A press release is a short, compelling news story written by a public relations professional and sent to targeted members of the media. The goal of a press release is to pique the interest of a journalist or publication. The press release should contain all the essential information (who? what? where? when? how? and most importantly why?) for the journalist to easily produce his own story.
The Small Business Encyclopedia defines press releases -- also known as news releases -- as "brief, printed statements that outline the major facts of a news story in journalistic style" [source: Answers.com]. A press release should read like a news story, written in third-person, citing quotes and sources and containing standard press release information.
The standard press release begins with contact information, mostly likely the name, phone number and e-mail address of the person who wrote the release. Then comes the headline, arguably the most important four or five words in the whole press release. The headline will be what the journalist reads first. If it's not intriguing, newsworthy and unique, he'll read no further.
Below the headline often comes a brief, one-line summary of the press release [source: PR Leap Blog]. Like the headline, the summary should draw the reader in quickly and motivate them to learn more.
Since a press release is supposed to look and feel like a story in a newspaper, it's important to include a location and date stamp at the beginning of the first paragraph. Something like, "Palo Alto, CA - February 5, 2007." Like a standard news story, the first sentence, or lede, should summarize the main news of the press release in 25 words or less [source: Concept Marketing Group].
The rest of the body of the press release should answer all of the questions a journalist might have about the product, service or event that you're announcing. Although a press release is a public relations tool, it should not read as overly promotional [source: Concept Marketing Group]. If it sounds too much like a sales pitch, it will lose credibility in the eyes of the journalist.
Press releases typically end with a short description of the company or organization that's issuing the release, along with a call to action. The call to action could be to participate in the event being promoted, to take a test drive of the product, or simply to find out more by contacting the author of the press release [source: PR Leap Blog].
On the next page, we'll talk about how PR professionals make contacts.