This is not intended to be a step-by-step instruction on writing a press release, but more of an introduction about what to expect and answer some of the questions I had before I wrote my first press release.
A news release or press release is known in the news business as a “handout.” News people are used to rewriting handouts and they don’t get upset if the news release is not a perfect composition, but they do get upset if the facts are not all there.
The smaller the news outlet the more likely they will want to use your news releases without re-writing it.
The First Paragraph
The first paragraph is a summary of what the release is about. In the trade it is called the “lead” and these important three lines (never more than four!) determine whether your release sinks or swims.
It is important that the lead answers all the important questions: What? Why? Who? When? Where?
The Rest of the News Release
Write the rest of your news release in logical order with simple sentences in short paragraphs. Did you answer all these questions (if appropriate)?
Some Simple Rules
- Use the full proper name of a person, or of anything, only once to avoid clutter in the story.
- Spell out the numbers one through nine except for dates, time, ages or money. For all other numbers use Arabic numerals: 10, 11, 12, etc.
- Never write, “11 a.m. in the morning.” Write “11 o’clock in the morning” or “11 a.m.” Don’t be redundant!
- Formal titles are capitalized if they precede a name. (District Superintendent Ralph Smith).
- They should conform to wire service (Associated Press or United Press International) rules of style.
Submitting a Press release
Every news organization has a person who screens the flow of incoming releases, calls and visits, determines which have news potential, and directs how the news organization will respond.
There are assignment editors, city editors, feature editors, news editors, and more. Radio and television often use the word “director” instead of “editor.” Whatever the title, this is the gatekeeper. Learn who it is and cultivate that person.
After you’ve made the initial contact, reach these people with simple messages on news release paper. Email versions also must be simple. Keep in mind graphics and attachments may cause newsroom delays or disruptions.
Use a press release only when you have something worth taking an editor’s time. An editor will ignore everything that comes from the same boring source.
News organizations are trying to interest an audience so if your release will help them do that, they will use it. If it won’t, trash it yourself.
In general, use the following titles to address your releases, unless you know a particular organization uses a different title that would serve better:
Daily newspapers: City Editor
Weekly newspaper: Editor
Radio Stations: News Department
Television Stations: News Director
Consider to whom you are sending it. Most feature departments (such as travel sections) and magazines have deadlines long before things appear in print. They need to get releases in advance. Weekly papers need releases just before — not just after — their weekly deadlines. The daily media usually have reduced staffs on weekends and are better equipped to act on a release received on a weekday. Time your mailings accordingly.