Write a press release like a pro | Shaun Weston | Skillshare
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Write a press release like a pro

teacher avatar Shaun Weston, Copywriter + Podcast Producer

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Trailer

      1:04

    • 2.

      Course Opener + Tour

      1:42

    • 3.

      Anatomy of a Press Release

      1:54

    • 4.

      Opening Paragraph

      2:46

    • 5.

      Body Copy

      4:56

    • 6.

      Quotes

      4:58

    • 7.

      Contact Details + Extras

      3:18

    • 8.

      Boilerplate

      3:19

    • 9.

      Sub-header + Headline

      3:39

    • 10.

      Conclusion

      2:13

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About This Class

This short copywriting course is about writing a standard press release. There are many different types, but I’m going to show you how I write a standard press release, and how I’ve been writing them for many years for many corporate marketing departments and clients.

Along the way, we will cover:

  • Headlines and sub-headers
  • Opening paragraphs
  • Body copy
  • Quotes
  • Contact details
  • Value-adding extras.

This is a beginner's course that intermediate writers may benefit from. I will act as a starting point on your press release journey, and will encourage you to push against the edges of what I tell you. The most important thing you can bring to any writing course is your own talent.

What I can’t promise is to make you a better writer. That’s subjective. What I can do is help you write a better press release, so that you can apply the amazing way you write to the formula.

More about me

I'm Shaun Weston, a copywriter and podcast producer. I've worked for many corporate clients over the years, and since 2009 have produced more than 300 podcasts. I'm genuinely interested in sharing what I know, and have so far enjoyed learning new skills from other Skillsharers. I may even drop a few creative projects of my own into these lessons!

I hope you enjoy the course, and can't wait to see what you produce!

+++

I've used a few videos, sounds and images in the process of creating this course, and I should credit and thank the following people for their own creativity: Videos by cottonbro, Thirdman, Ron Lach, Jack Sparrow, KoolShooters, Danny Orloff, Pressmaster, Eugene Vasilevich, Ricardo Esquivel, Treedeo Footage, Rodnae Productions, Alex LaMarche, Ron Lach, Diva Plavalaguna, Michaelangelo Buonarroti and Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels. Icons by Laisa Islam Ani on FlatIcon. Images by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels. Most sounds are generated as part of Final Cut Pro X, editing software by Apple.

Meet Your Teacher

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Shaun Weston

Copywriter + Podcast Producer

Teacher

Hello, I'm Shaun. I'm a professional copywriter and podcast producer. I run my own company as a solo freelancer, and my clients are usually technology corporations (but not exclusively). As well as client productions, I've produced a couple of my own podcasts focusing on media and communications. Perhaps one day, I'll start a Bake Off podcast :)

I joined Skillshare because I love learning. It occurred to me that I have lots of knowledge and experience to share too, which is why I created my first ever Skillshare class in November 2021. I intend to create many more courses for Skillshare, and will remain an avid student of other people's classes. It's amazing how much you can learn in an hour or two!

If you'd like to find out more about me, I have a busi... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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Transcripts

