Many organizations and businesses want media coverage of their activities, and at the same time, many newsrooms are looking for local (or even national and international) topics to cover. If you belong to an organization that wants coverage, you can increase the odds of getting it by following a few simple news release (or press release) conventions.
First, you must have something new or different to say. As the name News implies, the media want information that’s new or at least updated. At the same time, reporters and editors want information that’s relevant to their readers; choose your media targets carefully, and tailor the content of the release to their audience).
Second, your headline should be as interesting as a newspaper headline. It should promise something new, dramatic, or timely. Make the editor or reporter want to know more. Remember, though, the claim should be credible and relevant.
Third, in the first paragraph of the body, get in what journalists call the Five Ws: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. In fact, try to get them into the first sentence, and if you can’t, at least start with a clear concise statement that summarizes the story.
Traditionally, reporters have tried to get the essence of every story into the first paragraph because they didn’t know where, or whether, their stories would be cut. So, they start with the most important information and end with the least important. That way, no matter where the story was cut, the best material stayed.
Fourth, write and rewrite your news release many times before ‘releasing’ it. Use active verbs and transitions (from sentence to sentence, and paragraph to paragraph). Boil down the content as much as you can; two pages are acceptable, but one is better.
Fifth, follow this standard format:
At the top of the page, write this, in all caps:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Usually, this will be left-justified)
Or, if you want the release to be held until a specific date/time, write something like this:
FOR RELEASE AT 10 A.M., AUGUST 23
(But don’t necessarily expect the embargo to be honoured)
Skip a line and then put in contact information, as in:
Contact: Robert Abbott
Telephone: 403 555-1234
Skip another line and add your headline (centred, and use title case or all-caps):
Perpetual Motion Machine Unveiled
Now, the body of your news release, which should not exceed two pages.
At the end of the body, add three number marks with single spaces between them, as in:
# # #
Repeat your contact information at the end, as in:
Robert Abbott welcomes your inquiries at 403 555-1234 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sixth, prepare yourself for reporters’ questions.
It goes without saying, of course, that you would prepare yourself for questions from reporters if you send out a release. I would recommend you write out a list of questions that seem likely and prepare bullet-point answers for each of them. That way you’ll be ready for most of the questions. However, don’t read the answers back to reporters; just use them as a guide. At the same time, assume you’ll get questions you simply can’t predict. Answer them as well as you can; and if you can’t answer, your best bet is to tell the interviewer you’ll need to get more information, and will call back after you do.