Press Release Formatting 101

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Just like anything else, there are “industry standards” for press release formatting. Remember, press releases are not advertising; they are announcements to the media of newsworthy information – that also happen to promote your company.

Because a press release is not advertising, there should never be any unusual fonts or graphics within the release. In fact, if your release goes out over the wire, only the text will go through, no formatting at all. So if you have intricate formatting it will probably translate into strange characters which will appear less than professional. And, yes, some releases are sent out via fax or email which do support formatting; however, industry standards maintain that a release should be structured a particular way. The only acceptable graphics would be logos or particularly informative pictures.

Always put all contact information left-justified at the top of the press release. Contact information should include a contact person, company name, phone number, email address, and Web site address. If the press release involves another company or person, that contact information will also need to be included, but doesn’t have to be placed at the top.

The title (also referred to as the headline) comes after the contact information. Be sure to capitalize the words of the title. Some even suggest putting the title in all caps. This goes back to the no formatting problem. When there is only text, you can’t draw out attention with italics, bold, or underlines – all you can do is capitalize the text to make sure it stands out. You can bold and center the headline too for the email and fax transmissions. Try to keep the headline to only one line. Many journalists scroll through the press release titles on the wire and choose the ones that pique their interest. Make sure you provide a succinct and accurate picture of your press release within the headline. Usually the headline includes the name of the company issuing the release; however, don’t include terms such as “Company,” “Incorporated,” “Limited,” or their abbreviations unless they are necessary to distinguish the organization from another of a similar name. Don’t use exclamation points or dollar signs.

Subtitles (also referred to as sub-headlines) are acceptable and should be placed directly under the title. Again, the subtitle can be italicized. Just remember that there will be no formatting over the wire. Subtitles are a great way to summarize the main point of your release. Busy journalists can immediately discern whether or not your press release is something newsworthy that they should follow-up on. Keep in mind though that some media outlets do not print sub-headlines

Begin all press releases with a dateline. The dateline should include the city and state where the press release originated and the date it is being released. Separate place and the date with a simple dash. Insert another dash and start into the body of the press release.

Start the press release immediately with who, what, why, when, where, and how. This will get you to the point quickly. Of course, the point must be backed up with quotes and evidence. All quotes – especially those that are judgmental – must be attributed. A press release should always be written objectively in a journalistic style. There should not be a subjective or editorial viewpoint. Write in third person. First and second person should only appear in direct quotes. Don’t use overly-salesy language with fluffy words. Use bullets sparingly. They do not tend to translate well into text format.

Make sure that the press release is grammatically correct with proper punctuation. Read through the press release looking for any misspellings or typos. Don’t completely rely on spell check. Double check all phone numbers, email addresses, and URL’s.

Write a standard boilerplate for your company to be used at the end of all your press releases. Usually the boilerplate section is titled with About XYZ Company (of course you would use your company name!). Then just write the basic information about your company below. This should include contact and/or ordering information. To officially end your release type three pound signs (# # #) at the bottom. And remember, press releases should be no less than 50 words and no more than 400. There are exceptions, but remember, less is more.

For a preview of correct press release formatting, click here.

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