Press Releases and Their Purpose

Woman at home using her laptop
••• Marc Romanelli / Getty Images

If you're thinking about public relations strategy for your business, you'll certainly be considering press releases. But, although many know what they are, few know how and when to use them. A press release is a written communication that reports specific but brief information about an event, circumstance, product launch, or other happening. It's typically tied to a business or organization and provided to media through a variety of means. 

Issuing a press release doesn't mean the media will automatically run with it. Media outlets will ask the same questions they always do: Does it interest their readers? Does it benefit the community in some way? You should also consider other outlets that might pick up your press release. If you're lucky, bloggers, tweeters, and others on social media may find it worthy of promoting within their social networks.

Timing Is Important

Most press releases are available for "immediate release." This means anyone can share the information as soon as you make it public. If you're publicizing an upcoming event, for example, you probably want to encourage as much timely coverage as possible.

Other press releases may have time limits to when media can begin reporting or may allow only certain media sources to report them immediately. They may be offered to other news services, websites, or blog owners for publication at a later time. If you're sharing something that needs to remain secret until the right time, you might specify a date coverage can begin.

The Goal of a Press Release

The main purpose of all press releases is to promote something significant and specific, and to do so clearly. Beyond that, a press release is a document that adheres to a strict format and serves three marketing and promotional purposes:

  • To notify the media about an event in hopes that they will spread the word.
  • To share something about your business, hoping a reporter will see a story in your press release and write an actual news article about it.
  • To promote your business' appearance on the internet via blogs, websites, and social networks.

There is a debate about whether that last approach really fits a press release, or if "news release" is the more appropriate term. In any case, social media presents a more direct line to your customers than traditional media outlets.

Tips for Writing a Press Release 

A press release typically begins with the name of the city where it originates from and the current date. It should include an attention-grabbing headline. Always write in the third person, sharing riveting information from an outsider's perspective (as the media would).

If your information isn't riveting, take a step back. Maybe there's something you can add to your event or announcement that will make it more interesting. Of course, that "something" has to happen. You can't mention that an A-list celebrity will show up when you know full well they won't. Linking your press release to a current trend or timely occurrence in the news can also grab attention.

Avoid dry, rigid wording. You don't want to lose your reader with the first sentence. The bottom line is that if your event is boring, your press release may be yawn-worthy too. And if that's the case, why would any media want to chase the story?

A press release should not be a mere recitation of facts. Effective press releases always employ quotes from someone significant to the company or event—a corporate executive or a representative from the charity benefiting from the event, for example. But quotes in press releases are seldom a verbatim rendition of what a personage actually said. Instead, they are usually an idealized version of a statement—what that person should have said—that pushes the press release's agenda. They act a rhetorical device to raise the interest level.

What a Press Release Is Not

A press release is not a guaranteed marketing tool. Temper your expectations. Don't anticipate that mainstream media will jump on every press release you write. But don't give up, either. Successful publicity depends on sustained effort, and press releases are a key part of your PR strategy. Continue looking for ways to make your press releases stand out, and you're bound to get some coverage.