How to write the best Press Releases?
April 7, 2005 11:26 AM   Subscribe

PublicityFilter: Help me write my first ever press release effectively.

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I've been asked to write a press release for an upcoming function my non-profit is hosting, featuring a former Democratic Presidental candidate (not Kerry or Dean) as keynote speaker. I'm a good writer, I've read all kinds of theory on the web, and I've looked at some prior press releases that my organization has sent out, but I'm hoping for some more ... er ... "real world" advice before I tackle this. This is being sent out to print, radio, and television in a fairly small market. This is a big coup for us, and I'd like to see it promoted in an effective way, but this kind of event isn't typical for our organization, so we don't have much experience with it. My immediate need is a press release, but any other "press kit" or media tips to get best coverage of this event for us would be welcome.
posted by anastasiav to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
As a former journalist, I've read thousands of press releases, and have a decent idea about what makes a good one. I'm also a pretty good proofreader. If you want to email it to me (.doc file; address in profile), I'd be happy to take a look at it. (Prolly wouldn't be until tomorrow, tho'.)
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:39 AM on April 7, 2005

As a reporter, I'm looking for absolute, basic facts: names (spelled correctly), telephone numbers, websites, dates, places. Get these right (a punch list of who, what, when, where, etc. is helpful) and you're on the right road.

A separate fact sheet about your organization can be helpful, too. Even if I don't use your press release, I'll keep that sheet for a future story.

Don't worry about quotes from your group's leaders. No one will (or should) use them.

Don't be cute. I'm the writer, you're the flack.

Tell me why your event is important (issues, people attending, money being raised, etc.), but don't try to sell me on some special angle. I don't want to write the same thing as every other newspaper in town.

Send it via email and mail. Don't assume a fax will make it to the right person. Send it to an assigning editor or a reporter who you know is already covering your beat. A followup phone call isn't bad.

Don't be upset if a reporter doesn't call back. We get a ton of press releases, and we treat a lot of it like junk mail.

Make sure whoever is answering the phone knows about the press release and knows who my call should be directed to. I hate it when I call the contact number and reach someone who can't help me NOW. I'm on deadline, goddamnit. And, no, I don't want M. Anastasiav's voice mail.

Oh, this is a two way street. Someday, I'm going to call your office and ask you a very uncomfortable question about your funding, your executive director's arrest or something else. If you want me to publicize your event, please have the courtesy to at least return my call and tell me to go to hell.
posted by sixpack at 11:50 AM on April 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I, too, am a reporter. My thoughts:

If you're sending it out via e-mail, just put the text of your message into the e-mail don't send it out as an attachment.

Attachments on press releases are only acceptable if they're images, spread sheets or other forms of info that can't be copied and pasted into the message.

A strong subject line will help too. Something like "Former presidential candidate XXX to speak in TOWN on Friday."

If you don't know who to send it to, call the news organization's info line and ask. If it gets to the wrong person it may just get deleted.

Put your name and contact phone number at the very top.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:13 PM on April 7, 2005

I'm a flack, also working for nonprofit. I have the most success getting coverage when the press release is compelling (keep in mind what makes it interesting to you) and clear (avoid boilerplate, jargon and academic-ese) and I have spent time developing a very targeted list of reporters.

Have you decided what kind of press coverage you want? If you want television crews there to cover the talk, a media advisory sent to the planning desks of your local stations and the photo desk of your newspapers in the days before the event is probably best. Media advisories are just a bulleted list of the who, what, when, where and why, along with a plug for the visual appeal of what you're promoting (always important when you're targeting TV).

Is there an issue this person is speaking on that you want to get covered? Are you trying to raise awareness about your organization? If so, you would be best served to identify a handful of reporters that you would like to cover the story. Rank them. Start by calling the top person you would want to cover this. Make your pitch. Send the follow-up materials--your press release and fact sheets on your organization, your speaker and the issue. If they say no, ask them who at their publication would be interested in the story or move along to the next person on your list. (This is assuming that one publication will not be interested in the story if someone else is doing it. But that’s not always true.)

