The 5 Ws of Press Release Writing

When learning how to write a press release, you’ll often see two important bits of advice:

  1. Use the inverted pyramid.
  2. Cover the “5 Ws” in your press release introduction (or lede).

We’ll go into the inverted pyramid in more depth in a later post. But for now just know it means you start with the most essential, must-have information first. Then you follow it up with supporting details.

Covering the 5 Ws of press release writing in your lede is a part of that.

Let’s look at what the 5 Ws include, why they’re important, and then we’ll look at some real-life examples from published press releases you can learn from.

What are the “5 Ws” of Press Release Writing?

The 5 Ws of press release writing (or really “news writing” of any kind) are when you answer the following questions:

  1. Who?
  2. What?
  3. When?
  4. Where?
  5. Why?

Answer these five questions and you’ve covered all the essentials in your news story.

That’s why the 5 Ws belong early in your press releases. Don’t make journalists dig to find these answers.

Let’s say you run a software company and you’re releasing a new program. In your launch press release, you might include the following in your lede:

  1. Who? — Your company name should be mentioned.
  2. What? — What you’re doing should be clear: releasing new software (or an update or whatever it happens to be).
  3. When? — State when your new program will be available.
  4. Where? — This might include geographic limitations or it might focus more on where the software will be available. (Your website? Major retailers?)
  5. Why? — Briefly tell journalists why you’re launching this software. It’s as simple as noting a need this program addresses.

Your job is to take all of that information and boil it down to a sentence or two. That’s your lede. That’s how much space you have to get a journalist’s attention and convince them your story is newsworthy. That’s it. So don’t muck it up.

Quick Tip: If the answer to any of the above questions is unnecessary to your news angle or otherwise would do nothing to sell your pitch to journalists, leave it out of your lede. Don’t force it just to satisfy a formula.

The 5Ws in Action: Press Release Lede Examples

To help you get a better feel for writing press release ledes and using the 5 Ws effectively, I thought it might help to look at some examples. So I popped over to PRWeb for some examples to share with you.

There seemed to be quite a few book launch press releases on the day I originally pulled these, so let’s make a theme of it for better comparisons. Here are three press release ledes announcing new books. Let’s look at what they do well and where they could be improved.

Press Release Lede Example 1: Intentional Leadership

Judy Nelson, JD, MSW, CPC, and international leadership coach, releases her book Intentional Leadership: Using Strategy in Everything You Do and Say today. Published by Motivational Press, she wrote the book to share the wisdom she gained over her 30 years as a CEO and other leadership roles. — Read the full release.

First, the 5 Ws. Are they all accounted for?

  1. Who? — Judy Nelson, the author and leadership coach
  2. What? — She released her book, Intentional Leadership.
  3. When? — Today
  4. Where? — ??
  5. Why? — “To share the wisdom she gained over her 30 years as a CEO and other leadership roles.”

What Works: We have the most important information covered here.

I would argue “where?” isn’t terribly important in this case. The dateline of the release already tells us the news is coming out of Los Angeles. She’s an international coach. And it’s a book.

With all that in mind, we can reasonably assume its a U.S.-published book that would be available through typical international channels. (And we find out later in the release it will be available via “Amazon and other booksellers worldwide.” So overall, not too bad here.

What Could Be Better: If I were coming at this as a journalist (and I have worked both sides of the fence), my biggest issue here would be the “why?”

It’s great that the author has 30 years experience as a CEO and such, but that isn’t newsworthy. It’s supporting information that could have, and should have, come later in the release.

I would have preferred to the see the “why?” address a question the book answers or a problem it solves for likely readers.

Press Release Lede Example 2: Actual Love

A Manchester-based author and former journalist has published his tenth book, “Actual Love.” The book, published by author Kevin Logan, is the telling of one love story intertwined with love stories of the past. — Read the full release.

The 5 Ws

  1. Who? — Kevin Logan
  2. What? — He released his tenth book, Actual Love.
  3. When? — ??
  4. Where? — Manchester
  5. Why? –??

What Works: Not enough.

We know who the author is. We know what the book is called. We know the author has several other books under his belt and was a journalist (so we can assume he can write coherently). We know he’s from Manchester, which might interest you if you’re looking for work from English authors or if you were a journalist with a local media outlet. But other than that, we don’t know much.

What Could Be Better: The “when?” aspect isn’t a big deal. It clearly states the book has already been “published.” So we can assume it’s out now and go by the dateline of the release.

The problem is more about the “why?” What is this book about and why would anyone want to read it? I’m not getting that from this lede.

If you kept reading the release (most journalists won’t if your lede doesn’t grab them), you would know this is fiction. You would also know it’s a follow-up to a work of nonfiction by the same author. It’s a book about a reverend. The author is a minister of some kind (though you won’t learn that until way down in the boilerplate).

You do eventually get the information you want in this release. But it’s poorly-organized and puts fluff before the bits that would be most interesting to journalists. It’s not terrible; But it’s also not a lede you would want to model your own after.

Press Release Lede Example 3: Customer Karma

Good karma is the catalyst in long-term relationships and loyalty between businesses and customers in Arjun Sen’s new business book “Customer Karma.” Sen’s extensive corporate experience is reflected in his success and insight into exceptional customer service. — Read the full release.

The 5 Ws

  1. Who? — Arjun Sen
  2. What? — He released a business book called Customer Karma.
  3. When? — ??
  4. Where? — ??
  5. Why? –Because “good karma is the catalyst in long-term relationships and loyalty between businesses and customers.” (I think.)

What Works: The “when?” and “where?” aspects again don’t matter much. Because we’re talking about book launch press releases, we can generally safely assume the book was just released unless otherwise noted. That covers the “when?”

As for location, we also know book launch releases will usually mention retailers towards the end. So unless there’s something of local interest, or it’s a limited release of some kind, we don’t need locations.

What Could Be Better: This lede almost gets there. But the “why?” is still a problem. (And I should note, this release and the previous one seem to have come from the same marketing firm.)

Even though I could pull out what seemed to be the intended “why?” it didn’t go far enough. Why this book? Why from this author?

Like with the last release, they eventually get there. But if this release came to my inbox, it would have been deleted long before getting to the good stuff. (And when you’re talking about self-published books like this one, which are already tougher to land coverage for, you can’t afford to put out bad press releases.)

Now that you have a better idea of how to write press release ledes using the 5 Ws, go practice. Can you get your lede down to a sentence (two tops) while grabbing a journalist’s attention and telling them what they need to know? If not, keep trying. You’ll get there. Need some help from a PR pro? You can always get in touch to hire me to write your next release for you instead.

This post was originally published on January 4, 2017 on a separate site I used to run before being merged to the Pro Business Writer blog.

Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer, professional blogger, consultant, and publisher.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and more than 20 years' experience in marketing and PR, specializing in digital PR and new media (with significant experience in social media, online marketing, SEO, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience, including web development, mostly in the WordPress environment.

In addition to offering client services, Jenn also developed and runs numerous online publications including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

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