Press release guide

Advice and tips on how to make an effective press release or media advisory.

What is a media advisory?
A media advisory is a means of notifying the press of an event or news story that will happen in the future. It is essentially an event reminder that is in a format that makes it easy for journalists to record the event in their calendars or day planners. It is a proactive way for activists to inform news outlets of events and actions that you want publicized in the future. ALWAYS fax the media advisory, do not e-mail it. There are only two exceptions to this rule: 1) If the media outlet does not have a fax. 2) If you have e-mail addresses of individual journalists, you may e-mail media advisories to those individuals. But, whether you are faxing or e-mailing, you will use the same format below. When faxing the media advisory, you should use standard letter size (8 1/2 x 11) paper, use letterhead and organization logos at the top of the page. The media advisory should fit on one page – remember, this is for a reporters day planner so be brief. if you e-mail the media advisory, send the e-mail as plain text only.

A sample media advisory

Media advisory

January 21, 2003

"Dismantling the Police State"

Optional short descriptive paragraph about the event here.

WHAT: Teach-in on police brutality and the prison industrial complex.

WHO: John Jones of People Against Bad Stuff (PABF), Mary May of the Down with Cops Organization (DCO), and Tim Timmy of the Anarchist Association of America (AAA)

WHEN: 10 a.m. Thursday, February 6

WHERE: Unitarian Church, 555 N 5th St., East Jesus, Ohio

BACKGROUND: (optional field keep it to a single paragraph) blah blah blah...

NOTES: (optional field keep it to a single paragraph) blah blah blah...

CONTACT: Jane Doe: (xxx) xxx-xxxx janedoe@janedoe.org

What is a Press Release?
A press release is a means of informing the press of an event or action that will happen or has happened or is in progress, a newsworthy development (such as the results of an investigation) or any other activity that your group is involved in which may be of interest to journalists. It is the standard means for communicating information about an event or action that you want the press to cover. Press releases should generally be faxed to the news outlet unless you know they accept e-mail press releases, in which case you can send it either way. After you send the press release, it is very important to call the news outlet and inquire if they received it.

How to write effective press releases
There are very specific formats for writing press releases and if you want to improve the odds that your press releases will be read, you must follow them. Furthermore, since the standard press release format is designed to efficiently transmit information, you have every incentive to use the proper format to get your job done well.

Getting started
To start, you will need to develop press release letterhead. Although styles vary, a typical press release contains the name of the organization, its address and its phone number on the top left and the words "News," "Press Release," or "Media Release" on the top right. Typically, press release letterhead is on legal size paper (8 1/2" x 14"), although standard letter size (8 1/2" x 11") is also considered appropriate.

You'll also need a #10 (standard business size) carrier envelope that matches your press release letterhead in style, ink color and paper color. It is permissible to use larger envelopes if your release is to be accompanied by other items too large for a #10 envelope, such as photographs, sample copies of books, etc.

At the top of your releases, you should type "For Release: Immediate" or "For Release: Date." If you do not want journalists to use the information until a certain time, type "Embargoed Until (Date and Time)" after the "For Release." On the right, directly across from the "For Release" information, you should type "Contact:" and then the name or names of the person(s) who will be available to answer questions from the media. The individuals' phone numbers should be included under their names.

The slug
The first bit of text in a press release is called the slug. This refers to the title, or headline, on the release. The slug should very briefly summarize the topic of the release and, if at all possible, utilize action verbs to sound as interesting and as newsworthy as possible.

The inverted triangle
A good press release follows what is known as the inverted triangle. The inverted triangle means that information should begin with the most important information. The next paragraph should contain slightly less important information, and so on, until the very last bit of information in the release is the least important. If you have written a release correctly, it should be possible to cut off the bottom half of the release and still provide journalists with sufficient information.

The inverted triangle format is important because journalists receive large numbers of press releases each day. Time constraints may force them to read only the beginning of a release before deciding if they will use the material or throw the release away. It is therefore in your interest to present information in an efficient and straight forward manner so that journalists can access the information quickly.