1. Trailer: Hi, I'm Shaun and I'm a professional copywriter and podcast producer. I've been writing professionally for over 25 years and have been a podcast producer since about 2009. In this copywriting course, I'll walk you through writing a standard press release. Now there are many different types of press release and some would say there's a right way and a wrong way to write them. I'm gonna show you how I've been writing them for many, many years. We'll explore each section together and I'll share with you the tips and tricks I've learned along the way from the headline to the sub-header, the opening paragraph, body copy, quotes, contact details and extra details. Join me on this brief press release adventure. I've put together three documents to help you find your way through the course, and to take your learning beyond the classroom. No extra equipment is necessary other than your attention, your willingness to explore your skills, and a desire to become a better writer. If you're sat ready and waiting, vodka martini in hand, drop a cherry in that drink and let's get started in this press release adventure. 2. Course Opener + Tour: Welcome and thanks for choosing my course. It turns out you want to learn how to write a press release. Well, there are many courses on Skillshare about writing a press release, but I'm going to show you how I write them and how I have been writing them for more than 20 years. Now there's a right way and a wrong way to write a standard press release. Sometimes the wrong way is the right way. Now that was a little bit cryptic. But in this short course, and throughout many of my courses, you'll begin to see what I mean. I've written so many press releases, yes, there's a standard way to write them, but that doesn't mean you're stuck to a template. In fact, think of templates as guides that are there to help you get started. Then it's up to you to deliver the right message or story to your audience. For this course, I will act as your starting point, but will encourage you to always push against the edges of what I tell you. You can enable artificial intelligence to write a press release and it will always follow the guidelines, but it will always sound dryer than a cracker on a sun bed. The difference is you. You're the talent. You can commit to every class in this course without doing the project, but I've made one for you anyway. In fact, it's a good project. I've made an outline PDF that you can download and complete at your convenience, and will help you get to grips with every concept as we go along. What I can't do is make you a better writer. That's subjective. What I can do is help you write a better press release so that you can go away and apply the amazing way that you write to the formula. So grab a pad and pen, your iPad, 27-inch iMac, and let's get cracking on how to write a press release for the 21st century. 3. Anatomy of a Press Release: Let's say my client is releasing a new bouncy ball. We want people to know about it and these days, yes, social media is a great place to do this. However, there are PR channels for every type of person. And by putting a press release together, you're formally announcing your new product to your industry peers, journalists, your competitors, and anyone else who wants to listen. It's something you want to be seen as news. You have to market the launch of the new ball as news. As with any type of news, it needs to grab people's attention. A press release will help your reputation and brand image. A press release will help you build good relationships with journalists. It can also help people find the right words to describe your new product, establishing the narrative tone and presenting the facts. Do we have to stick to the rules? Yes, stick to the rules but use them as guidelines only. You can find a bunch of press releases on Newswire, PR Newswire, BusinessWire (lots of wires, right?), MarketWire, but also on corporate websites when there should be a section called something like newsroom. Go check out the Apple site for instance, which has loads of news articles. So let's look at the structure of a press release and fill in the gaps as we go along: basic structures, headline, sub-header, opening paragraph, body, quotes, contact details, boilerplate and extras. Here's what those elements would look like as a one-page layout. The headline at the top, then the sub-header, followed by an opening paragraph, the main body copy, perhaps a couple of quotes, contact details or call-to-action, and some information about your company or brand. Extra things could be access to images that accompany your press release, or link to a promo video. Now this may sound strange, but I'm not going to start with the headline. I usually write the headline and the sub-header last. So that's what I'm gonna do in this course. What I'm gonna do is start with the opening paragraph. 4. Opening Paragraph: The opening paragraph contains the meat. Well, not literally, but when we say meat, we mean the who, what, where, when, and why. Now not all of these elements are necessary, but let's try to include most of them in our press release for our new ball. Earth Ball, a new bouncy ball concept made from recycled sneakers, launched at the UK Science furthest week, just in time for the Christmas season. In this short sentence, I've included the name of the product right up front, what that product actually is, where it was seen and why it's been launched. We're also hinting at deeper angles by including the recycled element. How you approach this paragraph is with this in mind: Write as if you're a journalist reading it. In other words, use language that doesn't make it sound like an advert. Avoid enthusiastic PR phrases such as: "We are delighted to announce the Earth Ball" or "The amazing Earth Ball