If you want to get a television interview with your speaker, know that person's availability and call the producers at your television stations. You can also always offer an interview with the speaker as an exclusive to one station.

If you have a Web site, make sure all your press materials are posted to it. Include your Web site address in the printed materials and e-mails you send out. Sometimes, if I have a lot of stuff, I will send out an e-mail with a couple paragraphs from the news release and a link to our Web site with the rest of the information. I think that people get turned off by really long e-mails. (But not AskMe posts, right?)

Also, if you have a photographer at the event, you may want to do a post-event photo release. If you have the availability of posting print-quality photos to your Web site, send out a release after the event and include information on how to download photos from your event from your Web site. Just make sure your photographer is OK with having his/her work distributed to media outlets. If you don't want to pursue this, you can still do a post-event release on the substance of the speech.

I'm not a big fan of press kits. I think they can be a big expensive nothing. If you end up with several press materials, put them together in a folder with your business card. I think that's really all you need, usually.

If you aren’t familiar with all the reporters in your town, you can purchase a media list. I use Bacon’s Media Source, which is expensive. If you don’t have access to a list, let me know and I can pull one for your area.

Also, you can use a news wire service to distribute your press release, like US Newswire or PR Newswire. I’ve used US Newswire considerably, and their rates to distribute a press release locally are quite affordable, around $100.

Finally, don’t rely solely on your press release and other materials to get coverage. Follow-up calls are essential. Reporters get so much crap that sometimes you have to make that personal connection to stand out.

Hope this helps.
posted by Sully6 at 2:26 PM on April 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Follow-up calls are essential.

This former reporter just wanted to see that part again. There are tons of people who think they've done PR by simply sending out a press release and moving on. Don't be one of them.
posted by mediareport at 7:26 PM on April 7, 2005

Um, this current reporter can't stand the zillion calls she gets from flaks who bust in on deadline while I'm working on a million things to say, "Hiyeeee! I'm calling to see if you got my release about an event we're having six months from next Tuesday and who you'll be sending and why you aren't and really it's important yadda yadda."

Make sure everything is super clear (yes - no attachments!) and that the who where when why how is up top, and while I agree with don't get too cute, a grabby headline is smart.
Try to envisage the ideal lede you would read on a story about the event and use that as inspiration. Tell the assignment ed/reporter why they and their viewers/readers should be interested in this event over all the other things happening that day.

I can also take a look at it for you if you want.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:33 PM on April 7, 2005

A follow-up to remind news folks about the event a couple of days before is very different from a "zillion calls" from someone worried about coverage "six months from next Tuesday."

Be smart, don't just send the release into the ether without doing basic follow-up.
posted by mediareport at 10:15 PM on April 7, 2005

If your news is irresistible, you'll get coverage even without follow-up calls but you will not get nearly as much as you would with calling. I appreciate CunningLinguist's point, so I always ask "Do you have a moment?" before I pitch my story. Be courteous and be able to offer the key messages and facts succinctly. Be prepared for rejection. If someone is not interested or just being a jerk, move on.
posted by Sully6 at 5:38 AM on April 8, 2005

The problem with the brain dead (but always so darn perky) flaks calling about events weeks away is that they drown out the ones pushing something you might actually want to cover tomorrow. So all flak calls become annoyances to be gotten rid of.
In my perfect world, the releases come by email with subject lines that explain it all. "Gephardt to speak here Tuesday about dealing with crushing loss." And no follow up calls.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:04 AM on April 8, 2005

And after you’ve written it - show the time-pressured reporters some love and be easy to get hold of.

Put your name and contact details in the email - and at the end of the release too. Include your desk phone, cell phone, fax, pager if you have one, and an email address.

Keep the cell phone turned on. If you must turn it off, record a message saying when you'll be able to check messages and return calls. Details of who to direct press enquiries to in your absence are also a good idea.
posted by t0astie at 7:54 PM on November 12, 2005

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