A press release is an official statement delivered to members of the news media for the purpose of providing information, an official statement, or making an announcement. A press release is traditionally composed of nine structural elements, including a headline, introduction, body, and other information. Press releases can be delivered to members of the media physically on paper and electronically. 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 save a company time and money, it constrains the format and style of distributed media. As well, press releases are biased towards the organization which ordered them. In the digital age, consumers want to get their information instantly which puts 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 as it is information 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:
Headline – used to grab the attention of journalists and briefly summarize the news.
Dek – A sub-headline that describes the headline in more detail.
Dateline – contains the release date and usually the originating city of the press release. If the date listed is after the date that the information was actually sent to the media, then the sender is requesting a news embargo.
Introduction – first paragraph in a press release, that generally gives basic answers to the questions of who, what, when, where and why.
Body – further explanation, statistics, background, or other details relevant to the news.
Boilerplate – generally a short "about" section, providing independent background on the issuing company, organization, or individual.
Close – in North America, traditionally the symbol "-30-" appears after the boilerplate or body and before the media contact information, indicating to media that the release has ended. A more modern equivalent has been the "###" symbol. In other countries, other means of indicating the end of the release may be used, such as the text "ends".
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 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 disseminates the information as it is received or as investigated by a journalist. An alternative 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 online.
Some public relations firms send out video news releases which are pre-taped video programs that can be aired intact by TV stations. Video news releases may include interviews of movie-stars which have been taped on a set which located at the movie studio and decorated with the movie's logo. Video news releases can be in the form of full-blown productions costing tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands. They can also be in the TV news format or even produced for the web. Some broadcast news outlets have discouraged the use of video news releases, citing a poor public perception and a desire to increase their credibility. Video news releases can be turned into podcasts and then posted onto newswires. A story can also be kept running longer by engaging "community websites" which 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 embargoed. An embargo requests that news organizations not report the story until a specified time. Unless the journalist has signed a legally bindingnon-disclosure agreement agreeing to honor the embargo in advance, the journalist is under no obligation to hold the information. There have been cases reported of news organizations being blacklisted after breaking an embargo.