on their guard and make them want to find fault
  • Be real: you dedicate your life to this stuff, so the honest unvarnished truth about why you think it’s great will probably be convincing
  • If you’re finding it totally excruciating to write in the third person about yourself, just do the basics like that and then quote yourself as if you’ve given a vox pop to a journalist
  • Try to let your enthusiasm and love for what you do show through – it’s infectious!