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How to lay out a press release

When I run Effective Press Release Writing courses at the PRCA – and indeed courses for my company, Rough House - we always spend the first part of the morning looking at a whole series of press releases.

There we examine what the story is, what language has been used and see what we think works - and what doesn’t.

One fact becomes abundantly clear. It is not just the content and the story which determine how successful a press release is. It is also the way it looks.

While you may still decide to send hard copies of your press releases in the post, most of the time nowadays, they are delivered and read on email.

Even so, how you choose to set out your emails out has a real bearing on how likely they are to be read - and therefore how likely it is to be picked up by a journalist and to make it into the papers or onto the TV or radio.

So here are some tips on how to lay out a press release:

  1. Don't use an old-fashioned or a quirky font. Go for a clean and simple typeface such as Arial.
  2. Rather than using long paragraphs, keep them short. A good tip is to start a new one for each new sentence.
  3. Make it easy for the journalist. If your email or press release is messy, with quotes, contact details, notes for the editor and additional info all scattered randomly at different points of the page, the journalist will have to work too hard to find them, and may well give up before they find out what the story is.
  4. Don't try to be too clever. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel – press releases are generally set out in a particular way which journalists all understand, which means they know where to find particular pieces of information. Use an adaptation of the Traditional Press Release Format, even when you are emailing.
  5. Use a decent size text with 1.5 line spacing, and plenty of white space on the page. This makes it easy to read - tiny & closely written text is very off-putting.
  6. Keep it short - ideally one or at most two pages; a summary of the key points with quotes and contact details is ideal. Some press releases would be better classified as white papers they go on so long. What reporter or editor has time to wade through pages of text? 

Of course if there’s no story, then the best laid out press release in the world isn’t going to get your coverage. But in a world where journalists are sifting through hundreds very day, PRs need to do everything they can to make their story stand out and give it the chance of being told.