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Developing a Press Release

 

What is a Press Release?

A press release is a formal notification to the news media about breaking news. "It is a news story distributed on behalf of an individual or company." (Gerald S. Schwartz)
 
The press release should outline the story basics and provide contact information for your organization. The press release should clearly demonstrate the importance of the story to the newspaper's readership. This key link will persuade the editor to publish the release.
 

How Do I Write a Press Release?

 

Always remember that you are writing a press release to convey information to the media. You are not writing the article for the newspaper. Keep the press release concise and straightforward. Include the essentials. Interested reporters will follow up for more details.
 
Press Release Examples
 
First: Determine the Story Angle
 
What news are you trying to convey with your press release? What is the primary focus of the story? What do you want the reader to learn?
 
Do you want the reader to know that Weatherization:
 
  • saves money for low-income families,
  • is a technical program,
  • spurs economic development,
  • reduces the nation's dependence on imported oil, and/or
  • helps the environment by reducing pollution and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions?
 
If you try to convey all of these angles, your release will be too long and too confusing. Determine your story angle and prepare the press release to communicate that information.
 
Second: Gather the Facts
 
Collect all the relevant and up-to-date information regarding your story angle. Do not used old or questionable data, quotations, or program information.
 
Third: Write the Lead
 
The lead sentence should contain the essential components of the news story. It should answer as many of the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions as possible.
 
Avoid excessive use of adjectives or descriptive phrases. Your organization's name or "Weatherization" should be in the lead.
 
The title of your press release should essentially be a short, snappy version of your lead sentence.
 
Fourth: Write the Body
 
The body of the release will explain the information in the lead paragraph. Provide the necessary details and compelling "hooks" to interest the reader. Keep it short and to the point. Sentences should not exceed 15 words; paragraphs should not exceed 30 words or four typewritten lines. If the press release runs more than a page, consider using sub-heads to breakup the information.
 
Note: Smaller, community papers may welcome a press release that can be printed "as is." These papers have smaller budgets and staffs and appreciate a finished piece. The sample releases provided on this site are primarily examples of finished pieces. Larger, state or national news bureaus are looking for the facts and the angle. Do not add bulk to the release with non-essential details. If the reporter picks up the story, she will flesh it out. Remember, facts not fluff.
 
CRUCIAL: Make the Story Relevant
 
The more important and immediate your press release sounds, the more likely a reporter will investigate it further. Explain the importance, relevance, and benefits of the story to your audience. Use the word "today" if you can. If the story isn’t topical, relate it to current events, or use a local example to illustrate a national trend. Remember, reporters get hundreds of press releases each week, so make a positive first impression.
 
When possible, reference the names of national, state, or local public figures; community organizations; and businesses that have supported your agency. This is an effective way to raise organizational credibility and reaffirm your relationship with those individuals and organizations.
 
Writing Style
 
Write the press release in terms that can be understood by the average reader. Explain any technical terms. Write in the present, active tense whenever possible. Be concise, direct, and factual. Highlight concrete results of your project and include quotes from agency staff and clients to illustrate your point. Be sure to write consistently according to the story type you chose earlier - news or feature? Writing with different styles in the same press release may confuse the reader.
 
Formatting/Essential Components
 
There are seven basic elements to a press release:
  1. "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" should be written at the top left. Write the date beneath.
    2.  "CONTACT: spokesperson name, company name, phone number, fax number, and e-mail address" should be printed next. List the contact information a second time at the end of the press release: "For media assistance, contact [name] [day and evening phone numbers]"
    3. Headline: This is your "slug" line, or essential summary. Use boldface type.
    4. Dateline: Include the city and state the press release is issued from and the date.
    5. Lead sentence/paragraph: Grab attention and outline the story essentials.
    6. Text: Develop and elaborate your message.
    7. Boilerplate: Provide a brief outline of your organization's basic functions. This is called the "boilerplate" and you will use it in every press release.
 


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