The lead
The lead is the first sentence or paragraph of a press release. It should contain what is known as the five w's: who, what, where, when and why. These five w's give journalists what they need to know in order to pursue your story. Memorize them and make sure they appear in your lead.

Style
Keep the release short and succinct. A press release should rarely go over one page. Always type a release and use wide margins. It is common for releases to be typed double-spaced to allow journalists to take notes on the release itself. If you don't choose to do so, at least leave space between paragraphs. Paragraphs and sentences should be kept short. Use exact dates whenever possible (for example, "Monday, June 5" or even "June 5" is more informative than "next Monday.") When using numbers in text, spell out numbers one through ten. For all other numbers use numerals.

Objectivity
Press releases are designed to transmit facts. Opinions should not be included unless they are clearly identified as such. One way to convey opinion is by including a quote from someone in your group. Make certain that the quote is clearly attributed.

Closing symbols
At the end of a release, you must indicate to journalists that the release is over. There are two commonly-accepted symbols that indicate this. The first is "-30-" and the second "###". Use either at the end of your release, placing whichever you choose in the lower center of the page. In the rare instances that your release goes over one page, type "MORE" at the bottom of any page that is not your last page. Again, this should be centered.

By Shawn Ewald and Adam Weissman

E-mail press releases
Distribute email press releases in plain ASCII text.
Draft your press release as you would any other email message, using an email software program. Never send press releases as attachments to email, or attach other documents to email press releases. If you need to prepare a paper copy of the press release, copy and paste the ASCII text into a word processing document after the release is written in the email program.

Keep the text brief and focused.
An electronic press release should follow the same "pyramid" format as any other press release. Start with the most important information (and remember the five "W's" - who, what, where, when and why). Use short paragraphs and keep it brief.

Write a subject line that's compelling or provocative.
Keep in mind that the subject line is the first thing reporters will see when they download your release. Never email a press release (or any other message) with a blank subject line.

Include your electronic contact information.
Remember to include your email address and Web site URL in addition to your phone and fax number, and address. Put all your contact information at the top of the press release.

Use hyper-links where appropriate.
If there is additional information available on your Web site -- such as a white paper or an event announcement -- include a hyper-link so reporters can click right to it. Online publications will often include these links in their stories, making this an effective way to direct visitors to your Web site.

Send a test message before distributing your press release.
Always send a copy of the press release to yourself or to a colleague before distributing it. Check the format to make sure there are no broken lines of text, and check for any mistyped Web URLs by testing them to make sure they work.

Avoid disclosing the recipients' email addresses.
Always type the recipients' addresses in the "Bcc" field of your email message header, rather than in the "To" or "Cc" field.

Post your organization's media contact information on the home page of your Web site. Be sure to keep the contact information up-to-date, and include information on how reporters can be added to your mailing list.

Treat email media inquiries the same as phone inquiries.
Always respond just as promptly to email media inquiries as you would to phone calls. Reporters who work for online publications are much more likely to contact you by email than by phone. If you're responsible for answering media inquiries, check your email frequently throughout the day.

Set up an online archive for your media communications.
Set aside an area of your Web site where reporters can locate past press releases. (If you publish a newsletter in electronic form, maintain an online archive of past issues, as well.)

Post press releases only to appropriate lists, news groups, and publications.
If you plan to post your press release to any email discussion lists, news groups or online publications, make sure the topic of your release is appropriate content for the list or Web site. If your press release announces a new report on air pollution, it would not be appropriate content for a forum for race car enthusiasts, for example.

Collect email addresses from your media contacts.
If you've been distributing your press releases by fax or postal mail, ask your media contacts if you can switch to email distribution. Major newspapers frequently have separate staffs for their online versions, so you'll need to include those contacts on your list, too. There are also media directories and news services specifically for online publications that may be appropriate to add to your media list.

Excerpted from The Virtual Activist with modifications by Shawn Ewald.