Tips on Writing a News Release
1. What's the Story?
News editors and the media want to know what’s going on in their communities. An engaging press release with an interesting ‘hook’ or angle is an excellent way to gain exposure for your ADA Anniversary Celebration or event. The objective of a news release is to capture the attention of your audience and educate them about the event, your organization, your Regional ADA Center and the ADA National Network. Feature what you are doing in your region that deserves attention right now. It’s not enough to say “Hi! We’re here!” at regular intervals throughout the year, so don’t send a release out just for the sake of sending one.
Make sure your press releases contain valuable, newsworthy information. Make every word count! What is significant about your work and the partnerships you have formed to date? Briefly tie in related community issues as appropriate. Develop local angles for stories.
Do more than just compile a list of newspaper names and addresses, local television stations or online media resources such as your local community news sites (e.g., Patch, community newspaper online, etc.) — study them to understand local concerns and the type of issues the different media cover.
2. Remember the Five W's and the H
Editors see many press releases every day. Catch the editor’s attention right away. They usually edit news releases or use them as springboards for stories. Editors cut material from the bottom up, so make your copy stand out. Your goal is to communicate your event using every day language, so avoid overusing technical jargon and acronyms. Leave the technical details for a phone call or a follow-up email. Once an editor contacts you, you can give an interview and go into more depth about your event.
Once you have decided on the message, you will get an editor’s attention quickly if you include the following information in the first paragraph. Answer these questions:
- Who is the story about?
- What is happening?
- When will the event take place?
- Where is it?
- Why am I reading about this now?
- How do I get more information?
Pick the one most important issue to talk about in each release. For example, ADA training courses in your area would cover one release. The ADA Anniversary is a separate activity, and requires another release. If you are sponsoring or participating in a county-wide job fair, write another release to announce that activity.
The point of a release is to entice the reader or journalist to: 1) publish your information and 2) contact you for additional information. A well-written press release does not need to be a novel. In fact, shorter press releases (usually between 175 – 300 words) tend to receive more exposure. Why? Because many journalists may be looking for a short informative piece of information to fill a spot within a magazine, newspaper or web site. Have you ever seen short snippets on one side of a magazine, or down the side of a web page? Guess where the information comes from.
4. Style and Voice
Today’s media usually receive electronic press releases – as PDF files or HTML embedded in an email with your organization’s logo and information. To make the best impression, the release should be typed (single-spaced is fine) on electronic letterhead or with your logo, giving the editor space to make comments. You may either indent the first sentence in each paragraph or format them flush left with spaces between the paragraphs. Have one-inch margins all around, and make sure your press release is free of errors. If you are sending out a print copy, make sure there are no smudges or smears.
Write in the active voice, using vivid verbs. Spell out the name of an organization the first time you use it, and enclose its acronym in parentheses. Use the acronym on second reference. Stick to the facts and the news. Don’t use overly descriptive phrases, such as “wonderful,” “fabulous,” “greatest,” and so on.
Many people, when they see or hear the word “disability,” automatically think of charity or health concerns. Make sure you are sending the desired message—that the ADA is a business, economic, and civil rights issue, and that your organization, your Regional ADA Center and the ADA National Network are a resource for everyone in the community.
Make sure everything is true and factual. If you are using facts and statistics to enhance your story, make sure that you provide source attributions to add credibility.
Include meaningful quotes* from your staff, representatives, business leaders, local politicians, and other individuals as necessary, and include your Regional ADA Center/ADA National Network toll-free phone number —1-800-949-4232
*NOTE:Only use quotes from individuals with your organization or quotes from affiliated individuals or organizations who have given you permission to use their quote in your release. For example, if you wish to include a quote from your local mayor, contact his/her office of public affairs and send them a template of your release, showing where you would like a quote from the mayor and perhaps suggesting some points he or she may wish to cover in the quote. Having permission to use a quote is extremely important. Obtaining written permission is best. If you personally know the individual, verbal permission may be all that is required. If you are unsure, it is best to receive permission in writing.
There are many different ways to format a press release. Here are some basic guidelines:
- Place the words, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE flush left under your organization’s logo, with CONTACT: individual’s name, phone number and e-mail address flush right. Insert two blank lines before beginning the headline.
- Prepare an action headline. Center it and put it in bold type. Insert two more blank lines.
- Before beginning the body of the release, make the text flush left and indent paragraphs or have them flush left with a line of space between paragraphs.
