Do you have an idea for a news story, but no idea about how to motivate newspapers, television stations, radio stations, or Web sites to cover it? One answer is a short document called a press release and, while a release can't guarantee news coverage, it will maximize your chances of getting noticed by broadcast media. This guide, written by a managing editor of a news publishing group, will tell you how to draft and send out a professional-looking release.
Things You Will Need
Required: a computer with an Internet connection.
Recommended: having word processing software installed on the computer.
Optional: having a photo-editing program installed on the computer, to edit pictures.
While there is no absolute format for press releases, many of them follow the format presented here. Set the line spacing of your word processor on single space, and type "PRESS RELEASE" in upper-case letters in the upper left corner of the page.
Next, type "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE," again in upper case letters. This line tells the editor that the story can be used immediately. If the story shouldn't be used until a certain date - like when a company will be unveiling a new product on a certain day, and doesn't want that information broadcast until the product launch - this line should read, "FOR RELEASE ON dd/mm/yy" (that is, the release date listed day/month/year) to tell the editor when the story can be used.
Last, type "CONTACT:" in upper case letters, followed by the name of a person in your organization that can answer media questions ab0ut your news. Lines below that can include, in lower case letters, the contact person's title, telephone number, and Email address.
Set the spacing on your word processor to double space. The rest of your press release will be written at this setting, for three reasons:
(1) If your release is good enough to publish as-is, an editor may print the document, make a few notes, corrections or deletions in the space between the lines and hand it to the copy editor, who will open your document on his or her computer Â and make the changes;
(2) Reporters sometimes print out releases before calling the contact person for an interivew. If one of their questions expands on an idea presented in the release, the reporter may jot some notes in the empty spaces; and
(3) A double-spaced document is easier to read than a single-spaced document. An editor who receives more than 100 releases in an afternoon quickly comes to appreciate double-spaced documents.
It's time to create a working headline. Although your headline may not be the one the editor uses - some agencies actually hire people who create headlines as full-time jobs, and they're good at what they do - your headline should tell the editor, in a few words, what the story is about.
It's a good idea to include a verb in your headline. Consider a pet shop that is hosting an animal rights fund-raiser. "Pam's Pet Panorama" might be the name of the shop, but it doesn't tell an editor anything about the story. "Pet shop sponsors animal rights event" tells the editor much more, and will probably catch the editors attention more readily.
A comon error writers commit when writing headlines is to make them too long. If it doesn't fit on a single line in your word processing document, rewrite it. The idea of a headline is to summarize the story, not tell it.
Lastly, share your headline with a couple of listeners, just to make sure that your headline doesn't carry shades of meaning you didn't intend. For example, a reporter in this writer's own newsroom once wrote a story about a "Paws in the Park" pet adoption event, at which people could buy paper "paws" to defray animal shelter costs or adopt a loving pet. The working headline that crossed the editor's desk? "Paw your way to love."
Obviously, we all knew what the reporter intended, but that headline could be interpreted in multiple ways.
When you have a headline you're satisfied with, type it in upper case letters and center-justify it on the page.
Next, you need to write the body of the release. The most important part of the release is the first sentence, appropriately called the lead, which should tell the editor who is doing (or did) what, where the event will take (or took) place, and when it will happen (or happened). The rest of the release should tell why this news event will come (or came) about. By addressing these "five Ws" - who, what, when, where, why - you will tell a complete story.
If you decide to use quotations in your release, make sure those quotes add opinion or emotion to the story, and not simply state facts. Returning to our pet shop example, a quote like,
"The event will start at 11 a.m., and end at 3 p.m."
is a statement of fact; while the release should contain this information (since it answers the question of when), it makes for a boring quote that won't be used, anyway. A quote like,
"People don't realize that animal neglect is an issue right here in our town," said Pamela Price, owner of Pam's Pet Panorama.
is far better, and adds emotion to the story.
When the "story" part of the release is done, make sure to add a caption, or cutline, for every photo you plan to send with your release. Each caption should be preceeded by the word "CUTLINE" typed in upper case letters, should include the full names of all people depicted in the photographs (typically listed from the left), and should include descrption about what the people are doing or why they are together for the photos.
If you include multiple photos, give the photos and corresponding captions matching names, so that the editor will know which captions reference which photos.
The body of your release is now done. The last thing you need to do is center-justify three "pound" signs (###) or the number 30 with hyphens on either side (-30-) at the bottom of the release. In the news media industry, these symbols indicate to the editor that no additional pages are forthcoming.
You'll only need to do this step the first time you send a release. It involves assembling a media contact list, a list of publications, editors' names and e-mail addresses to which you'll send your press release and any accompanying photos.
To create this list, visit the Web sites of all newspapers, television stations and radio stations in your area you know about, and record the name, telephone number and contact Email of the news editor for each.
Then, do an Internet serach for "newspapers in ****," where **** is your city of residence. If any newspapers appear on the list that you didn't know about (this can happen in the case of very small papers, papers catering to specific ethnic or religious groups, or Â radio stations with small audiences), record the names and contact information for all those news editors, as well. Conduct additional Web searches for television and radio stations, and add those editors to your list as well.
Lastly, you'll want to get contact information for the appropriate writer or department at the Associated Press Web site (http://www.ap.org/pages/contact/contact_pr.html). Add that information to your list, also.
When your list is finished, save it - both in printed form and as a list in your Email address book. Every time you send a release after this first one, you can choose to send your release to some or all of the editors on your list.
The last thing you need to do is send out your release. The best way to do this is by Email blind copy; you put your own Email address in the "To" field, and put all the editors' Email addresses in the "Bcc" field. When you send an Email this way, no one on your editor list can see who else received the release, and you don't needlessly expose anyone else's Email address to being publicized.
In the subject line, type "Press Release for Consideration."
In the body of the Email, write a short message to the effect of, "Attached is a press release for your revew, about _______," then fill in the blank to complete the sentence.
You may consider skipping down a few lines, typing in a few asterisks (***), then copying and pasting the full text of your release, just in case a given editor's computer Â cannot open your release.
Next, attach the word processing document to the Email, along with each of your picture files as separate attachments, preferably in .jpeg, .tif, or .eps format.
Hit the send button and you're done.
There's an old saying in public relations circles: "With advertising, you pay for it; with publicity, you pray for it." Sending a well-written release doesn't guarantee that any media outlet will grant coverage of your business, community group or event. It does, however, greatly improve your chances of getting coverage.
Tips & Warnings
Do not paste photos into your word processing document. Many news outlets have outdated computers or may use different operating systems than yours. If an editor can't open your document or pull a photo out of your document, he or she is likely to just delete your release and move on to the next one. To help prevent this from happening, attach photos to your e-mail message as separate files.
Do not use fancy, hard to read fonts. There is no guarantee that an editor has those same fonts installed, in which case his or her computer will just use a substitute font anyway. Stick to common fonts, like Times Roman or Courier.
If you send a release to the Associated Press, don't attach anything; just copy and paste the full text of your release into the body of your submission Email.