Journalists work to tight deadlines. But, they are always looking for new and different news stories that are of interest to their audience.

They will often receive hundreds of emails and phone calls daily, from people who want to promote their own stories. This means that when you have a story to share, it needs to stand out.

In this lesson, we will help you to make sure that your story is clearly presented and captures their attention. We will also cover how you can present this in the form of a 'press release'.


  • What is a press release?
  • How to draft a press release that will maximise your chances of media coverage
  • How to create the key messages and communicate them clearly
  • When to send your press release and whether to use an embargo

Read time:

15 mins

Chapter 1

What is a press release?

Read time:

1 min

An official statement

A press release is an official statement. Sometimes, it is called a media release or a news release. They tell the media about a topic or story that you would like them to know about. In sending them a release, you are hoping that they will publish it so that the public will read your story.

Some media outlets will publish your press release word for word, as it is written. But remember, it is not a finished article, they may write and rewrite it. They do not have to publish a release exactly as it is.


Releases should be new, true and different

  • New - Your story should be timely. The media do not want to cover old news stories
  • True - The facts in an official statement must be correct. If not, it could harm your reputation
  • Different - What makes your story news? Why is it of interest? What makes it unique?

Chapter 2

Developing your key messages

Read time:

3 mins

Keep it simple

When communicating through a press release, you should keep your messages simple and focused.

There are tools that can help you to develop your key messages. These include: the What? How? Why? Triangle, the Message House and the Proof Points tool. Using one or more of these will help you focus on the key points and keep your message informative.


The What? How? Why? triangle

The What? How? Why? triangle gives a strong reminder of the key points you need to communicate. The answers to these three questions can be used in any order that works best for your story.


Answer three questions:

  1. Why? Why are you doing this? i.e. is there an issue or problem that you are solving?
  2. What? What are you doing to solve it? i.e. have you launched a new product or service?
  3. How? How are you doing it? i.e. the detail behind the solution


Message House

A message house helps you gather your key points into a compelling narrative when drafting a press release.

The roof, sometimes called the 'umbrella statement', is the main point you want to get across in your story.

It is typically supported by three core pillars that provide further detail and focus. These can be your What, How, Why? points. It could be the benefits you provide or the actions you want the audience to take.

Finally, the foundations are what make your house credible. These are the evidence or proof points which support what you have said.


Proof points

These are the truths you can include to show why what you are saying in your story is correct. A proof point can be quantitative or qualitative.

Quantitative proof points are the numbers or evidence you can include to prove the points you are making. They may come from a market research report. They may be industry data or even your own sales and marketing data. Always include the source of the data in your release. E.g. 90% of our users rated us 5* for our new service (Source - Survey name with link).

Qualitative proof points are most likely to be credible opinions of your organisation. They speak to the quality of your work. They could come from research findings too. But, often they are endorsements from third parties, or awards that you have won. Often, these points can be used as quotes in your release. E.g. 'The new service has really helped me to achieve my goals. I honestly couldn't recommend it more.' - Service user.


Please take 10 minutes now to draw up a message house for your organisation. You don't need to build your foundations and proof points now, but be sure to go back to it before you begin sharing your message house.

Chapter 3

Writing a press release

Read time:

3 mins

What should be in the press release?

It is usually a good idea to write your press release in a certain structure. This will make it easier for you to write and easier for a journalist to read.


The key elements for you to use are:

  • Your headline - This won't always appear in the media. It's there to catch the journalist's eye. You could include a sub-heading or a couple of bullet points below the headline as well
  • Introduction - A short paragraph to outline the story. Journalists may only have time to read the first part of your release. So, this gives them a compelling overview at the start
  • Core information - This will answer the 'what, why, and how?' questions. It may also answer the who and when questions if needed. Keep this simple in only two or three paragraphs
  • Spokesperson's quote(s) - This helps to attribute the story to someone. Two quotes are normally enough. For example, one from a senior person in your organisation and one from a third party. Include the key points in the quotes, but keep them short
  • Call to action - Each release should have an outcome. It could be something like, 'visit our website to...' or 'support our campaign by...'
  • Notes to editors - This section of the press release lets you can give some background to the story. Include your contact details so a journalist can follow up


What do I know about the target audience?

Thinking your target audience before you create your release is helpful. Who are they? What do they need to know? You can make sure your message is aimed at them.

