In the public relations field we know that press releases are an integral part of what we do. We are constantly sending press releases to media outlets to inform them of something newsworthy – an event, a new product or program, an award recognition, etc. Press releases are sent with the goal of generating media coverage on the subject of the release. By capturing interest and enticing the media to cover the story, you can get your information to become a feature news item. Providing a newsworthy report to a media outlet can lead to a newspaper article or broadcast story.
Press releases are a vital tool of public relations, and sending an effective press release to the right people can motivate media coverage, spreading news about your organization further than before.
We know that there are two parts to the press release process: writing the release and sending it to appropriate members of the media. By sharing these tips our hope is that you can gain valuable information that will help you send out effective press releases.
Writing the press release
Beginning the release
Before you begin with the main text of the release, you should list contact information, as well as the date, just as you would in a formal letter. Your release also needs a title, which should sound like a news headline.
Releases routinely begin with the city and state where the story is relevant, and normally include phrase “For Immediate Release” if the story is ready to be published. If the release is not ready to be printed (known as an “embargoed” release), identify the date when the story can be published. As a general rule of thumb, it’s better to only send your release once it’s ready to be printed. Asking a journalist to hold off on your story will often lead to it being forgotten.
The body of the release
The goal of a press release is to present the basic facts while also garnering interest from the public. Press releases should be short, no longer than a few paragraphs, so avoid “fluff” and flowery language. You want your release to be straight to the point and easy to read.
The most important information people need to know is commonly included in the first paragraph:
- What happened?
- Who was involved?
- When did it occur?
- Where did it occur?
- Why did it happen; why does it matter?
You want to make sure the essence of the story is featured in the first paragraph. The subsequent paragraphs can be used to provide details, but newspaper editors edit from the bottom up, so the most important information is routinely in the beginning of the release. It is also recommended that the release have a human interest side to the information presented. The media searches for this kind of information because they know their audience is more interested in a story rather than straight facts. In order to get this human angle and to add depth to the release you can use a quote.
“I am a firm believer in the power of a really great quote. It adds human personality to the release.”
– Merry Mac Miller, DNA Creative Communications
A well-placed quote breaks up the copy of your press release and adds life to the text. Having someone close to the subject speak about it is also a very effective way to add credibility to your release. When possible, make sure your release tells the story in a way the public can really connect with. If you can make the topic of your press release matter to them, then you have written a good release.
Ending the release
At the end of every press release, there is a boilerplate about the organization behind the release. A boilerplate is an overview of your organization that mentions your mission, who you do it for and why you do it. It customarily includes a position statement that sets you apart from competitors. If you want to encourage readers to learn more about your story or organization, direct them to your website at the end of the release.
You should also include “###” to signal the end of the release. This lets the recipient know there is nothing further to be found in the release.
Sending the press release
Once you have a well-written, concise press release, you’re ready to send it to the media. But who exactly needs to receive it?
Who should get the release?
You can send your press release to newspapers, magazines and television news stations. But it is unwise to send your press release to just the general organization – your much better off if you find the reporter who covers the topic your release addresses. Sending the release to an actual person will highly increase your chances of receiving coverage.
For example if you’re hosting a local event, it’s a good idea to send your release to the community & lifestyle sections of newspapers and magazines, as well as a broadcast journalist who focuses on community & local events at your local news station.
Each newspaper/magazine/station website normally features a staff directory with names, positions, phone numbers and email addresses. Use this information to determine who you should send the release to and how to reach them. It is very important to keep this list updated, as positions and staff tend to change frequently in the media. If your list is too outdated there is a possibility no one at that organization is receiving your information.
What is the best way to send it out?
Press releases are typically sent out by email to the members of the media you have selected, and generally the title of the release is used as the subject. Typically people in the media receive a lot of press releases on a daily basis so there a few things you can do to grab their attention to increase your chances of being included.
Always have the press release be in the body of your email. If you attach the release to the email they are much less likely to open it, which will not help you get your information out. You can (and should) attach photos or other digital media to your email to accompany the press release, as long as the actual information is in the body. Be sure to identify people in the photos, as well as relevant information such as location and date.
It is also good to be personal. While it takes a bit more time to send individual emails that include their name in your salutation, it can lead to a big payoff. Seeing their name at the top of the email is much more likely to get their attention than a generic welcome.
The best time to send releases is at the beginning of the week, early in the day. You want it to be one of the first things in their inbox so it does not get lost in the clutter of emails they are likely to receive as time passes. It is also wise to follow up all emails with a phone call, which can be made a day or two after you send out the press release.