How to write a press release.|
A news release is known in the news business as a "handout."
News people are used to rewriting handouts. They don't get angry if the news release is not a perfect composition, but they do get upset if the facts are not all there. Small papers have few reporters and like to use news releases without re-writing them. Most people can write well enough for small papers. So be humble. Put in all the facts. Write simple sentences.
The First Paragraph
The first paragraph is a summary of what the release is about. In the trade it is called the "lead." These important three lines (never more than four!) determine whether your release sinks or swims.
The Coronado International Historical Pageant, depicting the Hispanic and Indian culture of the Southwest, will be presented free to the public from 10:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., on Sunday (April 20) at the Coronado National Memorial in Arizona.
This is a fairly routine lead. But notice it answers all the important questions: What? Why? Who? When? Where?
It also illustrates another basic rule on the sequence of listing time and place which is called "little time, big time, place."
Little time: 10:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
Big time: Sunday (April 20)
Place: Coronado National Memorial in Arizona
Alcatraz Island, which has been closed for repairs for two weeks, will be re-opened by the National Park Service for the public on Sunday (April 20), said unit manager Colleen Collins.
Reservations at $4.50 each are being accepted for the ferry boat service that begins at 9 a.m. every day, Collins added.
The release had two points to make: Alcatraz Island is re-opening AND reservations can now be made. Too much for one sentence. Put them into two sentences. News releases have short paragraphs just like newspapers.
After The Lead Paragraph
Write the rest of your news release in logical order. Simple sentences. Short paragraphs.
Use this check list. Did you answer all these questions (if appropriate)?
They are known to the old-timers in the business as "The Five W's and How."
Every news organization has a central receiver, a person who screens the flow of incoming releases, calls and visits, determines which have news potential, and directs how the news organization will respond.
There are assignment editors, city editors, feature editors, news editors, and more. Radio and television often use the word "director" instead of "editor." Whatever the title, this is the gatekeeper. Learn who it is and cultivate that person. (No, we don't mean $50 lunches.) Make an appointment to meet him or her professionally. Then, introduce yourself, state your business, and go. Respect busy professionals.
After you've made the initial contact, reach these people with simple messages on news release paper. Email versions also must be simple. Graphics and attachments that may cause newsroom delays or disruptions will win no friends. These messages, too, have a variety of names: Editors Advisory, Assignment Memo, Media Advisory, News Memo. This is what gets a reporter to your event.
When you want the news media to cover your special event, send them an "editors advisory." If you have an advance news release (and you should) attach a copy to the advisory.
The advisory is particularly valuable in soliciting television coverage. Include a brief description of what will happen and don't forget the visual aspects -- what there will be to photograph.
If you want advance publicity you will, of course, also send them the news release in a separate envelope. That's because news media filing systems are usually pretty primitive; your editors advisory and release probably will be put in the "future" file.
The editor usually will not make a copy for someone to do a story which would get you advance publicity. If you need advance publicity, send a second release to give you a shot at that, too.
Format for the Editors Advisory
Duncan Morrow (333) 333-3333
Event: Secretary of the Interior Opens Coronado International Historical Pageant -- a colorful, costumed fiesta of music, song, dance and drama
Time: 11 a.m., Sunday, April 20. (Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Place: Coronado National Memorial, Hereford, Ariz.
Who: Secretary of the Interior Arnold Andrews and National Park Service Director Francis Drake
Editors advisories can also be useful at the end of a news release. These are called "trailers." They should be separated from the main text of the release and clearly labeled.
Trailer advisories are used to offer supplementary material, related to the release subject. For example, photographs, copies of reports, and review copies of new publications can be offered to the media through such advisories. They must always include clear instructions on how the recipient can obtain the offered items.
Distributing News Releases
The first rule of trash-can avoidance is don't send trash. That is why it is worth taking the time to do a good job.
The second rule is don't bury the recipients in a paper blizzard. Use releases only when you have something worth taking an editor's time. There is no quota to be met. An editor who receives too many releases with too little news value soon learns to ignore everything that comes from the same source.
News organizations are trying to interest an audience. If your release will help them do that, they will use it. If it won't, trash it yourself.
Honor the role -- include a title in every address.
In general, use the following titles to address your releases, unless you know a particular organization uses a different title that would serve better:
Daily newspapers: City Editor
Weekly newspaper: Editor
Radio Stations: News Department
Television Stations: News Director
Almost every state has a few newspapers that are circulated over much of the state and that have small bureaus outside of their base city. If such a bureau is near you, put it on the mailing list. Address the releases to "Bureau Chief" (even if it is a one-person bureau).
Don't try to save postage by putting more than one release in the same envelope either. Since different stories are likely to be assigned to different reporters, this may cause one release to be ignored. If you use email, the same principle applies: send separate releases separately.
Consider to whom you are sending it. Most feature departments (such as travel sections) and magazines have deadlines long before things appear in print. They need to get releases in advance. Weekly papers need releases just before -- not just after -- their weekly deadlines. The daily media usually have reduced staffs on weekends and are better equipped to act on a release received on a weekday. Time your mailings accordingly.