Knowing your target audience profile, will help you choose the best media and journalists to get your message to them.


Creating audience profiles:

  • Who are they? (Age, gender, economic status, type of work they do)
  • Where are they based? (Region, county, town, village. Are they spread across the country or very local?)
  • What do they care about? (People are more likely to be interested in topics or issues that align with their values)


Example media habit profile 1 - Local village cafe owner

  • This person is 32 years old
  • They have two children. Both of which go to local schools
  • They care about the local community they live in
  • Their choice of media will have a local outlook. Local newspapers and local radio and television


Example media habit profile 2 - CEO of finance company

  • This person is 57 years old
  • They commute to their head office in the nearby town centre
  • Their choice of media will have a national outlook: daily broadsheet newspaper, financial trade media. BBC Radio 4 Today Show and News at Ten


7 steps to creating your media target list:

  1. Which media will be most likely to get your message to your audience? Write down the names of the newspapers and magazines you think of. Add the names of radio and TV programmes that they may follow
  2. Which journalists have covered stories like yours in the past? You could research online using keywords. Some may be freelancers. You should note their details too
  3. Include the details of any journalists that have contacted you before. Or, those you've met at events. And, those who've expressed an interest in what you do
  4. Set up Google alerts with keywords that relate to your work. This link will explain how to set up alerts. You'll get regular emails with links to online articles about your topic. Make a note of the journalists and titles writing about the topic. Link to an example of a news feed alert
  5. X is the main social media platform used by the media. It's a good idea to set up hashtag searches and X lists. These can find the journalists who are posting about your topic. Look out for '#journorequest'. This hashtag is used by journalists when they are looking for comments or case studies about stories
  6. A journalist's contact details will often be shown on their company's website. Or, you could try the main switchboard or newsdesk for help
  7. Remember, your target list shouldn't be too long. Keep it focused


Could you take some time now to start your media target list? Drawing 6 boxes on a piece of paper and working through each of the points above will help you take the first steps creating a successful press release.

Chapter 4

Sending your press release

Read time:

5 mins

What to consider:

  • Who you're sending the release to? Make sure you don't waste the time of journalists who won't be interested
  • What other assets will bring your story to life? Photographs or quotes may help
  • How you pitch your story to journalists? You might choose email or over the phone. This is called the 'sell-in' and it will be key to your success


Who should I send my press release to?

To choose the right media to approach, first think about your top-level audience. Who is the broad group of people you want to see your press release?


Examples of top-level target audiences:

  • The people who are your current customers. In a charity, this group may be known as beneficiaries
  • Anyone that may gain from your products and services. They could become new customers
  • Any stakeholders that you have. These could be groups likes donors or funding partners
  • Local people that might help. They may also become new employees
  • The people that might be advocates of what you are doing
  • Your peers and other groups. This might include your competitors
  • People from the industry bodies of your sector


Supporting assets

In the printed media, nearly all stories are supported with pictures. Strong and images in a press release can bring your story to life. It may also increase the chances of you getting published. It is less likely to influence TV and radio.


Photograph types you could consider:

  1. Photos from events you've hosted or attended
  2. Photos that show case studies or success stories
  3. Photos of your products or services which show them in action
  4. Head shots or group shots showing the people featured


4 considerations for media photography:

  1. Image quality and size - Aim for at least 2MB in size and at least 5 megapixels. Check the sizes of your photos before sending them. You could place smaller images in your initial email and flag that 'high-res' images can be shared'
  2. Orientation - Most photos in newspapers are used in landscape layout. This means they are horizontal. If you provide your both photos in both landscape and portrait layouts, the story could then fit multiple page layouts. This gives more chances that your story will used
  3. Suitability - Check that your photos are similar to the type that your target media uses. Check that your photos are suitable for them and meet their style
  4. Captions - Include a short caption saying who features in your photographs. Also say where and when they were taken. Make sure they're relevant to the story


Selling-in your story

Selling-in or pitching can be seen as the most daunting aspect of media relations. This is your sales pitch. You're trying to engage the journalist with your story. The outcome you want is that your story get media coverage.

Many people will email their press release to a journalist and then hope that it will get coverage. This is a mistake. It's more likely your story will get noticed if you make more contact. Give the journalist a friendly initial email, the press release and follow these up with a telephone call.


