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Escalate It | Chapter Five

How to Write a Press Release


THE BASICS

A press release is one of the most common ways for an organisation to present information to the media. You can use a press release to inform the media - and through them, the public - about many things, including:

  • An event your organisation is planning
  • The launch of a campaign
  • Your organisation’s response to recent events
  • Background information on a human rights situation


BEFORE YOU WRITE A PRESS RELEASE

1. Ask yourself: Why is this event or topic newsworthy? A topic requires a significant amount of information and interest in order to warrant a full press release.

2. Remember, stories with strong hooks are the most likely to get coverage.

Examples of strong story hooks include:
New announcements: Is your story “groundbreaking” or “exclusive”?

Local angles: Show how a breaking national or international story has local impact

Human interest: Underscore a broader issue with compelling personal stories of real people detailing their triumphs, tragedies and adventures

Anniversaries: Revisit an important story one year, one decade or 25 years later

Special events: Are you holding a demonstration, rally or conference? Explain the issue and its importance with the intention of drawing people to your event

Responses/reactions: Providing an alternate point of view to a breaking news story lets you capitalise on existing coverage while getting your side of the story heard

If there is not enough information, or a topic is not pertinent enough to have a strong story hook, it may be more effective to issue a media advisory or press statement, which can provide a list of experts available for interviews on a breaking news story.

3. Determine if your organisation is the best equipped to inform the media on this matter and, if so, why. Emphasise this in your press release to establish your organisation as an authority on the topic.

4. Define your target audience What group of people are you trying to reach? Is there only one, or several? What media outlet is the best for reaching these individuals?


TIPS: 7 ELEMENTS OF A SUCCESSFUL PRESS RELEASE

Every press release should:

1. Be printed on your organisation’s official letterhead. If this is not possible, make sure that the heading includes your organisation’s name, logo and contact information where officials of your group can be reached for further information.

2. Always be typed and double-spaced

3. Be short and simple, and avoid jargon.
The ideal press release is one page, and never more than two.

4. Include at the top of the page:

  • The date
  • Who the release is addressed to (i.e. news editor)
  • If the press release is “For immediate release” or “Embargoed” (that is, not to be published until a certain time/date - if so provide these conditions)

5. Include related images. Attach the best one or two, and offer to provide more upon request.

6. Open with an interesting, bolded headline that communicates the main message of the story.

7. Follow these guidelines:

Paragraph 1:
Explain the problem/event and give key information

  • Answer the “5 Ws”: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Paragraph 2:
Provide context for the problem/event

  • Have at least one quote from an expert/local spokesperson. If these people are available for interviews, include a short bio in a separate section at the end of the press release. This will make it easier—and more likely—for journalists to follow up with interviews.

Paragraph 3:
Suggest a solution or call for action

  • End with a mini-mission statement outlining your organisation’s purpose and role in the solution/call for action.
  • Explain why your organisation is sending this press release, and what makes you the best source of information on this topic.
  • Note how your organisation be contacted for further information.


THE STEPS:

DISTRIBUTING A PRESS RELEASE

Be selective. Many media outlets receive hundreds of press releases every day. Choose wisely when to issue a press release, so your group continues to make an impact in the newsroom.

Before issuing the press release, contact the media directly. Decide which key media outlets you'll target, or reach out to media contacts you already have. Generally, send media releases to the chief of staff, news editor or assignment editor.

Pitch the story, let them know you are sending out a press release and answer any questions they may have.

Also target specific departments at media outlets. For example, you might pitch to the editor of your newspaper's international news section of your newspaper.

Consider media outlets' schedules. Send out a press release early in the day to inform that morning's editorial meeting.

Issue a press release on a quiet news day. This makes it more likely that your story will be covered, as it won't be competing with other major stories.

Issue a press release immediately following an event. You are far more likely to get coverage if the topic is timely.

Cover your own event. If you aren't covering your organisation's event, how can you expect the media to? Post information and the press release on your website; use social networking sites and e-mail lists to spread the information through your own networks.


AFTER DISTRIBUTING A PRESS RELEASE

Follow up. Phone individuals to make sure they received it and see if they are interested. Be prepared to answer questions and sum up the press release over the phone. This is another chance to get the media interested in covering your story.

Keep a media contact list. Record the media personnel you connected with during this process, and contact them the next time you are issuing a press release. Over time you will make personal contacts within media, which will simplify the process of getting future coverage.


References:

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