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Tips for Preparing a Professional Media Release
If a retailer advertises a “sale of the century” promotion every weekend, would you feel any urgency to attend the one this week? Probably not. As media consumers, we enjoy being informed, but become quickly irritated by overhype. The same goes for press releases. A business communications staple, it’s important that communicators convey their messages to external audiences professionally and appropriately in news releases. Often your organization’s best chance to shape media messaging, attention to detail and newsworthiness in media releases are critical.
Are press releases, news releases, and media releases the same? Yes. No matter what you call them, great press releases share many common characteristics. If a business communications manager ever tasks you to draft a press release, be sure to use the following best practices:
When you and your colleagues discuss whether or not to write and publish a press release, the first question you should ask is, “Is this newsworthy?” Asked in other ways, is this news interesting to an outside audience? Is there any urgency? Is there a unique angle to this story? Why does this information matter?1Organizations draft press releases to share information and garner interest with a wider audience. If journalists aren’t interested in your press release, chances are they won’t read them, let alone share the story.
Use appropriate formatting
When you send out your press release, be sure to follow public relations industry standards in formatting. You’ll want media and other audiences to instantly recognize your document as a press release. They should typically follow this format:2
- Release details
- Optional subheader
- Body text
- Contact information, which may appear near the top of the press release
In the release details section, almost all press releases use the phrase “For Immediate Release.” In the case of an embargoed release, one in which an organization requests media wait to cover a story until a prescribed time, the phrasing may be “Embargoed until [Date].”2 Organizations should use embargoed press releases sparingly.
The dateline follows the headline and subheader and is placed immediately before the body text. It is often in boldface type and may or may not appear in parenthesis. The dateline should include the date and city from which you’re reporting the news event.
Most press releases use boilerplate language near the bottom of a press release, which provides background information about a company. It’s common to use this identical language on all press releases your company distributes.
Finally, you should end with either a ### or 30 to denote the end of your media release.
Make sure it’s interesting
Once you’ve determined you have a newsworthy event or announcement to share and have appropriately structured your press release, you must capture the attention of your audience with a captivating message.
While it’s important to use compelling writing throughout your press release, you should give special consideration to the opening portions. If you’ve captured a reader’s interest from the beginning—or convinced someone to open your e mail in the first place—he or she is more likely to read until the conclusion. A 2018 survey found that only 3% of journalists rely on press releases they’ve received by newswires.3 To beat these odds, you should prioritize writing gripping headlines, subheaders, and ledes, which are the opening paragraph of body text in press releases.
Experts debate over the ideal length for press releases, but all seem to agree that they should err on the side of brevity. Some say they should run no longer than five paragraphs. Many say they shouldn’t exceed more than a page, and there is near universal agreement that press releases should be capped at a maximum of two pages. If possible, consider composing short paragraphs that embrace white space.4
While press releases should be short, they should also be concise. They should cover the salient points of your story without extraneous details, overcomplicated jargon, or unnecessary hype. When in doubt, write your press release like a journalist writes a news story. In the ideal scenario, a journalist will take your press release in its entirety and file it with very few edits. If you overuse superlatives, jargon, and blatant self promotion, your stories will rarely get picked up by publications.5
Address “who, what, when, where, and why” in the lede
While you should strive to attract attention starting from the headline and subheader sections, it’s imperative to deliver the primary details of your story early to encourage your audience to keep reading. At a minimum, your lede should cover the “five Ws”: who, what, when, where, and why. Keeping these critical details conspicuous help frame your overall story and give journalists a starting point for telling their own.6
Use quotes when possible
It’s always a good idea to include quotes in a press release. They humanize your media release and make the story more approachable. Secondly, journalists usually look to include quotes in their own news stories, and one of central reasons you’d write a press release is to make it easier for them to cover your organization’s story. Quotes should be memorable, insightful, and authentic—not like an executive reading boilerplate language or reciting talking points.1,5
Like with all communication tactics, without an audience no one will read your press release. Distribution and placement matter. When possible, have your media relations professionals contact your preferred media outlets personally.5 In addition, it’s helpful to post your press releases to a dedicated area of your website so media can find them easily. And with sound organizational communication between departments, you’ll afford marketing and communications teams ample opportunity to retool press releases to create social media communications, content marketing, and blog posts.7
Include contact information
It’s a small step, but a very important one: Don’t forget to include contact information on your press release. The news release should be considered the start of a conversation with journalists, inviting them in to learn more. You know you’ve succeeded when your press release induces a reporter’s response.4
Regardless of whether you list contact information at the top or bottom of a press release, it should be easy to find and include a name, e mail address, and phone number. List someone who’d be responsible and responsive to media inquiries. Usually your contact is a media relations specialist or a vice president, director or manager of communications, and public relations. You shouldn’t list your CEO simply to impress media; however, if he or she fits the criteria, they’d also make a solid candidate.4
If you’re interested in building your communication skills through a career in digital communications or public relations, Walden University, an accredited university with flexible online education options, offers online communications degree programs including a BS in Communication. Walden’s bachelor of science degree in communications merges coursework in communications technologies and global communications to make a challenging curriculum preparing students for all types of integrated communication in the workplace.
1Source: www.theguardian.com/small business network/2014/jul/14/how to write press release
2Source: www.ereleases.com/pr fuel/components of a press release/
Walden University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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