A press release (or media release) is your invitation to the media to cover your story. But remember that is all it is – an invitation. Many media outlets get hundreds (even thousands in bigger cities) of press releases every day. And so you need to get your ‘invitation’ in a format that will attract the person who has to sieve through all those press releases and find the one that they will cover through their media outlet.
It may seem obvious, but the first thing you need to do is to KNOW what your story is that you want the media to cover. Remember not to have some vague idea – have a specific event or a specific message. You need to be able to say it in one brief sentence. If you can’t, then rethink your story.
Press Release Title or Headline
Probably the most important part of your press release is your headline. It needs to sum up your message, but be short and, if possible, be exciting. Remember the person reading all of those invitations needs to be ‘grabbed’ by your headline. Note – URGENT and IMPORTANT just don’t work …and may find your press release thrown away before another word is read. And to be honest, if you have an urgent story, then sending a press release will not be the way to get it covered due to the lead time.
Some good examples I have seen are these:
Father of nine shot – mistaken for rabbit.
(A pun brought this one to the attention of major newspapers)
Major Minah Survey
(Use of alliteration can really make things stand out – in this case a citizen science program)
Some great guidance for writing a headline can be found here.
Press Release Text
Ok – time to be brutal. Expect only the first two paragraphs will be read if your headline has captured the interest of the editor/producer who is reading your release. So you have just a couple of sentences to get all your message across. You need to say where, who, how and why in those few sentences. You need to remember that you are NOT writing copy to go directly into a newspaper or magazine (there is one important exception to this we will talk about below).
- Don’t use flowery language – get to the point. Fast.
- Include EXACT location information for the reporter to find you.
- Include any information you have on opportunities for reporters to interview people involved in your programs/products and other photo opportunities.
- Make sure you include your contact details including a cell phone number.
Small local newspapers
The one exception to this is when getting a story into a local newspaper – with small circulation and very few staff. They might appreciate you providing them text and photos for inclusion in their paper. However, still keep it short and sweet. 250 words is a great limit to set yourself. and ALWAYS put the important information at the start, as words will be cut from the bottom of the text until they reach the limit they have for space.
Press Release – where do I send it?
You will need to send your press release to the correct person in the media outlets. You should do this no more than 48 hrs before your event/story takes places and no less than 12 hrs before. That’s the “window of opportunity” that can be used to get your story on their radar.
The best way to find the right person is to search for the outlets online and look for the person who looks after that area (ie if it’s a sport related story, look for the sports editor). Most media outlets also have a general contact for news stories or it will be the news editor. Us the method they have listed – nowadays it is email. Put the headline for your release as your subject. Some smaller operations still like a fax.
But here is a BIG tip – don’t be scared to contact a journalist directly if you think the story would appeal to them. Call them (they get overwhelmed with emails) and pitch your story…be ready for a 15 second phone pitch.
To help you get your message into a good format, you can use our free media release template. Find out how to use it here.