Writing a press release
Getting the content right
While some might question whether press releases are even necessary in the age of the e-mail, they still remain one of the simplest ways of getting an announcement out to the media quickly and accurately, and well-written content can easily be adapted for web stories, newsletters and other communications. Download our press release template here
When people read newspapers they do not read everything. They scan through, then read the beginning of a story. If they are interested they will carry on reading. If not, they will skip to the next story. To grab their attention you need to put the key information in your opening paragraph. This is often called the 5 W’s.
- WHO – who will be doing it?
- WHAT – what will they be doing?
- WHEN – when will they be doing it?
- WHERE – where will they be doing it?
- WHY – why will they be doing it?
You can then fill in the rest of the information in your following paragraphs, following these guidelines:
- Keep it simple, and concentrate on the main points.
- Keep it brief – one A4 sheet is best.
- Keep it waffle free. Try to write sentences of no more than 10 words, and only put one idea in each sentence.
- Use everyday language. Don’t use technical words, abbreviations, legalistic or academic jargon.
- Use direct language – e.g. ‘Mary Jones said’ not ‘the meeting was then addressed by Mary Jones’.
- Make sure your story is about people – how will people benefit from what you are doing?
- Include a quote from a named person. Quotes make it lively and interesting, and can be used to express opinions. Make sure you have covered the 5 W’s before you put in the quote.
- Make it active. ‘The petition will be presented to our MP…’ instead of: ‘It is hoped that when we have sufficient names on our petition we will be able to arrange to present it to our MP…’
- Work on your angle. Why will local people be interested in your story?
- Get your facts right. If you aren’t sure – check.
- Always give names and contact numbers. Make sure someone will be available in the evenings as well as daytimes.
- At the bottom of the news release give details of any photo opportunities with times and places. Ask them to come when your event will look its best, or when most people will be there.
- If you want to include some background information put it right at the end of the news release with the heading ‘Notes for Editors’.
- When you have written your news release, have a break, then read it again. Have you put the most important information in the first paragraph? Have you got a snappy heading? Is it clear and easy to read?
- Ask somebody to check and proofread your press release to make sure it is clear without any grammatical or spelling mistakes.
Sending your news release
Most news releases are now sent by email. News desks receive hundreds of emails each day so you need to make sure yours is clear, easy for the journalist to use, and stands out.
- Put the heading of your news release in the subject line of the email. For example: ‘Press release: Busy road residents turn dangerous road into play area’.
- Paste your news release into the main body of the email. Don’t send it as an attachment.
- Put clear spaces between each paragraph to make it easier to read.
- If you have a good quality photograph save it as a .jpg (JPEG file) and attach it to the email. Provide a caption for it at the bottom of your email.
- Write ‘ENDS’ at the end of the release, and then put contact details, photo opportunities/details and any notes for the editors.
Getting the timing right
Think about when you want the media to receive your news release.
- You can send two news releases: one in advance, and one after the event, with details of what has happened. If you are lucky, you may get coverage twice.
- With an advance news release send it to the News Desk a week or so before the event. Bear in mind publication days if it is a weekly paper.
- If you are sending a news release after an event it has to be done on the day. It won’t be news in 2 days’ time.
- Papers, TV and radio all have deadlines, which they won’t break for your story.
- If speed is important, email or fax the news release.
- If you want to let the press know in advance about an event, but don’t want the event publicised until a certain date, you can use an ‘embargo’. This means writing ‘embargoed until 3pm, 25th December’ on your news release. Don’t use this unless you really need to.
Getting your response right
Follow up your news release with a phone call to the news desk
- If possible, read over your news release and any background information first. Think about the 2 or 3 main points you want to get across.
- Be polite but firm.
- Introduce yourself: “Hello, I am (name) from( organisation). I emailed a press release to you on (date) about (subject). Please could I speak to the journalist who is covering this story.”
- You will frequently be asked to send the email again. Ask for the name, number and email of the person you are speaking to, and email them immediately before they forget about your phone call.