launches this week in Liverpool." We don't know who's amazed and we don't know who's delighted. So the concept is to keep it newsy, which is the whole point of a press release. Let's add some more text to this opening paragraph. I want to include who made the ball, who it's for, and when it will be available. MicroBall Technology based at Battersea Power Station is targeting sustainability sensitive Generation Alpha. Children born after 2010. Earth Ball will hit retailers mid-November, You may be thinking we've included everything in the opening paragraph. So what's left to say? Well, the idea of the opener is to do just that. Say as much as possible. Imagine you're a newsreader on the radio: "Earth Ball, a new bouncy ball concept made from recycled sneakers, launched at the UK Science Fair this week. Just in time for the Christmas season. MicroBall Technology, based in Battersea Power Station, is targeting sustainability sensitive Generation Alpha. Earth Ball will hit retailers in mid-November." The body copy will go into some detail, but you want the opener to do a lot of work. Journalists work through lots of press releases. So if you don't get the meat sorted right up front, you may lose their attention. The objective of the press release is to get your news out into the world. So help the journalist as much as possible. If you're doing the course project, think about your own story. If you're short of ideas, do a quick search on a shopping site, find a product, focus on that. Let's write a press release about that. It can be anything that you want. Once you've done that, spend a little time using some of the tips that I've just shown you, to craft your opening paragraph. Once you've done that, move on to the next class, which is going to be about the body copy. 5. Body Copy: Body copy refers to the text that makes up the body of the article. It's the big, fleshy bit in the middle. But don't be tricked into thinking that this means your copy needs to be long. Press releases needs to be tight, not flabby. It takes a lot of work to get a body like this. For the paragraph that immediately follows our opener, I want you to maintain using past tense, verbs and phrases for the opening paragraph and body copy. Write as if events have already happened. For example, our opening paragraph said the Earth Ball had already launched. Let's stick with past tense for this class too. Here's what I might include in the body copy. Don't you just love the Final Cut Pro jingles? I love the sound effects. I'm only kidding. You saw that I rushed right through – I sped up the footage so that it would go nice and quick so that you could see what we were building. This is what I was writing. In writing the body copy, I took the perspective of the reader as well as the company who wants to share the news. What does each party want, for instance. We can break it down into two perspectives. First, the journalist might ask, how can I write a story from this press release? And a company might ask, how can I tell a story with this press release? Storytelling is an important part of being a writer. I'm not suggesting you make stuff up as you go along. What I'm suggesting is that you provide narrative structure. Now this doesn't mean writing lots of copy. In fact, the best writers can provide narrative structure in just a few short sentences. And that's what we need to do with this press release. First thing we need to do with any story is find our hero. This is someone we want our reader to relate to, Is our story about company growth? Is it about scientific innovation? Is it about climate change? Is it about kids and toys? It's about all of these things, and more. Let's make a simple and effective narrative. Let's focus on one thing, Our clients is the fictitious company, MicroBall Technology. They're not a toy company. They're a scientific research organisation. In their quest to discover a more effective way to process recycled materials, they created a synthetic polymer that absorbs and releases energy very quickly, which was actually a side effect of the research that they were doing. So perhaps the hero is the company itself. Or perhaps it's the group of companies that make the shoes – the imperfect shoes – and donate them so that they can be recycled. Perhaps the hero is the excited child who wakes up on Christmas morning with a rubber ball bouncing all over the room. Actually, I think the hero should be built around the recycled element. So a hero here is actually the science. A science company created an amazing ball from recycled materials. This will cut greenhouse emissions and save waste, and proceeds go to environmental organisations. Looking back at the body copy, the structure of the narrative looks like this. Introduce the experts or heroes. Define the problem and the solution. Reveal the benefits and highlight the outcome. In between, add visual cues such as the fun demonstration, the discarded shoes. There's a lot going on with this story, but in helping the journalist find the core narrative, they can float to other areas if they want to. They could dig deeper into manufacturing waste if they want to, or contact one of the footwear specialists to find out more about the recycling aspect. They might even reach out to retailers to see how sales of Earth Ball are going. The villain of our story is quite clearly manufacturing waste, which makes our press release quite powerful in that there's a narrative of how to tackle waste more effectively. Top scientists have helped sneaker companies reduce waste while making a fun product that will give back millions to environmental organisations for years to come. There's a lot here for the journalist to get their teeth into. What we need next are a couple of good quotes to tie up the narrative and help the journalist