A press release is a statement sent to the media that announces news of some kind: events, product launches, milestones reached, newsworthy accomplishments, etc.. The key word here is news. The release communicates information that is likely to be of interest to the media outlet’s audience. It is not an advertisement.
Before you even begin writing your release, do your research:
- Decide which media outlets you will target. Who has the audience you want to reach, and would be interested in the news?
- Find each outlet’s editorial guidelines on their website. First, look for where to send the release — there may be one address for all releases, or you may need to choose among several departments and/or editors. Next, find out what format they want the release in. Most will want it in the body of an email, and may have specific guidelines about what to put in the subject line. Some may have online forms. Do not send attachments unless they are specifically requested.
- Read, watch or listen to the outlets you are targeting so you have an idea of what the editor/producer is likely to be looking for in the way of content. Think in terms of providing pre-written, no-hassle content that the editor can use with little or no revision. If it’s a simple calendar listing, give them the information in exactly the format they use in their calendar. If you are trying to promote an event, service or product, then write the release it in a way that will fit in with their publication. (See 2, above)
Next, consider your framing. Framing describes the context in which a subject is presented – the terms used, the underlying messages and values that are suggested by the wording and emphasis of an article or a release. For instance, an article about fracking can be framed in terms of the environmental damage done, or the hoped-for economic benefits.
Consider what values inspired the event or accomplishment you are promoting, and write the release in terms that invoke those values. See Hecate Demeter’s clear explanation of framing for Pagans here.
Now, write the release in the correct format and in the third-person, active voice
In the upper left hand corner, in bold and upper case, put the words FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, or HOLD FOR RELEASE UNTIL [DATE]
Next comes the headline:
- It should be centered on the page, with the sub-head (which is optional, but helpful) underneath. Use initial case (first letter of each word capitalized except for prepositions and words of two letters) for the headline and the subhead.
- Use a larger font for the headline, smaller for the sub-head, and bold both.
- Do not use exclamation points. Ever.
- The headline should be short, and attention-grabbing. Look at the headlines in newspapers to get ideas.
Now for the main text of the release:
- The first sentence is the dateline: city, state, date.
- The first paragraph should summarize the main point of the release and illustrate why the information is relevant and newsworthy. Get right to the point. Try to intrigue the reader so they will keep reading.
- Subsequent paragraphs are for supporting information. The final paragraph should be about the organization sending the release. Paragraphs should be short – two to four sentences.
- Somewhere in the release, use a quote from someone knowledgeable about the subject. This should NOT be the contact person.
- If you are targeting a broadcast outlet, or one that often uses photos, emphasize visual opportunities – ritual, drummers, bands, vendors, etc.
- Keep the release short – around 500 words.
- Include links to more in-depth information, including the organization’s web site.
- At the end of the release, put CONTACT: in upper case and bold. Under that, put the name, phone number and email address of the person who will be in charge of fielding information requests. Make sure this person is easily accessible by phone and checks email and voice mail regularly.
- Under that, put three pound signs, centered, to indicate that this is the end of the release.