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how to write press releases

How to Write a Press Release


When to Send Your News

Daily Newspapers
Business and general assignment reporters working for newspapers and online dailies turn around stories within 24 and 48 hours. However, feature writers are working on stories weeks in advance of publication date. Press Releases about special events or with holiday tie-ins should be sent a minimum of three weeks in advance so the reporter has ample time to research and write the story. The same is true for promoting online webcasts and events. Three weeks is often needed to obtain coverage in Internet newsletters and online calendars.

Monthly Magazines
Monthly publications close editorial content two months in advance of the issue date. It is not unusual for writers to be deciding on story content for a December issue in September. Stories with a holiday theme should be sent to allow the reporter ample time for research and coverage.

Radio and Television
Radio or television stations may plug your Web site or product and perhaps be interested in having a representative from your company appear on one of their programs. Because interviews can be held over the telephone you might receive a call in the afternoon for a show airing that evening. Be prepared. Designate someone from your company as the spokesperson and have them prep for the show. In some cases you can ask the show's producer for a list of questions you will be asked. Plan how you will reply to the questions. Also plan how you will respond to the interviewer if they ask questions you do not wish to answer.

When writing your press release, it should be:

(from ereleases.com)
Concise: editors receive hundreds of press releases a week (perhaps more) and appreciate releases that are brief and to the point.
Well-written: a good way to ensure your press release ends up in the waste basket is: bad spelling, poor grammar, and illogical or unsubstantiated claims.
Factual: stick to logical and substantiated claims, avoiding statements of belief: we're the best, the cheapest, etc.
Honest: avoid the padded quotes by company officers; even if they are experts, they come across as biased. If used, stick to the facts.
Timely: if your press release isn't topical, consider incorporating it with a recent news event – but don't stretch it.

Questions to consider before you write a press release:

Who is the preferred audience of your press release?
What do you want readers to take away from your press release?
What does your press release provide: invaluable information or just another offer?
What is the support or justification for the information in your press release?
What is the tone of your press release?
Are you aware of possible pitfalls or areas to avoid?
What do you want to accomplish with your press release: increase business, disseminate information, or both?
Does the press release's lead (opening) address or answer the basic tenets of journalism:

who, what, when, where, why, how

How to Write and Format a Press Release for E-mail Distribution.

(from xpresspress.com)
The definitive style guide to the correct format for e-mail news releases based on feedback from journalists and reporters.

A conventional 'hard copy' press release is a brief document generally one to three double-spaced type written pages announcing news about your company, product or service to media professionals.

E-mail press releases are usually shorter in length than their print counterparts. The majority of electronic news releases sent are 500 words of text organized into five, short two to three sentence paragraphs.

E-mail software allows the user to set limits on the size of messages it will download. Since many individuals do not change the default limit on their e-mail software, long messages can be truncated. For this reason we discourage clients from sending extremely lengthy electronic news releases.

Information such as photographs, bios of company executives, white papers and other supporting documents usually included in a printed media kit may be published online where reporters may access them easily at their convenience.

If your company, for example, has completed an online survey of Internet shoppers, include a brief overview of the results in the electronic press release then follow that paragraph with the URL or home page address where complete survey results are published. The URLs for screen shots of your Web site and products may also be included in the news release.

Some reporters have limited online access. As a courtesy, always include a contact method for reporters who prefer to have materials mailed to them by conventional means.

Sending photographs and supplemental information files through e-mail attachments is not acceptable when contacting a reporter.

Information to Include in a News Release

A compelling e-mail subject header and headline.
A first paragraph that covers the five W's: who, what, where, when and why.
Electronic contact information including an e-mail address for the press contact and Web site address of the company. Reporters working on deadline will often choose to call a company representative rather than wait for a reply by e-mail. Be sure that in addition to e-mail contact information a phone number for the press contact is listed.
The mention of key clients or endorsement from a 'non-biased' source like university professor or software reviewer. You should have permission from those sources to use their remarks in your press release.
A short paragraph at the end of the release containing background information about the company. This might include a synopsis of the activities of the company, how long they have been in business, and any area of expertise. If the press release is about a book or entertainer then cover career high-points.
Story Tips

Electronic PR does not differ from conventional PR in that one's ability to write and organize information well is rewarded with press coverage. However, the one-two punch of a creative subject header for your message and a clever "spin" to your news rings extra loud in a crowded inbox.

Many journalists respond to clever writing and news releases that describe how a new product or service is a solution to a business or consumer problem.

Pointing to a new business, consumer or health trend is another way to position a story.

Another popular method for obtaining press coverage is to ride piggy-back on a breaking news story by alerting the media to your client's expertise on that particular subject.

Like the Rolling Stones say, "Time is on your side." Be prepared to act fast if you sense a PR opportunity. Time the sending of your news release right and you can receive a windfall of publicity. That's where a service like ours can help.

In 1998, one of our software clients had the good fortune to be the only company delivering the Starr Report by e-mail using a proprietary technology for which the recipient paid to read the document. Many may remember the Starr Report was first published online. While individuals jammed Web sites attempting to read the document, our client offered the only alternative to the conjestion. Following the distribution of a press release the company received thousands of requests for delivery and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase their product. Electronic press release delivery is an excellent tool when a story has a limited shelf-life and or when a news window will be open only for a limited time.

How to Format a Release

1) The first line of the e-mail message should read: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE in all caps. This lets the reporter know the news is authorized for publication on the date they receive it.

