Skills Guide: How to write a press release

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1 Skills Guide: How to write a press release

2 Who is Who? Who? Communications was created by Will Hoyles, a public relations and communications expert with over six years experience of delivering high quality media relations, media training, issues planning and crisis communication for some of the leading charities, membership organisations and think-tanks in the UK. We develop and deliver targeted proactive media campaigns that reach the right audiences and change minds. Consistently achieving coverage across UK broadsheets, tabloids, trade press, local media and TV and radio. Having managed press offices and reputations during high-profile media crises we can support you when things don t go to plan or help you plan to avoid attacks on your reputation. We have trained hundreds of leaders in interview handling techniques and helped organisations gain the skills to win their own press as well as preparing spokespeople for high-profile TV appearances. Who? Communications believes in raising professional standards in public relations and Will is proud to be a Chartered Institute of Public Relations Accredited Practitioner. To learn more about how we can help you visit our website or call

3 Why send a press release? Press coverage can be valuable for small charities and volunteer run organisations as a way to raise our profiles, to change the public s mind on a topic or to let people know about a fundraising initiative. As active citizens in our communities and as experts on the subject of our work, our ideas and activities are often of interest to journalists and their readers and given the limited budgets that we have a few days work to generate the kind of news story that gets a half page with a picture in a local newspaper or a good quote in a national newspaper can be much more cost effective than taking out an advert or printing thousands of leaflets and posters. For many years a press release, often mailed or faxed, was the only way to get our message to journalists but it s only one of the ways we can get our message out especially in the new era of social media and blogging (have a look at the box below for alternatives to press releases). However, when we want to reach a large group of journalists with the same information, give them some detail, or let news outlets know our opinion on a topic then ing them a press release is often a useful tool. Other ways to spread the word Social media reach thousands of supporters quickly and easily. Calling journalists most don t like to be cold called but if you know them it can help to talk a potential story over. Blogging it s possible for as many people to see a post on your site as it is on the BBC if it s good enough. Opinion pieces most major new websites accept pieces from outside commenters. Letters the letters page is often a good place to dispute what someone else has said.

4 Who to send your release to Journalists hate receiving press releases that aren t relevant to them and while it s not always possible to check the interests of every journalist on your list you should make sure you aren t sending your comments about healthcare cuts to the sports reporter! Here are some tips for finding the right people to send your release to: Think about which publications the people you want to reach might read or the radio stations they listen to. Never underestimate the power and reach of local media many more people in your town or city will read the local newspaper than will read any particular broadsheet national newspaper. Look for specialist and trade magazines Experts and policymakers read them and respect the opinions in them. Don t forget online some bloggers get hundreds of thousands of readers a day many of whom will be much more engaged in your issue than the average newspaper reader. People don t just read about their job even government ministers have hobbies they read about. For example, I once reached an influential MP with information about a young person s charity by getting a story about a cycling product we were supporting into cycling publications that the MP read. When you ve identified the types of people you want to send your release you need to find addresses. This is often time consuming as not all journalists have their address alongside their online profile but you can often find addresses by: Searching around the website there s often a contact link at the bottom of every page. Using generic addresses always include the newsdesk in your list, their address will be something like and you might find different sections have addresses like as well. Doing an internet search for the person s name they might have their address listed somewhere else. Just make sure you ve got the right person! Guess! Have a look round the website to see if you can find anyone else s address and then put your journalist s name in that format. Failing that is good bet!

