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Writing Effective Press Releases by John Hewitt, Ph.D.

Capturing a publication's attention can be a difficult task. You are competing against a variety of other people, causes and events. To win this competition you must do two things. First, you must gain their interest. Second, you must present your story in a professional manner that will make it easy for them to give you the coverage you desire.

The press release is the most widely used and effective means of communicating your newsworthy items to a media outlet. In a single day, they may receive hundreds of releases, so it is important to know how to make yours stand out. As a general rule, the best news release is the one that is short, clear and to the point. Each release should answer several basic questions, commonly called "the five W's," in the lead paragraph: who, what, when, where and why. Be certain to use the so-called inverted pyramid style, keeping the most important facts at the beginning, when you are most likely to have the editor's full attention. You can download Press Release templates in Microsoft Word format by clicking here. Following are some more tips to help you accomplish this task.

Know Your Target

Find out who the editor or reporter is for the section you want your release to appear in. Include their name on the release, not just on the envelope.

Pick One Person Per Publication

Once you've chosen the appropriate person, stick with them. If the article needs to be passed off to another reporter, the publication will make that decision. If you send your release to more than one person, any problems that develop from duplicate coverage and effort will be blamed on you. Don't Just Send, Call

To increase your chances of getting coverage, call the intended recipient before you send the release and call a few days later to make sure they received it. Making first contact by phone will also help you find the appropriate person to send your release to.

Give it Time

Don't fax a release out the day before an event and expect it to receive coverage. Give the maximum possible amount of time for the publication to decide how they want to cover the story. If you feel the event is so far in the distance that they might forget about it, then simply send another release as the time for the item draws nearer.

Know Your Deadlines

Magazines, even weekly ones, are often planned months in advance. Seasonal events, such as Christmas and Easter, are great examples of this. Christmas issues are frequently developed in the heat of summer. For calendar items, know when the publication's submission deadline is.

Keep it Short and Informative

Reporters and editors are notoriously busy. Most press releases should be kept to one page. Two is acceptable. If they want more information, they'll ask.

Write it in a News Style

Put the primary information (who, where, what, and when) into the lead (first paragraph), and keep the sales pitch subtle. No exclamation points!!! Use short words and sentences. Make sure what you're saying is very clear. Many publications will directly reprint a press release, as long as it is written in a professional news style. Buy either the AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style, and learn the general guidelines for abbreviating words, writing numbers and capitalizing names.

It is Still Better to Mail than to Fax

Almost all publications have fax machines, and a few of them prefer to receive their press releases via fax, but the vast majority still prefer mail and even the ones who like fax will still run mail pieces. You should only fax in a crisis. If a client has somehow been implicated in a devastating event (such as the Jack-in-the-Box meat disaster) then the need to get important information to the press outweighs the nicety of mail.

Help keep it Together

Always include, at the top corner of every page, a two or three word description of the story, the name and phone number of key contact people (no more than two), the page number (if there is more than one page) and the release date (usually "for immediate release" or "please hold until ??/??/??").

Show and Tell

If you have good photos, send them or include the words "photos available upon request" with your information at the top of the first page. Only send high quality photos, however, and only when they add to your story. Place photos between cardboard when mailing. Don't tape or paper clip the photos or you risk damaging them.

Make it Easy on the Eyes

Use standard 8 1/2"x 11" paper typed on one side only. Never break a paragraph across two pages. Leave wide margins for editors to write notes in. A 1 1/2" margin on each side is fine. Also, use a standard font; fancy text may look nice, but it is hard to read.

Dress for Success

Don't fold your press release like a letter. You should fold it so that the headline and date will be the first thing the editor or reporter sees upon opening the envelope.

All Good Press Releases Must Come to an End

End a press release with either "###" or " -30-" typed across the center of the page, three lines below the end of your text. If a release has greater than one page, type "-more-", centered at the bottom of the pages preceding the final page.

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