How to write a newsworthy press release

Sarah Lee
0 minutes

This blog explains the inverted pyramid that underpins all news writing so you can write press releases that grab media attention and steal the headlines

Your press release faces fierce competition. It has to stand out from the hundreds of other press releases journalists receive every day. Your press releases will be deleted unopened if you do not learn the formula to writing hard news.

Journalists are taught to write 'top down' using the facts only and there is a reason for that. Readers skim news. They don't sit down with a newspaper as they do a book. Indeed, very few sit down with a newspaper - they scroll through screens. They want to extract information quickly and get straight into the heart of a story.

This blog is for anyone who has just started working in PR and who has never written a press release before.

The blog will cover the pyramid, the who, what, where, when and why formula of the first paragraph and how to measure newsworthiness of your story.

What is the inverted pyramid?

A press release is not a murder mystery. You do not leave the 'who dunnit' to the last line. You want to get all the important facts, the evidence, into the first paragraph. Your press release should feel top heavy with information - like an upside down pyramid - with all the essential information front loaded at the start and then moving through the less important to the optional. The pyramid has to be big at the top because all the questions a reader has must be answered immediately.

Visual - Most important, important, less important, optional.

The Five Ws: who, what, where, when, why and how

The first thing I learned in PR was I had to get the whole story into the first paragraph. It's easy to write a 1000 words of waffle. It's excruciatingly hard to get a whole story into 100 words. If you are reading this blog - you probably already know that!

The secret to squeezing the whole story into just one short paragraph is to answer five questions.

All stories can be told by answering the following questions - who, what, where, when and why?

And the absolutely most important question of all...

If you cannot answer the fifth question with an answer that impacts a big number of people, you don't have a newsworthy story. The first four questions are irrelevant if the fifth is not strong.

The fifth W is the measure of a story's newsworthiness. Before you write anything you should ask your client. Why is this happening? Why should I care? Why should the journalist care? Why should the reader care?

Don't be afraid to really push and dig hard. This is the question every journalist will ask when they receive your press release. If there isn't a good reason, they will delete your press release and move on to the next story.

How to answer the 'why'

Here are some questions to help you get to the heart of 'the why'.

The more people affected the bigger the story, the more newsworthy the story and the bigger the coverage will be.

Often the answer will not be what your client might think is the story. So, don't be afraid to push back if your client does not think this angle is interesting. You are the person who will have to pitch the story to the press, you know what will work and how it will be received.

You have to be able to say why this story is important to the market. If you can't, you should not write a press release but turn the news into a blog or a staff briefing.

How to measure the newsworthiness of your story

When your press release is opened by a journalist it will be assessed against a very clear set of criteria. The journalist will do this automatically in their head when they read your press release. But you can physically check the press release against that criteria - the news value - before you send it.

News values will be different depending on the media outlet but they tend to fall under the following seven headings.

It is not easy to answer the big question - the why. Writing in a pyramid with "just the facts" demands disciplined thinking and can feel stilted and destroys creative thinking. All your instincts will scream for a story telling approach of fiction rather than the factual style of a journalist.

The more you practice writing in this highly structured and stylised form the better and fast you will get.

Indeed this stylised form or writing helps develop the powers of critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis that are the foundation of clarity in thinking and writing.

The inverted pyramid is the basis of all journalism and press release writing.

It demands focus and clarity. It can be learned but it means unlearning all the other forms of writing you may have been taught. 

To find out more:

To learn how to write in the pyramid check out the templates in PingGo. We have over 200 press release templates all designed around the inverted pyramid.

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