even more. 6. Quotes: Quotes are useful. They offer a chance to break up the press release at just the right time. You can introduce new information or re-emphasise important parts of your story. The great news about quotes is that journalists can't change them (or they shouldn't). They can actually leave them out completely. But they shouldn't be changing a quote if it's credited to someone quite important in particular. Here are some important things to note about quotes in your press release. The first quote you use should ideally be from the highest ranking member of the organisation, such as this chap. This will add weight to the press release. I call it corporate gravitas. The second quote should ideally be from organisation B. In other words, try to include someone who doesn't work at the main organisation. For our press release, quote A would ideally be the CEO of MicroBall Technology. Quote B might be the head of Nike or Adidas, or the head of scientific research at a prestigious university, or even the main person in charge of the Science Fair. It may not be possible to get the quote that you want. But most of the time your client will know that it needs to be someone of importance. Most bosses I've worked with are eager to get their name in print! The interesting part of press release quotes is that sometimes you may have to make them up yourself. Eight times out of 10, that's what I have to do. So yes, I'm often the CEO, startup founder, film star, the celebrity, whatever. It's usually me speaking for somebody else. I wear many hats, and you're gonna have to get used to writing in many different voices as well. Let's get on with writing quote A. I want to mention the product again, I want to namecheck the event. It's also absolutely imperative that you mention who said this. Let's carry on. Every year you see something new and innovative. And this year we got the chance to share something quite special. Did you notice how I used we instead of I? A good CEO knows that it takes a team, not an individual, to produce a good outcome and the copywriter should know that too. Let's explain some benefits now – emphasise the benefits: Earth Ball is a giant step forward in understanding how and what can be achieved in recycling benefits in manufacturing waste reduction, benefiting environmental agencies and new capital in either work and benefiting the planet. In this line, I hit recycling, I hit waste reduction, and then raising capital. The retail aspect of selling units comes last. In the course of doing something good for the world, making kids smile at Christmas is right up there too. I alluded to retail sales in that last bit, but disguised this by imagining children having fun with the ball rather than how many units are going to sell in the run-up to Christmas. I did this to frame the image of Earth Ball as a desirable, fun product, not a science project or retail commodity. And it also adds warmth to the CEO's personality. It helps if you know the person that you're writing for because you know a little bit more about their personality and how they may sound in real life and how best to write for them. If you don't know the person, if you don't know the subject, stay generic. Get a sense of what role they play. So if they're a boss or if they're not a boss, have a sense of that before you start writing the quote. If they're the head honcho of a company of say 10,000 people, you need to get into that headspace. You need to understand the language of that role. Use strong words in your quotes such as new, innovative, special. I included understanding to add humility to the quote. Then I repeated the word benefiting to create recall. It's important to get sign-off for the quotes that you write. You need to get approval from somebody to make sure that whatever you make up or whatever you're writing on behalf of someone else is right for that company. Now, let's write quote B. Leafy ... Leafy Greenman? Sounds good. More importantly, we will see a reduction in waste. At every one of our manufacturing sites. This will make us a more lean, efficient footwear specialist, and we get to do something that affects the health of this planet. This isn't a particularly exciting quote, but it's a good backup to quote A in that it provides perspective from a different person. This time the footwear specialist. The journalist who reads your press release may want to focus on a specific angle. So providing a different quote from a different perspective gives them some material to work with. The next class, we'll look at contact details or a specific CTA or call-to-action. In other words, the thing you want people to do after they've read your press release. So let's go to the next class. 7. Contact Details + Extras: How are you getting on so far? I hope that the PDF I created for you is useful in being a guide to how you put your own press release together and tell your own story. So far we've covered the opening paragraph, the body copy, the quotes. Now let's add some extra details. You may be wondering why we haven't gotten around to the headline yet or the sub-header, but please don't let me stop you if you want to go ahead and do that because things are fresh in your mind, then please do. I like to have some thinking time and I reread the story, the body copy, and then I write the headline and the sub-header. But if you want to go ahead and do it, then please do. Here we are at the contact details section. This is a short one. At the very least, you should provide a name, phone number, and email address. Make it easy for someone to get in touch to find out more. A generic marketing @ email address may be good for you in terms of having mail go to a team. But I find it's better to add someone's name. Make it personal. A journalist likes and name to follow. And