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Preparing a press release
October 25, 2012 - Bill Ackerbauer
I recently was asked to give a presentation about working with the news media to a group of people from nonprofit agencies around the region. One of the subjects of my talk was the preparation of press releases. My colleagues and I get so many press releases here at the newspaper — literally hundreds every day, by email, fax and snail mail — it's challenging to sort through them all and separate the important ones from the junk. When you send us a press release, you can make our lives easier (and improve your chances of getting the publicity you want) by following some simple guidelines. What follows is the text of a flier I handed out during my presentation:
Whether its purpose is to announce news, request media coverage or respond to a topic of public interest, a good press release is clear, concise, accurate and relevant. Here are some things to consider:
The editor, reporter or producer who receives the release should be able to tell, from a glance at the top of the release, who it's coming from. Use your organization's name, logo or letterhead at the top.
The news in a nutshell
A press release should have a headline on the top, just as a news story would. Headlines should be brief and summarize the main point of the release without putting too much spin or flash on the subject.
Here's a good headline: "Agency offers scholarship for local art students"
Here's a bad headline: "The Arts Council of Hoboken, Hoboken's leading arts advocacy organization, with 752 member artists, announces it will offer scholarships of up to $1,000 for deserving students in the Hoboken area."
Time is of the essence
As is standard in business communications, it is necessary to put the date you are sending the press release at the top.
If an announcement or statement is intended for immediate release to the public, state clearly at the top: "For immediate release." If you are providing the information in advance but want it embargoed for a certain time, be sure to state: "Hold for release until [time and date]."
If the press release is not an announcement or statement but a request for coverage or some other message not intended for publication, it should be labeled "For planning purposes only — not for publication."
In all cases, it is best to state the time element prominently near the top of the release. Editors often must make decisions about what to do with press releases before they've had time to read them from top to bottom, so you shouldn't bury a key time element in the last paragraph. This is another reason to be as concise as possible.
A press release containing text meant for publication should be written in complete sentences, and it should provide the first and last names of all people mentioned in the text. (E.g., Don't mention a "Dr. Smith" without providing the person's first name.)
The text should contain all the pertinent information — who, what, where, when, etc. If the release is intended for publication, this information should be stated in complete sentences, not just as a list of bullet points. Press releases that leave key questions unanswered might be set aside and lose their timeliness.
Say how journalists can follow up
Be sure to provide the full names and contact information for the key people involved. If you would prefer to have a journalist follow up with only one specific person, don't provide the phone numbers and email addresses of everyone else on the staff.
After sending a press release, it doesn't hurt to follow up with a phone call yourself. Journalists don't mind when someone calls to ask, "Did you get the release I sent you?" It's also perfectly okay to ask the editor if he intends to publish the release or follow up in some other way, but please don't demand an immediate response to a press release you've sent just moments ago.
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