How to Tell the Media About Your Special Event

Press releases and public service announcements are the basic formats used to tell the media about your organizations special event. In general press releases go to media that provides in depth coverage, such as newspapers and the local television station. Public service announcements are used for shorter coverage such as on line community calendars and radio spots. You need to write both a public service announcement and a press release for every event.

Both press releases and public service announcements must answer the basic questions: who, what, when where, and why. So, a great way to start is to write down the answer each of those questions. Jotting down those answers gets me over the blank page intimidation and helps to clearly communicate the essential information.

I like to write the public service announcement first because it is shorter and easier. The public service announcement lets me practice and develop ideas prior to writing the press release.

How to Write Your Public Service Announcement:

  1. Use your organizations letterhead for both printed and electronic releases.
  2. Write: “PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT” centered at the top of the page.
  3. Skip a couple lines, and then add the date you want the announcement to be read.
  4. Under the date put information for the contact person: name, phone, and e-mail.
  5. Skip a couple more lines, and then center your article title in bold letters. A public service announcement title does not need to be an attention getting newspaper style title. It does need to clearly communicate the event, such as “Spaghetti Dinner to Benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation”.
  6. Skip one line and then write out exactly what you want read about your event. The total time it takes to read this should not be more than 60 seconds, with 45 being average. Many radio personalities will read your announcement exactly how you write it or not at all (if it is too long). So, practice reading it out loud and time it, shorten or lengthen as needed. Be sure to answer who, what, why, when, and where. Also include any costs involved such as $5 for admission or parking. Lastly, add a “for more information” web site or phone number. This is a lot of information to pack into a small amount of time, so don’t get fancy – just state the event facts as clearly and concisely as possible.
  7. Skip another line and write ### or end.

That’s It! Public service announcements are not difficult at all! Send them out about three weeks in advance of your special event or according to the information gathered in your publicity media file.

Press Releases are a little more challenging because you need to attract the attention of the press if you want the more in depth coverage. Before I start writing a press release I like to think about what might make my special event interesting to an editor. They probably get hundreds of press releases every week, so what is going to make my event stand out? What makes my event so special that it will capture the media and the publics’ attention?

By far, the hardest part of the press release to write is the headline or title. Once I have considered why my event is special, I try to concisely communicate that idea in a headline. Some smaller publications may use the headline I create, but larger ones will not. The goal is to create a headline that will make the editor want to read the rest of the press release; it is not to create the actual headline the public will see. Professionals call the way you pitch the article the ‘angle’. For example: the spaghetti dinner could focus on all you can eat food for $5 or an evening of fun for the whole family. A really great headline will also have a ‘hook’. Just as in fishing, the hook snags the fish. For example:  Support a Good Cause by Dining Out on the Cheap or Feed and Entertain the Whole Family for Less Than the Cost of Going to the Movie Theater . Often, this angle and hook will be created when the event is conceived. I like to come up with several possible headlines, and then ask different people which one makes them the most curious about the event.

Armed with a great headline and the public service announcement, the body of the press release practically writes itself! The body needs to be written newspaper style: the most important facts first with more details in the later paragraphs. Be sure to mention that the event is open to the public and how much it costs.

How to Write Your Press Release:

  1. Use your organizations letterhead for both printed and electronic releases.
  2. On the left side put information for the contact person: name, phone, and e-mail.
  3. On the right side, same line as the contact person’s name put “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE”.
  4. Skip a line after the contact information, and then put in your headline. This should be centered on the page and in upper case letters.
  5. If you need a subtitle, it goes directly under the title in upper and lower case letters.
  6. Skip a line, and then put the body of your press release.
  7. Skip another line and write ###
  8. If you have room, skip one more line and then write a brief sentence about whom to contact for more information or to schedule and interview. List web sites and e-mails.

The press release should absolutely be no longer than three pages, two is better and one is best. Ideally, the body should be double spaced to make it easy for editing. Remember that you do not need to say everything there is to say in a press release. Communicate the essential information (who, what, when, where, and why) and add a few interesting bits of information. If a reporter wants an in depth interview, they will call. The press release is meant to give reporters information needed to write a basic article, but more importantly, is the bait used to entice them into calling for an in depth interview.

One special tip: When mailing hard copies of your press release, hand address the envelopes rather than using peel and stick labels. Labels will save time, but hand addressing will get more attention in the initial mail sort. Very few people use pens to address envelopes any more, especially not business mail. It is human nature to be more curious about more personal looking mail. An editor who is sorting which press releases to open first is more likely to be drawn to a hand addressed envelope. It seems like a silly trick, but it works!

I hope you have found these three articles helpful. In Part One we discussed the need to create a newsworthy event. Part Two helped you create a publicity media file. But, if you still need more information I highly recommend Public Relations For Dummies. As with all the “For Dummies” books, it is a great resource to begin your journey of Getting Publicity for Your Special Event!

Have you had good success getting publicity for your special event? Leave a comment with tips and encouragement for all of us. And remember…never give up striving to make the world a better place!