Press Releases

Origins

New York Times article published verbatim from Ivy Lee's press release
 
Ivy Lee's release as it appeared in The New York Times in 1906

The first modern press releases[2] were created by Ivy Lee.[3] Lee's agency was working with the Pennsylvania Railroad at the time of the1906 Atlantic City train wreck. Ivy Lee and the company collaborated to issue the first press release directly to journalists, before other versions of the story, or suppositions, could be spread among them and reported. He used a press release, in addition to inviting journalists and photographers to the scene as a means of fostering open communication with the media.[4]

Public relations pioneer Edward Bernays later refined the creation and use of press releases.

Elements[edit]

Technically, anything deliberately sent to a reporter or media source is considered a press release: it is information released by the act of being sent to the media. However, public relations professionals often follow a standard format that they believe is efficient and increases their odds of getting the publicity they desire. The format is supposed to help journalists separate press releases from other PR communication methods, such as pitch letters or media advisories. Generally, a PR body consists of 4 to 5 paragraphs with word limit ranging from 400 to 500.

Some of these common structural elements include:

  • Headline – used to grab the attention of journalists and briefly summarize the news.
  • Dateline – contains the release date and usually the originating city of the press release. If the date listed is after the date that the information was actually sent to the media, then the sender is requesting a news embargo, which journalists are under no obligation to honor.
  • Introduction – first paragraph in a press release, that generally gives basic answers to the questions of who, what, when, where and why.
  • Body – further explanation, statistics, background, or other details relevant to the news.
  • Boilerplate – generally a short "about" section, providing independent background on the issuing company, organization, or individual.
  • Close – in North America, traditionally the symbol "-30-" appears after the boilerplate or body and before the media contact information, indicating to media that the release has ended. A more modern equivalent has been the "###" symbol. In other countries, other means of indicating the end of the release may be used, such as the text "ends".
  • Media contact information – name, phone number, email address, mailing address, or other contact information for the PR or other media relations contact person.

As the Internet has assumed growing prominence in the news cycle, press release writing styles have necessarily evolved.[5] Editors of online newsletters, for instance, often lack the staff to convert traditional press release prose into more readable, print-ready copy. Today's press releases are therefore often written as finished articles which deliver more than just bare facts. A stylish, journalistic format along with perhaps a provocative story line and quotes from principals can help ensure wider distribution among Internet-only publications looking for suitable material.