Writing press releases was once relegated to a company’s in-house public relations team or to their corporate communications writers. But these days, as those departments have increasingly been slashed, companies often contract out their press releases. In addition, smaller companies are taking advantage of press releases to get publicity, and they don’t have the budget for a PR staff.
This has made the market for freelance press release writers fertile ground for beginning a freelance writing career. If you have any type of journalism background, coming up with a press release is a matter of remembering the types of press releases you once accepted or rejected. But even without a journalism background, anyone can learn to write a press release.
There are many websites that promise templates that will allow you to make “instant” press releases. There is also software being sold that is supposed to make writing releases quick and easy. Don’t believe any of it. Writing a press release is a skill that must be learned just like any other writing skill. The first step is to analyze the company. Whether the company is well known, relatively unknown, large, small, or brand new will guide the tone of the release.
The second step is to analyze what it is the company wants publicity for. Unless it is a grand opening, it will usually be a new product launch, an important new hire, or good sales numbers. These need to be analyzed in the context of the first step. For example, if the company is relatively unknown and the release is about their staggering sales numbers- that’s your angle. If the company is brand new and wants a release about a product launch, the release should be less about the company that no one has ever heard of any more about the product and what it can do for people.
The third step is to make sure the release doesn’t read like an ad for the company. Press releases like that get thrown out immediately and are a waste of time. The release should have the information you’ve put together within a larger context. Unless the information from the release is a huge news story in itself, this will mean thinking about what of the information you’ve gathered would make a good news story. If you can find a newsworthy angle, lead with that, gradually weaving in the information from steps one and two. This creates a release that will get the attention of any reporter reviewing it, and prevent it from being throw out for being “PR stuff.” Reporters are stressed out and are always in search of story ideas. If you’ve given a reporter a genuine news angle, you can expect a news story to be written that uses some of your information as research. This gets your client into the paper for some free (minus your fee) publicity.
Currently, press release assignments can easily be found online without having to approach individual companies in person. In addition to using freelance bidding sites to find assignments, you can also set up a website dedicated to writing them. But, the way I got started doing writing releases as a freelancer was to find a website with a page of appalling press releases, rewrite one of them to the best of my ability and then email it back to them. Sometimes it ended with no response, but many times I got a quick response and a request to write another one. There are still plenty of companies out there that don’t fully understand what a well-written press release can do for them. But if you can craft one that gets the company noticed, they will soon find out.