Writing Press Releases
Purpose:1) to inform a newsroom of an event or development
2) to give a journalist the ‘tool kit’ to write the story or develop it
Sad fact:Most press releases are never read beyond the first sentence.
Making life easy for journalists gives you more control
The more work you do preparing a story for a journalist, the less work they do. The less work they do, the less scope there is for them to get it wrong.
Make this interesting and relevant. The more you can dramatise, the more likely it is the first paragraph will be read. If you are part of a bigger news story make this clear in the headline. Journalists are often looking for a new angle or a side-bar on an ongoing story.
This is by far the most important part of the release. Make sure it is clearly written and as far as possible tells the whole story. The rest of the release will add detail and supporting quotes. Your aim is to ensure the person reading the release can, in a few seconds, decided the story is worth covering. This first reader is likely to make this decision in less than 20 seconds. The vast majority of press releases go straight in the bin.
Body of release
In general this only becomes of use to a journalist once a decision has been made to cover the story. You can afford to use longer sentences and explain things in more detail. The key challenge is to make the story clear, with a logical order, so that those using it to write their copy can find the information quickly and easily. If you are struggling to know what to include, bear in mind that a journalist will need to know: who, what, where, when, why, how and how much. The order these facts should come in will depend on the story. You are looking to tell your story in 300 – 400 words. Less is better.
Aim to use clear and simple language, active verbs, short sentences and an easy and logical construction. Read and re-read to check what you have written is easy to understand.
Include at least one quote
Every self-respecting press release includes one or two quotes attributed to the most senior people possible. These are typically written by the press office, which may, out of courtesy, tell the person being quoted what it is he or she is saying! Quotes should be short, not more than 35 words and preferably nearer 20. They should also be interesting and if possible add some emotional value.
Offer pictures or video if available. This will always enhance the chances of your story being covered.
These restrict the publication of information until a specified time and date. They are generally honoured but not always. Once an embargo is broken by one news organisation, others will go ahead with the story too. If you are using an embargo make sure it is clearly stated at the top of the release in large bold print.
Crucial contact information
Your aim is to make it easy for the journalist to follow up the story. You may think all relevant information is in the press release but even for a quick ‘News in Brief paragraph’ many journalists will want to pick up the phone and check something. Two or three telephone numbers, including out of hours and mobile/cell phone numbers are usual. Also include e-mail addresses and a website address if appropriate. Make it easy to get in touch.
Notes to Editors
Once a journalist is working on the story this is the most useful bit of the press release. Typically the notes are added in smaller print and in numbered paragraphs. A journalist will look here to discover what exactly the organisation is, who funds it, number of staff worldwide etc. They will also want the basic statistics about the regional or country operation. You may also wish to include a paragraph on the history of any current crisis. Notes to Editors are frequently as long as the press release. The journalist will weave these facts into their own copy. Laying it out like this makes their job much easier and may save your staff a long tedious phone call. Typically this Notes to Editors section stays the same across a number of Press Releases, it does not have to be rewritten each time.