Engaging with the media (Part Two: Press releases)

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Having covered some of the basics of engaging with the media in a previous post, we are now going to look in more detail at how to write, format and deliver a press release.

As a communications professional, it’s your job to make life as easy as possible for the journalist covering your story. When you are placing a story about an event, report or anything else with a lot of details involved, a useful way of getting all the necessary information in one place is to issue a press release.

Press releases are standard in the media although they can seem daunting if you’ve never written one. To get you started, here are five steps to make your press releases more effective.

  1. Decide on your story

As previously mentioned, journalists are interested in stories – they don’t care about your organisation for its own sake (however worthy your cause is) and they won’t print your mission statement. Take time to think about your project/event/news – What’s new about it? Is it interesting? Who will be affected and how? Why is it important? If you can’t answer these questions yourself, there is little hope of convincing anyone else to take notice.

  1. Structure it properly

Press releases should follow the ‘inverted pyramid’ model, with the most important points at the top, then less important points and background info, quotes etc. further down. It should be structured so that even if someone only reads the first paragraph, they will know all the essential points about your story.

  1. Include contact details and notes

After the main body of your press release, the convention is to write <ENDS>, and continue below with some key details. These include details of who to contact for more information (email address and phone number – remember that journalists often work on extremely tight turnarounds, so if they need to reach you they probably need to reach you NOW!), as well as a “Notes for Editors” section, with some background about your organisation and other relevant information.

  1. Give it a strong title

If it’s called “X Charity Press Release [today’s date]” it’s going to go straight in the (virtual) bin. The title is what will keep someone reading, so make sure it’s interesting (this goes for the title/subject of your email too – grabbing your journalist’s attention before they’ve even opened the email is a good start).

  1. Send it to the right places, and follow up

The key here is research – if you know you want to reach local people to let them know about an event specific to your region, there is little point trying to target national press. Similarly, you want to reach over-65s, a radio news programme may be a better option than an online news site. See Engaging with the media Part 1: The Basics for more tips on researching media outlets. Remember that journalists are busy people, so a lack of response doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t interested. A polite and friendly follow-up email or phone call a few days later is often enough to remind them about your story.

 

Following these five simple steps will give you an excellent chance of getting your press releases noticed. You’ll also find that as you start to build relationships with individual journalists, it will take less work to get them to notice your stories. If you are sending them consistently interesting, well-written and timely press releases, they might even start asking you for news!

Do you need to outsource your press release production? Or do you need some more help to get your releases up to scratch? Get in touch for a chat about how I can help you.

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