The who, what, when where, and why of it all
Other than the telephone, press releases and media advisories —often lumped together under the term “news releases”—are the basic methods of communicating your news to reporters.
Reporters throw away or ignore many if not most press releases be cause they:
• Do not contain any news
• Do not have contact information or other key data to make the reporter’s job easier
• Are filled with typos and other embarrassments, causing the reporter to doubt the integrity of the organization that sent the release
• Are confusing, poorly written, or worse —boring
Two Types of News Releases
This is a short, one page, concise piece advising the media of news to be made. Typically, a media advisory invites reporters to cover some e vent or press conference or notifies them of your news. It usually contains the “who, what, where, when and why” of the news, including contact names, phone numbers, email and web addresses and other critical facts. The media advisory is sent out before an event or news is made.
Press Release,” a.k.a. “Media Release”
This document is longer than a media advisory, but rarely more than two pages. A press release is typically written like a news story—containing quotes, “color” and background—and summarizes your news. It is written as if it were to appear in the mor ing newspaper—though, of course , that will not happen since most media will not run your release verbatim. The press release is often handed out at a news event or included in a press kit.
The key to successful news releases is brevity and factual accuracy. Get to the most important part of the news as soon as possible and make sure everything is accurate: facts, name spellings, dates and times. Some reporters have said that if their attention is not piqued by the headline or the end of the lead paragraph, they rarely read any further.
Tips for Media Advisories and Press Releases
Starting at the top of the page, all news releases should contain:
• Your organization's logo. This should be a t the very top of the paper.
• Either “For Immediate Release”—meaning the information can be used as soon as a reporter gets it; or “Embargoed Until [date ]”—meaning the reporter cannot use the news until the date specified.
• The date the release is distributed.
• Contact name(s), email and web addresses and phone number(s), including cellular phones.
• A “boiler plate,” a 2-3 sentence description of your organization in clear, concise , jargon-free language.
Reporters’ desks are overflowing with news releases announcing some “big news” that really is not. Most of these are trying to sell some commercial product or event in the guise of news. Fortunately, your release, which will promote your cause, can and will distinguish itself from the others if you follow these basic tips .
The headline is key. Most reporter s have about thirty seconds to scan a news release. They want the news to jump out at them. If you do not catch their attention in the headline, into the “circular file” the release goes.
Summarize your news into a headline. The headline can be up to four lines long, centered, in bold face and written all in capital letters, usually in a larger type size. You may do a stacked headline: a main, attention-grabbing head followed by a slightly smaller, more detailed head. The headline should capture the larger frame of the news, communicate a sense of drama, and pull reporters into the story.
After the headline, the first paragraph—“the lead”—is paramount. This is the summary paragraph that communicates the most important components and frames the issue for maximum media impact. It must also capture attention. Caution: Do not try to explain everything in this paragraph.
Write the remainder of the press release in descending order of importance. In journalism, this is called the “inverted-pyramid” style of writing. The most important, base-laying news goes at the top, the lesser details below.
Frame your news—establish its importance and impact, and your position—by the end of the lead paragraph. At the latest, your news should be framed by the end of the second paragraph. By the third paragraph you should move your key messages.
Include one or two pithy soundbite quotes in the press release.
In media advisories, list the “Five W 's” —who, what, when, where and why—after the headline and lead framing paragraph.
WHO: Who is announcing the news? This will probably be your organization or coalition. But remember, the news is not the fact that your group is announcing something, but what is being announced. Therefore, the lead paragraph will first communicate the news, then indicate who made it. A brief list of key speakers may be included here, with their names and affiliations.
WHAT: What is being announced: a media event, rally, protest, press conference or release of a new report?
WHERE: The location of the event. Include the actual address or directions, unless it is an obvious place like the main steps of City Hall.
WHEN: The time—include am or pm—and date. Make certain the day and date correspond.
WHY: This is your key message. It is “why” you are making news.
Since your event will feature strong visuals, tip reporters off to the photo opportunities at the end of the media advisory. This is utterly essential for TV.
End both advisories and press releases with the marks ###, or -30-. T his lets journalists know the release is over. If your release jumps to the next page, write “more” at the bottom and center it. At the top left corner of the next page, write “Page 2” and provide a subject reference.
When to Send the Release
In general, you should mail (including email, for those reporters who prefer emails) the release ten days before the event, fax it five days before the event, and follow up with a phone call within three days of the event. Of these three methods, faxing (or emailing) and calling are paramount.
Remember: Do not call reporters to ask if they got your release. They do not have time to respond to every release they receive. Instead, call them to pitch the news and remind them about the release. Be prepared to send another if the first was misplaced.
News Release Taboos
• Do not include jargon or political rhetoric in your releases.
• There should be no mission statements in releases.
• Do not write in long sentences and ponderous paragraphs. One- or two-sentence paragraphs are fine.
• Typos, factual inaccuracies and other mistakes kill the integrity of your organization and news.
• Keep it short.
• Write a strong headline or stacked headline.
• Write a tight and hard-hitting lead paragraph.
• Move your messages!
Sample Press Release
Press releases are typically written like news stories. They summarize the news and event, contain quotes, “color” and background. A press release is written as if it were to appear in the morning newspaper, although most media will not run the release verbatim (some neighborhood or smaller press will, however). The press release is distributed at the news event, included in the press kit, and faxed or e-mailed to no-show reporters the day the news is made. Press releases should be no more than one or two pages long.
Sample Media Advisory
A media advisory is written in simple form without many details. Primarily , it contains the who, what, where, when and why of an event. The “why,” of course, is your key message. The advisory alerts journalists to an up-coming event without giving away all the substance. Media advisories should be no longer than a page in length.
Fax or email 3-5 days in advance, or at least the day before. Follow it up with a phone call to the targeted reporter the day before the event to ensure they are coming.
2005 The SPIN Project. Some rights reserved.