10 tips for the initial email:

  1. Make sure your media list only targets relevant journalists and media
  2. Tailor your release for the media you're targeting
  3. For a local release, put the town or region in the subject line of the email
  4. Make sure the language tone and style is clear
  5. Give quotes and offer interviews
  6. Give statistics and case studies that are localised
  7. Make your release easy to read
  8. Paste the press release into the body of your email. It is quicker to see, rather than opening a separate Word or PDF document
  9. Tailor your email for each journalist. Say why the story is important to them
  10. With a journalist you have not approached before, refer to other stories they have written. Say why your story will add value to their work


Tips for building relationships with journalists:

  1. Find out what they are writing about
  2. Follow and engage with them on social media
  3. Meet face-to-face. Invite them to events. Arrange a briefing meeting over a coffee
  4. Show how you can add value to the topic they're writing about. Give them a new perspective or important information


4 tips for the call/video call pitch:

  1. Sound interested, confident, and passionate when you're pitching. It will be more likely to engage a journalist. Focus on having positive conversations
  2. Use normal language when pitching. Don't sound like you're reading from a script. It can be helpful to make notes of key points and then refer to them when pitching
  3. Think about the time that you call. Journalists have to work to deadlines. These will vary for a daily or weekly title and for Breakfast or Evening broadcast teams. They may have mid-morning editorial meetings. Call early as they may take your story into their meeting
  4. One call may not be enough. It is ok to follow up. Check to see if they need anything else or confirm when the story may land. Be persistent, but not annoying, and do give them the space to write and produce their story

Chapter 5

Timings and embargos

Read time:

3 mins

Is it time sensitive?

If your story isn't time sensitive, then you can issue your press release at any time of day. Journalists often have planning meetings mid-morning. So, sending your release early (before 09:30) means it may get included in that day's discussions.

If you're targeting a weekly or monthly publication do some research first to find out when their print deadlines are. You should then send your release in ample time for it to be considered in the next publication. For example, if the print deadline is Wednesday, try to send your release across by Monday. If you miss the deadline, your story could be old news by the next issue.


What is an embargo?

An embargo shows the time limits for publishing a story. It asks the media hold off publishing before a certain date or time. They are used because the details of the story may be sensitive before a certain date and time. It may also be to create a bigger impact.


Example embargoes:

  • Financial results - If this story were to be released early, it could have an impact on the markets
  • Royal and political visits - An early release of this story means that routes and places for the visit would be known. This could have an impact on the security for the visit
  • Product launches - If all media run the story of a product launch at the same time, it will have a greater effect
  • Award winners - By giving the media early notice of winners, they have time to write articles and record interviews


Do you really need an embargo?

Be sparing with embargoes. If it really doesn't matter when your story lands, then don't include one. This gives the media more freedom as to when they can run your story.

If your story is time sensitive or the media will be keen to 'break the news' as soon as possible an embargo will help. It will permit research and interviews to be done.


What does an embargo look like?

An embargo would usually appear in red, bold, capital letters across the top of your press release. Basically, ensuring it cannot be missed. It would usually take the format of:




You must be very careful as to how you state the time so that there's no confusion. Had we said 'embargoed until 00.00 Monday 21 March' in the example above, it might be unclear whether we meant midnight on Sunday or midnight on Monday.

Think about how the timing of your embargo might affect the news coverage you secure e.g. an embargo of 10.00 am will likely mean your story won't appear on breakfast TV programmes the next day as they'll have missed the chance to cover the story on the day it broke, and it will be old news by the time of their next programme.


Is an embargo guaranteed?

The media can ignore the embargo you put of your press release. But they risk not getting future press releases.

The media have broken embargoes in the past to claim a 'scoop'. But this is frowned upon by their own industry.


Now you've been through the different aspects of telling your story through a press release, take some time now to bring it all together. How can you use your message house to write your key messages? What will your press release look like? Who will you send it to?


Bank of Scotland Academy is committed to providing information in a way that is accessible and useful for our users. This information, however, is not in any way intended to amount to authority or advice on which reliance should be placed. You should seek professional advice as appropriate and required. Any sites, products or services named in this module are just examples of what's available. Bank of Scotland does not endorse the services they provide. The information in this module was last updated on 18th August 2023.