2) Allow one spacer line then write a headline using a combination of lower case and capital letters. Keep your headline to ten words or less. Do not write the headline in all capital letters because it is harder to read using e-mail software.

3) Allow another empty line for spacing, then begin the text of the release as we show with the city and state followed by a dash. All releases must include a date since reporters do not always use releases immediately.

4) There are a number of conventions for line length of electronic press releases. Xpress Press formats press release to the style most universal among e-mail readers.

5) Include press contact information below the text of the news release. A reporter reading your release should be able to make a decision about your story in the first screen of the e-mail message. Don't waste that space with contact information. They will scroll down to find out who to contact if they want to follow-up with you.

6) Finally, close the document with the characters -30- or ### which are style conventions that let the report know they have reached the end of the story.

REMINDERS

Don't trust your word processing program to catch errors in grammar and spelling. Have a few individuals read the release before sending it to a reporter or news agency. Although an Xpress Press staffer reads through each release, we are reading a number of stories each day looking for obvious errors like the omission of an e-mail address for the press contact.

Additionally, remember that press releases are sent by e-mail and not everyone uses the same software. For that reason we do not use HTML tags, bold type or color text which may not transmit consistently across all computer platforms.

Style Guide for Press Releases

Modified from the European Commission's "Style Guide for Press Releases."

THE STRUCTURE OF A PRESS RELEASE

Important information first

Present the information to be communicated in descending order of importance (inverse pyramid). The title should reflect the element most likely to interest the outside world. The first paragraph (introduction) should outline the essentials of the story (see "the chapeau"), and the subsequent paragraphs should provide all the information and background which a journalist will need or want to write their story.
The ideal structure is as follows:
⇒ Headline
⇒ Introduction
⇒ Full description (and any tables or graphics)
⇒ Background and further information
⇒ Contact person

Headline

  1. The headline should be short (maximum two lines), catchy and easy to translate (avoid expressions that are too jargon-specific).
  2. Most importantly, it should summarise the main point of the story – WHAT’S NEW??
  3. You should normally use the active voice and the present tense. The headline should explain what Onadime has done, and why : Eg. “Onadime completes pilot project for Cartoon Network”
  4. As a general rule, a headline should not start with figures.
  5. Type the headline in lower case.

“Chapeau”

  1. The chapeau is an essential part of the press release. It should be able to stand alone as a summary of the key points.
  2. The chapeau should contain the crux of the information developed in the body of the text. Very short notes may consist of an introduction only.
  3. The chapeau should contain the key messages of the announcement. It should answer the key questions: who? what? when? where? how? why?
  4. It may also indicate the importance of the news (“for the first time…”, “the most important contribution…”, “a major new strategy”, etc.).
  5. The chapeau should be relatively short (8-12 lines of text).
  6. It is typed in bold italics.

The main body of the text

  1. The paragraphs that follow the introduction forms the body of the text, the descriptive section containing all the various items of information in descending order of importance.
  2. The presentation should be clear, logical, and easily understandable.
  3. Avoid jargon wherever possible.
  4. Use sub-titles and bullet points to break up the text and help a speed-reader follow the main point.

Data and graphics

These enable journalists to quantify the issue, to evaluate it in measurable terms and to compare information whose significance is sometimes difficult to assess.

  1. Figures, tables and graphs should be accurate and up-to-date. Always state the source of the information clearly.
  2. Use computer graphics wherever possible.

Background

  1. The background information provides a historical recapitulation.
  2. Further information, such as internet URL addresses or other references should be included in the background.

Contact person

  1. At the end of the text, always give the name and telephone number of the press contact person who can be contacted for further information.
  2. Any other sources of information – such as internet URL addresses – are also useful.

CONTENT OF THE PRESS RELEASE

Style

  1. Use clear, simple, accessible, non-bureaucratic language.
  2. Keep sentences short; use everyday words and the active voice wherever possible.
  3. Avoid technical jargon and terms specific to one sector or field.
  4. Avoid unusual expressions, idioms or phrases which are ambiguous.

Justification

  1. Always explain not only what Onadime is doing, but why it's important
  2. The aim is to demonstate that every action makes a positive contribution, and is not being done “for it’s own sake.”

Accessibility

  1. Our aim is to interest the public in our activities. Wherever possible this information should be directly relevant to their daily lives - work, school, environment, business, etc.
  2. This message will be stronger and easier to understand if it is based on practical examples or backed by statistics.
  3. The press only reports stories which affect their readers and listeners. If Onadime's top paragraph sounds abstract or theoretical, it will not interest the press. You must give practical examples to bring the information onto the level of everyday reality.

PRESENTATION

General presentation

  1. Journalists pick up many press releases every day. They will not read every one in detail. They need to pick out the important information quickly, and to “speedread” the rest to understand quickly what the story is.
  2. A page of solid print is very hard for a reader to penetrate. Some simple tricks of presentation can make a lot of difference, for example:
  3. Use sub-titles to highlight different themes or messages, and to break up the text.
  4. Use bullet points.
  5. Try to pick out a “10-point plan”, “three key issues”, a “two-pronged approach” and other such tricks to help your reader digest the information quickly.

Abbreviations

  1. Never use abbreviations without explaining them.
  2. When referring to the same organisation several times in a text, use the abbreviation from the second reference onwards.
  3. Write names of countries in the form of acronyms without full stops (USA not U.S.A., UK not U.K.).

GENERAL REMARKS

  1. Obviously, you should adhere strictly to the rules of French or English grammar.
  2. Finally, a useful tip from the style guide of a well-known newspaper:
    “Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible.”