How To Write A Press Release
by Judith Prebyl
THE ANATOMY OF A PRESS RELEASE
For any organization that has a message or a mission, a press release
is one of its most effective and vital means of communication. A nonprofit
organization cannot afford to operate without good publicity. No matter
how great your cause or worthy your need, if you don't have someone good
writing your press releases, you will only achieve nominal success.
In our modern world of multimedia, a newspaper still provides one of
the best ways of sending a message out to the general public. You can get
your communications published regularly if you write interesting,
newsworthy press releases.
Where To Start
If you are simply starting or maintaining a relationship with a newspaper,
all you really need to do is call the newspaper to find out who to send a
press release to, and what their deadlines are. You can send the release to
a particular person, or you can simply send it to the Managing Editor.
Newspapers receive massive amounts of print material daily, and editors
have to pick and choose what information, out of the many news wires and
press releases they get, is really of interest to their readers. An editor
would much rather read a good press release from a nonprofit publicity
chairman than get a call and a request for a time-consuming meeting.
Although it is always good to develop a rapport with your local press,
you need to walk a fine line between making and maintaining a relationship
with an editor, and making a pest of yourself. If you send press releases
to different types of media, such as radio, you will definitely need to
work closely with them and follow-up everything.
Since newspapers work around tight deadlines, you really don't want to
abuse a telephone relationship with an editor. Don't call an editor just
to find out if your press release arrived; assume it did. If you aren't
getting enough press coverage, it probably means your press releases are
weak, and you need to work on your writing skills. If you have a last-minute
correction, it is certainly appropriate to call the editor or send the
changes through FAX.
What do you want to publicize? Anything of import to your organization,
its members, supporters, beneficiaries, and the general public. Send a press
release out when you elect officers, have a fund raiser, or put on a major
social gathering or community function. Send out a press release when you
know the results of your fund raiser, have a special speaker at a meeting,
or decide to begin an exciting new annual event. Be sensitive as to what
should or shouldn't be publicized; make sure it is pertinent and timely.
The Style and Presentation
A press release should be typed or word processed on an 8 1/2" x
11 " paper. Provide wide margins and double-space the copy. White
paper is most frequently used, but some publicity people use colored
paper or typeface that reflect the colors of their organization or the
theme of a particular event. If you have a logo, be sure to use it.
Many newspapers accept FAX press releases. If you mail your release,
consider folding the letter with the copy side out, so that as soon as
the editor opens the letter he sees who it is from and what it is about.
Always send the original press release to an editor, and keep a copy for
Use letterhead stationery or type the name, address, and telephone
number of your organization, single-spaced, in the left margin of the
page. This is the source of the press release. Also include the
publicist's name and telephone number. This is the contact.
If you do use a letterhead, but be sure to remember to include the
contact's name and phone number.
The date you are sending the press release can be placed at the left
or right margin. Next comes the release date, which tells the
editor the general time frame you want the information released. It
should be typed in capital letters and placed at the left margin.
Most press releases simply say, "RELEASE IMMEDIATELY,"
or "RELEASE AT WILL." Trust the editor to get the timing
right. If you need to promote something that is extremely time-sensitive,
write more specific details, such as "RELEASE JUNE 18, AFTER 10 AM."
It is a good idea to include a suggested headline. Most editors
write their own headlines, which are typically created after the graphic
artist lays out the copy on the newspaper page and determines how much
space can be used for a headline. Although your headline might not be used,
it immediately tells the editor, at a glance, what is the most important
element of your press release.
The lead is the crux of your message. It is the first sentence,
which pulls the reader in, hook, line, and sinker. The lead must be short
and succinct, and get the message across in one fell swoop.
For the most part, the only information your press release requires is
the lead sentence and one or two additional sentences which fill in the
details. This is the body of the press release. If you need to
elaborate on an idea, keep it concise. Stay away from lots of superlatives,
but try to give it some "punch."
Most of the press releases your organization sends will not require
photographs. Photographs are used more often in stories that reporters
write. If you do need to include a photograph, find out if the newspaper
wants a black and white or color photo. In order to print well, a newspaper
needs a high-quality photographs. Be sure that every photo you send has
a typed caption with appropriate identification information adhered to
its back. Do not use a paper clip or staple to attach the photo to the
press release; simply put the photo with the press release in an envelope.
A Journalistic Style
A good press release answers the all-important journalistic questions
known as the Five W's-Who, What, Where, When, and Why. The press
release should also answer the Five W's tagalong-How.
A journalistic style is quite different from most writing styles. In
most writing, you slowly develop and describe something that leads you to
a particular point or conclusion. Newswriting gets straight to the point,
and develops the story "backwards." The main point is stated
at the beginning, and the rest of the information reveals itself from the
most important to the least important.
Choose your words carefully and keep the style simple and direct. The
body of the press release should be double-spaced, so that there is room
for the editor to edit. If you write a one page press release, at the
bottom of the copy add three pound signs (###), the number thirty (-30-),
or the word "end" in capital letters (END). These are
abbreviations which signify the conclusion of the press release. If you
need to use more than one page, write "continued" at the
bottom of the first page, and on subsequent pages, until you get to the
Double-Check and Reevaluate
When your press release is ready to go, take an extra moment to
double-check all facts, dates, names, spelling, and grammar. Reread your
press release. Is it informative? Is the information clearly defined?
Does it speak to the general public? Does the headline and lead grab you
and make you want to find out more?
If you are successful at getting your press releases published, clip
and save them in a file. This will provide your organization with a good
record of its press coverage and style. If you aren't successful at
getting all of your press releases in print, study and reevaluate those
that made the grade and those that didn't.
Fine tune your next press release. Try to determine if you are sending
the type of information that is truly of interest to the public. Work on
your writing style and physical presentation. Get input from people within
Check out some public relations and marketing books from your local
library. You might even consider getting a copy of the AP Stylebook, which
will help you follow newspaper editorial standards for punctuation, use
of upper and lower case, sentence structure, paragraph length, abbreviations,
and other requisites.
Every now and then, it is nice to send a thank-you letter to the editor
who places your press releases in the paper. Send a brief note of thanks,
and relate any positive feedback you've gotten from the exposure, such as
increased inquiries, new members, good attendance at certain events, or
donations. The size of your organization and its members, supporters, and
fund raisers, will grow and progress in proportion to your ability to
"get the word out."