5 What makes your story news? The clue is in the word news what you say has to be new. It s no good recycling old statistics, repeating previously publicised opinions or talking about an event that happened a week ago, if you want to get coverage you need a good news hook. Your story should contain at least one of the following new pieces of information: Facts, statistics or detailed analysis of someone else s recent statistics Opinions Controversy A visual stunt Case-studies Information that affects their readers The thing to remember is that the more local the issue is the less exciting the news needs to be. As a crude example a students unions handing a petition to their local council will be interesting to that town s media but won t be of interest to a local paper 50 miles away but a demonstration in London involving students from all over the UK will be interesting to all local news outlets as long as it involves local students. If you want to respond to a story you ve read in a newspaper, it s probably too late to send a press release as most stories only get covered once. It s probably better to write a letter to the newspaper instead. Planning notes are sent in advance of an event you want to encourage journalists to attend a debate, a demonstration or a fundraising event, for example. They should usually be sent a week or so in advance so that journalists can put them in their diaries. What goes in a press release? There are no hard and fast rules for writing a press release, they come in a whole variety of forms and none of them are wrong, but here are some tips that might be useful. It s worth looking at the press releases of a few other organisations to see how they do it. Headlines Don t try and write your headline in the style of a newspaper. Avoid puns or trying to intrigue the journalist by being vague. The headline should be one or two lines that leave the journalist in no doubt as to why the story is news. It doesn t even need to be strictly grammatically accurate as long as it s clear what follows. Embargo Embargoes tell the journalist the information in the release is not for publication until after a certain time and/or date. Most of the time you want the journalist to cover the story as soon as possible so just write FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE at the top.

6 Lead paragraph The first paragraph of your release should contain all of the relevant information who, what, when, where, why and how. By the end of that paragraph, which should be no longer than 4 or 5 lines, the journalist should have enough information that they could start investigating the story even if they didn t read the rest. The body The rest of your release, which in most instances should stretch to no more than two additional short paragraphs, provides some context and relevant information that backs up your take on the story. If it is about an event it should give more detail about the where, when and why of the lead paragraph. Quotes The name and job title of the person giving the quote should be at the top of the quote in bold type. Bear in mind that the journalist is likely to have very limited space for a quote from you and won t use every word of what you send them so try to make the first line a short sentence that sums up your position. After that you can add a couple more brief sentences giving more detail. After the end - After the main content of the release put the word End on a line on its own. Underneath that make sure there are clear contact details, including for outside office hours, so that journalists can follow up if they need to. This is the place to put any relevant information the journalist might need but was too long to put in the body, you might also want to put links to any reports referenced or any comments you are responding to. Journalists are often looking for case-studies so if you already have some then put a brief outline in the notes at the end. You can also include a bit of standard information about your organisation here.

7 How a press release might look: CHARITY RAISES THOUSANDS FOR LOCAL CAUSE EMBARGOED UNTIL TUESDAY 2 NOVEMBER 2014 Your charity did something, on a particular date, in a place, for a reason. They did it like this. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Some more details about why they did it, what had happened before and who else was involved. Nullam malesuada purus consequat urna mollis interdum. In et fringilla lorem. In nisi mauris, congue vel sodales quis, scelerisque in dolor. Nullam in elit eget tellus vehicula fringilla. Integer neque orci, tempor id mattis sollicitudin, auctor id nunc. A few more details if necessary but less is more. Nulla vitae dui eget sem sodales varius. Vivamus quam leo, iaculis quis interdum posuere, convallis sit amet tortor. In gravida ornare iaculis. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Jane Bloggs, Trustee of Who? Charity, said: Volunteers make a huge contribution to local communities and raise tens of thousands of pounds for our causes every year. Why we re excited. Curabitur a nisi eu magna lobortis blandit et eu urna. Aliquam erat volutpat. Fusce adipiscing arcu dolor, sit amet porta mi. A final line which might raise another point if the paper has enough room. Aliquam erat volutpat. Morbi nibh magna, porta a rhoncus et, cursus a nunc. In tellus tellus, vulputate eu rutrum nec, aliquam eget magna. Etiam dictum nibh pharetra tortor tincidunt auctor. Cras porttitor consectetur erat vel interdum. Aenean vitae aliquam urna. ENDS Press Contact or (out of office hours) Some information about Who? Charity including how many members it has, who it represents and what it does. Some other relevant information, which in this case might be a list of the times and locations of any fundraising activities, and how much was raised at the last event.

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