it shows that someone has taken ownership of the story to some degree, which exudes professionalism. I'm going to call this person, well, me, Shaun Weston. Here's my pretend phone number and here's my pretend email address. You can add extra details if you think it's necessary in helping to tell your story. In our case, a few professional shots of the Earth Ball will be great, perhaps in its packaging. The best way to do this if you're sending this directly to a journalist would be to provide a link, where they can download extra attachments. Try to avoid pending large attachments to an email. You can also link to a video download, where the journalist can see a few professional clips of the ball in action, and perhaps a clip of the demonstration at the Science Fair. Journalists don't just write stuff. Modern journalists are posting on social media, on their own video channels, on podcasts and so on. The more you push against the limits of traditional journalism, the better your press release will be. Appeal to as many types of journalism as you can think of, especially pertaining to the demographic you want to appeal to. You may often see that extra details are under a header called notes to the editor. This isn't necessary, but if you want to, pop it in there. No sane person will complain if you don't. I've mentioned this before. I like how Apple puts together its press releases, which it predominantly publishes in its own newsroom. But you can sort of use the design ethic in your own press releases as well. Look at how they've put together these extra details. You can see that Apple has included extra details to find out who to contact. And they're using an individual, which is great for the journalist, but they're also using a generic contact detail such as the team. You can get in touch with anybody if Olivia happens to not be available at the time. You can see that they've added social icons as well, so you can share this immediately. And if you want to find text and extra images, even video links, then you can do that. It's really nicely well-presented. You could copy this if you wanted to. You wouldn't be going far wrong. Anyway. Next thing we ought to do is the boilerplate. 8. Boilerplate: And so we arrive at the boilerplate. Sounds very industrial, doesn't it? It's actually the bit at the bottom of the press release that tells you a little bit about the company. Sometimes there's more than one company mentioned in the boilerplate, in which case, there would be two boilerplates. That depends on whether you've mentioned somebody else in that press release. Let's take a look at some familiar examples. Here's a press release from Nike looking at recent financial results. Scroll to the bottom and you'll see a paragraph called About Nike Inc. It's essentially generic copy that outlines who the company is, where it's based, what it does, what industry it's active in, associated brands and website links. This is usually standardised text that reads the same on every press release. Tweaks are made here and there as time passes. This is usually approved by senior management of the company itself. If you're a copywriter putting together a boilerplate for a client, be sure to ask them for their standardised copy. If they don't actually have a standard boilerplate, offer to write it for them, which they can then use for future press releases. Let's look at another example from a familiar name, this time Starbucks. It's an ugly press release about financials. Scroll down and you'll see their About section. Don't scroll any further wherever you do, it's a mess. This example's from a press release I found about a company called Smileyscope. So a good example of a press release that contains two About sections. The first is Smileyscope, while a second is about the charity Smileyscope is working with called Thinking of Oscar. A boilerplate is actually a very simple thing, where you follow a few guidelines and try to keep things consistent. Here's what's helpful about a good boilerplate. A consistent company boilerplate is great for SEO. With the right use of keywords, the boilerplate does a lot of work in helping people find the company and what it specialises in. You can add links to your website in a boilerplate, to make sure traffic is targeted, send everyone to the site, or to social media profiles – or all of them. Finally, boilerplates help journalists. I'm repeating myself a lot throughout this process about the benefits of helping a journalist. After all, you don't write press releases for yourself. Sometimes you might write press releases for yourself. You write them for other writers who will help spread your news. A consistent boilerplate will help journalists find you and remember you. Why don't you practice writing a fictitious boilerplate for a fictitious company? This is for your project. Focus on the core points I've made: the who, where, what, the industry, the brands, and the links. To help you get even more practice, choose your favorite brand and then write a boilerplate for that brand. But don't cheat, don't go and look for the real one. See if you can make it yourself based on what you know, what you love about that brand. And don't forget if your client already has a boilerplate, use that. If it needs updating, if it needs fixing, if there are errors, feed that back to them and offer to fix them. OK, Let's go back to our press release and let's write a boilerplate. I'm going to put this on really fast for you. Make sure we get the information that we want in there. We're making a lot of this stuff up. And here's where we are with the sections of our press release we've covered so far. If you're happy to move on, let's go upstairs to the press release, to the sub-header and the headline. 