August 13, 2023
7 mins

Why press releases aren’t dead—and how to take yours to the next level

From tools that increase efficiency to optimizing the basics, here’s how to bring life back into your press releases.

Have you ever Googled “press releases are dead”? 

The results show a mixed bag of headlines arguing both for and against the over 100-year-old tool for dispersing news. 

While a changing media landscape and new forms of media have altered the role of a press release in securing earned media, the need to land your message is still very much alive. 

This is where a press release comes in handy. 

According to a Digital 2021 study, internet users spend an average of 2 hours and 2 minutes reading online news daily, and 50% of internet users browse online news sites globally.

Getting news coverage is as important as ever—and press releases are not going away anytime soon. 

Cutting-edge comms tools like PRophet can streamline your efficiency when it comes to writing pitches and placing stories. But first, let's take a look at the basics.

Writing a press release that journalists will actually read

A press release announces news about one’s company to the media in the hopes of reaching their target audience through earned media placements. But what makes a good press release?

Press release length

The ideal length is about 200-400 words; it’s important to keep a press release short and sweet.  

Be intentional about what you include in your release, or else journalists won’t even finish it—and they are pretty clear about which press releases make the cut. 

Remy Ludo Gieling, the editor-in-chief at Dutch business magazines MT and Sprout, says “a story is only interesting if entrepreneurs can learn from it.” On the quality and relevance of press releases he and his team receive? 99% are “rubbish.” Most newsrooms have a similar sentiment: You don’t want to be a part of that 99%. 

Barbara Goldberg, the vice president of New York PR firm Belsito & Co added that writing a press release is the equivalent of trying to get a friend  “interested in two minutes or less” at a cocktail party. 

TLDR: Keep it short.   

Key elements of a press release

To get more tactical about what makes a good press release—aside from length—I sat down with Stagwell’s Director of Media Relations Sarah Arvizo to ask her about her press release tips.

“The press release is really looked at as a tool for journalists—it provides language that they’re able to use,” says Arvizo. It should summarize news for journalists and also give them “quotes that they’re able to use for their stories that better contextualize what the announcement is about.”  

So the first thing a press release should include is a summary about the topic you are reporting on. This stage-setting paragraph should focus on the 5Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. 

Get to the point quickly (journalists are busy and don’t have time to search for the news in your piece), provide insights from relevant stakeholders (so journalists have quotes to include in their pieces); and always add your contact information at the bottom (in case questions arise). 

Bolster your news’s credibility by talking to the people at your company who are involved in the announcement and relaying their thoughts through direct quotes. This is a great opportunity to add additional information, depth, and personality to the press release.

“I try to use active voice over passive voice,” says Arvizo when she told us about her tips for writing a press release.  In press releases, where clear and concise language is essential, an active voice will present clarity and a clear focus about the topic to the reader. 

Generative AI for press releases 

And if it seems like you’re spending the majority of your time writing press releases that never see the light of day, maybe it’s time to consider leveraging AI technology to get you a first draft. 

It’s no secret that comms pros can be skeptical about AI. But Aaron Kwittken, CEO and founder of PRophet—a predictive and generative AI SaaS platform for PR pros—is adamant that AI is the way forward for the industry. 

“A shitty pitch is a shitty pitch regardless of if it was written by a human or by a machine plus a human,” he told PRovoke Media. “Reporters don’t care how a pitch was written or who wrote it. They just want a relevant and compelling story idea and don’t want to be spammed with generic pitches that have no news value.”

Kwittken’s PRophet has a suite of features that assist with end-to-end creation and distribution of press releases. Its generative AI feature, Taylor, can help you write a first draft of your press release then analyze it against a database of journalists to figure out who might be a good match for your news. 

When it comes to writing the release, tools like this can help you be more efficient and productive. Press releases follow a pretty common structure—if you haven’t yet, let AI take a first stab at your release and fine tune it from there. 

Getting eyes on your news

You’ve written your press release. 

It’s short and snappy, includes plenty of quotes from key stakeholders, uses active voice, and relays your very important message. 

Now what? How do you get your news out there? 

Find the right journalists

First of all, you’re going to want to pitch relevant journalists with your news—this means sending them personalized emails with your press release attached. 

To do this, you’ll need to use a media database or a tool like PRophet to find journalists. This is an opportunity to be really thoughtful about who will actually cover your news. It’s tempting to blast your release out to a huge list of journalists, but this isn’t the best way to secure media. 

As Kwittken cheekily says, “Spray and pray doesn’t work.” 

Be intentional in finding journalists and outlets to cover your news. This will increase your response rates and earned coverage. PRophet uses AI to scan your press release, suggest relevant journalists, and give you a score that measures how likely they are to cover your story. This gives you the opportunity to be really picky and strategic about how you spend your outreach time. 

If you don’t have access to a media database, you can take a more guerilla approach: Scour Twitter (Or…uh…X?) for relevant journalists’ emails in their bios, look for writers’ online portfolios to find their emails, and find general pitch emails for relevant publications. Most newspapers have an email specifically for pitches: While it’s better to get your news directly to the source you think will cover it, this is also a good place to start. 

Once you know who you want to cover your news, you’re going to want to send them personalized emails with your press release. 

Personalize your email 

You’ve spent all of this time creating the perfect press release. Do not proceed to copy-paste the same generic email to every reporter in your rolodex. Use the email to tease your story and let the journalist know why this news is relevant to them. Journalists want a story. Don’t let an impersonal, irrelevant email keep them from reading your release. 

In your email, make sure to keep the same goals in mind as writing the press release: keep it short, sweet, and relevant. Journalists are time poor and always on deadline: Think of your email as the hook to your press release. 

Put it on the wire

In addition to reaching out to journalists, you may want to put your news announcement on the wire. 

And no, we aren’t talking about David Simon’s iconic, early aughts HBO series The Wire.

We’re talking about the press wire. 

Companies can publish their news on a website like PR Newswire. This is a site that distributes press releases to a wide audience of journalists looking for their next story—and some publications even republish news exactly as it’s found on the wire. 

According to a study by Vitis Business Consulting, 37% of journalists check newswire daily while 67% of journalists use newswires. 

Not to mention the other benefits of publishing news on the wire: “Issuing a press release over a newswire can be really effective if you’re trying to build SEO for your brand or company because those announcements can get distributed to hundreds of news websites,” says Arvizo. 

It’s worth noting that publishing news on a newswire isn’t free, so every press release or piece of news may not be worth this avenue. Sites like PR Newswire charge an annual fee in addition to a fee per press release. 

The future of the press release

So…are press releases dead? 

Arvizo doesn’t think so. She says that the notion of press releases being outdated is a “misconception.” 

“There’s still a large amount of journalists that rely on the press release,” says Arvizo. “Making sure that we’re tailoring pitches to journalists is the most important thing. It’s not very effective to just blast people with a press release and not really give any context to what it’s about.”  

Thoughtful, strategic press releases beget thoughtful, strategic news. Leverage new technology, lean into personalization, and take advantage of distribution channels at your disposal to get the most out of your press release. 

Interested in how PRophet can help sharpen your press release writing and pitching? We'd love to show you.

Anna Qiang

Anna Qiang was a marketing intern at Stagwell Marketing Cloud in Summer 2023.

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