A press release is an official statement delivered to members of the news media for the purpose of providing information, creating an official statement, or making an announcement directed for public release. Press releases are also considered a primary source, meaning they are original informants for information. A press release is traditionally composed of nine structural elements, including a headline, dateline, introduction, body, and other components. Press releases are typically delivered to news media electronically, ready to use, and often subject to "do not use before" time, known as an news embargo.
A special example of a press release is a communiqué , which is a brief report or statement released by a public agency. A communiqué is typically issued after a high-level meeting of international leaders.
Using press release material can benefit media corporations because they help decrease costs and improve the amount of material a media firm can output in a certain amount of time. Due to the material being pre-packaged, press releases save journalists time, not only in writing a story, but also the time and money it would have taken to capture the news firsthand.
Although using a press release can thus save a news outlet time and money, it constrains the format and style of its content. In addition, press releases are favorable towards the organization that commissioned them, framing the topic according to its preferred criteria. In the digital age, consumers want to get their information instantly, bringing about pressure on the news media to output as much material as possible. This may cause news media companies to heavily rely on press releases to create stories.
Any information deliberately sent to a reporter or media source is considered a press release. This information is released by the act of being sent to the media. Public relations professionals often follow a standard professional format for press releases. Additional communication methods that journalists employ include pitch letters and media advisories. Generally, a press release body consists of four to five paragraphs with a word limit ranging from 400 to 500. Press release length can range from 300 to 800 words.
Common structural elements include:
As the Internet has assumed growing prominence in the news cycle, press release writing styles have evolved. Editors of online newsletters, for instance, often lack the staff to convert traditional press release prose into the print-ready copy.
In the traditional distribution model, the business, political campaign, or other entity releasing information to the media hires a publicity agency to write and distribute written information to the newswires. The newswire then scatters the information as it is received or as investigated by a journalist. Thus, resulting the information or announcement becoming public knowledge.
An alternative model is the self-published press release. In this approach, press releases are either sent directly to local newspapers or to free and paid distribution services. The distribution service then provides the content, as-is, to their media outlets for publication which is usually communicated via online. This approach is often used by political institutions, for example. Another instance would be, Constitutional Courts in Europe, U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. State Supreme Courts issue press releases about their own decisions and the news media use these self-published releases for their reporting.
Some public relations firms send out video news releases (VNRs) which are pre-taped video programs or clips that can be aired intact by TV stations.
Video news releases may include interviews of movie-stars. These interviews, which have been taped on a set, are located at the movie studio and decorated with the movie's logo.
Video news releases can be in the form of full-blown productions as well. This costs tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to be produced. Video news releases can also be in the format of TV news, or even produced specifically for the web.
Some broadcast news outlets have discouraged the use of video news releases because of citing a poor public perception. It could also be viewed as a desire to increase their credibility.
Furthermore, VNRs can be turned into podcasts and then posted onto newswires. A story can also be kept running longer by simply engaging "community websites". "Community websites" are monitored and commented on by many journalists and feature writers.
If a press release is distributed before the information is intended to be released to the public it is considered embargoed. An embargo requests that news organizations not report the story until a specified date or time.
Unless the journalist has signed a legally binding non-disclosure agreement agreeing to honor the embargo in advance, the journalist has no legal obligation to withhold the information. However, violating the embargo risks damaging their relationship with the issuing organization and their reputation as a writer or journalist. News organizations are sometimes blacklisted after breaking an embargo.
Ivy Lee, known as the father of modern public relations, was the first to make a press release. The press release was made in October of 1906. The first press release, covered by Lee, was of a railroad accident involving the Pennsylvania Railroad. The accident caused the death of fifty people in Atlantic City, New Jersey (known as the Atlantic City train wreck) . Lee documented the accident and gave out reports to fellow reporters. The biggest turning point was the honesty that Lee wrote regarding the accident and how truthful it was. Lee's words were so impactful and precise that the New York Times distributed his exact statement and observations.
Lee was, and still is, one of the biggest influences and front runners in public relations and press releases. On the account of Lee, press releases have evolved into a necessity for key details among companies to disclose to the public. Since then, press releases have been used to inform other journalists, PR's, and other media relation people of important events, statistics, and announcements.