9. Sub-header + Headline: A good press release doesn't necessarily need a sub-header. But before we make sweeping statements like this, Let's find out what a sub-header actually. A sub-header often goes here, right between the headline and the first paragraph. Some press releases have multiple sub-headers, while some have none at all. You heard that right. Some press releases don't have a sub-header. That's because they're optional. You don't necessarily have to have one. I like them. Having been a journalist as well as a copywriter, I know what it's like to receive a dozen press releases every day. Most of the time the headline is read. If it's an intriguing headline, the sub-header gives you a little bit more. If it's enticing, the journalist will keep going. And that's when you know when the sub-header has done its job. It's a bit like the second doorway has been breached by the Curiosity Monster. Here's what else a sub-header is good for. It's another place to drop keywords that improve search engine rankings, otherwise known as SEO. To break down the core ingredients of a sub-header, we need to write a sub-heading that's descriptive and builds on the work the headline has done. We need to grab readers' attention and help them understand the reason for the press release. We need to include key elements that you want to promote or inform, and keep it short. Do everything in 20 to 25 words if you can. Longer sub-headers definitely exist. But I find them a bit too much. If I'm hosting this course on how I write press releases, I'm not going to encourage you to write long sub-headers. You will become a better writer if you learn how to write short ones. Cut things out that you don't actually need. So let's try writing our sub-header, but let's bear in mind the headline too. Sometimes it's good to write both at the same time. Let's look at the core information I want to include. It helps to look at our opening paragraph again. I want to say what the product is and why it exists, but I also wanted to pique the curiosity of journalists looking for an angle. This means I need to get the Christmas thing in, as well as the fact that it's a recycling initiative. Notice also that I'm going to switch from using past tense to active tense. So let's take all of those ingredients to make a sub-header we can work with. A bouncy ball made from recycled sneakers is set to be this year's must-have Christmas gift. The headline could be Earth Ball bounces into UK Science Fair, or Earth Ball debuts at UK Science Fair, or UK Science Fair showcases ball made from recycled shoes. Or even This year's must-have Christmas gift could reduce manufacturing waste. I'm not sure what to settle on. There are many angles to take. And when I send this press release out, I want to tick many boxes. It may be that I send this press release to my contact list and draw out the things that I know they're looking for. For example, if I'm writing to Greenpeace, I'll draw out the environmental element. For my retail contacts, I might think about the Christmas side of things and the fact that it's going to be the hot gift. But for the purposes of a generic press release that's set to be published by the fictitious MicroBall Technology Company, this is what I'm going to go for: Earth Ball debuts at UK Science Fair. MicroBall's bouncy ball made from recycled sneakers is set to be this year's must-have Christmas gift. I've added MicroBall's name to the sub-header. Let's add this to our press release now and see what it looks like. Let's get rid of that placeholder Earth Ball debuts at UK Science Fair, and let's put the sub-header right here. I've made the finished press release available to you as part of the course, which you can go and download as a PDF now. Our project is starting to look like a professional press release. If you want to, add a flourish at the bottom that says ... end. 10. Conclusion: Writing corporate content is a fascinating profession. The trick to be successful is knowing how to operate in the flow of water between the river and the ocean. What I mean by that is knowing when to follow the guidelines of standard practice, but also knowing when to bend the rules a little bit. In the process of doing that, you bring a little bit of yourself to the job. That's what makes you stand out from your competitors. Now sometimes standing out is exactly what the client is looking for, but sometimes it's not. What they want is that dull, boring, but standard practice, press release. Remember to always do what your client wants you to do, but poke around a little to see if you can add something extra or inspire them to do a little bit more. I hope you found this course really useful, or at least a starting point to improve your copywriting skills. Press releases aren't as cut and dried as you think, and there are many different types. For example, you could do press releases about product launches, business news, mergers and acquisitions, recruitment news, awards, financials, and so on. There are so many. Now for each different type of press release, there's a slightly different way of writing them. This course (hopefully) has given you a starting point so that you can leap on from here and get to know the other styles as well. Think story, find the narrative, look for your characters, and remember to always, always think of helping the journalist. How's your project coming along? I'd love to see it! Remember to read lots of press releases when you leave this course. Go and read lots and lots. You can learn from them. In fact, make a list of how you could improve them. Save examples you think are great. You can learn so much from reading the work of others. Anyway. See you next time. In their quest to discover a more effective way ... In their quest to ... In their quest to discover... oh F*** Let's try writing our soap haddock ...