- Put the dateline first—city and state, with appropriate abbreviations and the release date within parentheses – i.e. (Atlanta, Ga. – Month Date, Year). The Associated Press Stylebook(www.apstylebook.com/) is the standard manual for reporters, copy editors, and section editors. It is helpful to adopt their style.
- After the dateline, include the lead paragraph, and then develop the release in a logical sequence. Put the most important facts first, and gradually put information of lesser importance in succeeding paragraphs, in case your release is cut. If your information continues on to a second page, you can center the word -MORE- at the bottom of the first page. Continue with the second page, if necessary, and include a page number. A news release should be no longer than two pages.
- You may want to say whether photos or interviews are available. Put this information in all caps, and use phrases like PHOTOGRAPHS AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST or INTERVIEWS WITH [NAME OF PERSON] ARE BEING SCHEDULED NOW.
- At the end of the release, you can type - ###, and center it. Any information after ### will not be published.
(This material was summarized in part from Kay Borden’s “Bulletproof News Releases: Practical, No-holds-barred Advice for Small Business from 135 American Newspaper Editors,” published in 1994 by Franklin-Sarrett Publishers.)
How to Write and Format a Press Release for E-mail Distribution
E-mail press releases are usually shorter in length than their print counterparts. The majority of electronic press releases are 400 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 could be cut off. For this reason, avoid sending extremely lengthy electronic news releases.
Information such as photographs and other supporting documents usually included in a printed media kit may be published online where reporters may download them easily at their convenience. The URLs for screen shots of your Web site may also be included in the news release. DO NOT include photos, videos, etc. as attachments to your press release, as many e-mail systems place e-mails with large attachments in SPAM folders to prevent the spread of viruses, etc. If you attach photos, videos, etc. rather than link to them, your press release may not get through.
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.
Don’t Forget to Promote Your News through Online and Social Media
Now that you’ve created your press release and assembled your lists of local media outlets and organizations inclined to share your news, you are ready to distribute.
Before you send your e-mail release to traditional media, it is always good practice to first publish it in the news section of your website. This is a good idea for two reasons: 1) Other news outlets don’t scoop you on your own news; 2) The public has an additional means to find the information you are disseminating. Publishing your news releases is also a good way to keep your website updated, timely, resourceful and relevant.
Use Keywords and Links
You also want to make sure you have relevant key words and links in the first section of your release to help with your Search Engine Optimization (SEO), so internet users can find your news through online searches through Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc. Using relevant keywords and links for Search Engine Optimization also helps push your organization higher up in searches for relevant keywords, helping to position your organization as an expert on a given topic. (Also see – SEO Checklist: 6 Tips article in Additional Information section below).
Use Social Media
Once you have published your news release on your website, you can promote it through your social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Create a post on Facebook or Twitter with a shortened link (note: you can create an account to get shortened links at bitly.com) to the press release on your site. Promoting your news through all of your traditional and social media channels will help: 1) maximize the reach of your release; 2) assure it hits interested, relevant audiences; and 3) make it easy for people to share your information with their circle of influence (customers, friends, family, etc.).
When writing Twitter posts, you can include “hashtags.” A hashtag is a way of indexing your Twitter post so a wider audience on Twitter can see it, not just your followers. A hashtag – the number symbol (#) followed by key phrase, for example ADA so it appears #ADA – included in your Twitter post will help folks on Twitter looking for ADA news find your post. For example, if you write a post such as: LIFE Mississippi celebrates 24th anniversary of #ADA (with a link to your post at the end), the inclusion of #ADA will index your post with all other news from others on Twitter about the ADA. The same goes for inclusion of other key disability hashtags such as #Disability and #PWD. You can also add a hashtag for your local region for people interested in local news (e.g., - #Atlanta, #Jacksonville, etc.). Journalists will often monitor social media for breaking news and story ideas. Using Twitter hashtags is another great way to reach key target audiences.
Thank Local Media
If a local media outlet publishes your press release or writes a news story about your event, link to the posted story in the news section of your website and through your social media channels. Also, thank the media with a shout-out for promoting your story through your Facebook and Twitter account. If you are thanking the outlet on Twitter, be sure to include the media outlet’s official Twitter handle (i.e. - @xxxxxx) so they will be sure to receive your message. They may also “retweet” your message or pass it on to their followers, which could be add thousands of relevant audience members to your news reach, all from a simple thank you.
Source: Lisa Stockmann Karp, Director, Communications & Marketing, National Disability Institute