Writing a Press Release

This page is archived material and is no longer updated. It may contain outdated information and broken links. The material presented on these pages is the product of five regional symposia held on restorative justice between June 1997 and January 1998.

(Media Relations Methods, Source: National Victim Center, 1990)

PURPOSE

A press release informs the media about your organization's upcoming activities, special events, or ongoing programs for victims' rights.

DESCRIPTION

A press release is the most widely used method to attract media attention and coverage of your activities. Press releases serve as official invitations to special events, "for your information" communications to let the media know about your special programs, and as means to encourage more extensive coverage of a particular issue.

Keep in mind that everything your organization does is not newsworthy. If you inundate the media with press releases, you'll find your organization in the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome; i.e., when you really have something important to announce, nobody is interested because they're tired of continually hearing from you.

Prior to writing a press release, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this information really newsworthy to the general public, or only to victims and advocates?
  • What is the highlight or main feature of this news item?
  • Should my release be distributed to newspapers, radio, television, or "all of the above?"
  • Is there a creative "angle" I can pursue to make my release more interesting and appealing to the assignment editors and news directors?
  • Should I write two separate releases (one for print media and one for electronic media)?

When in doubt, contact a reporter or editor with whom you have established a good working relationship. Explain in detail the nature of the event or activity your proposed release will address. Ask him or her if it is, indeed, news. Follow the advice you receive, as it will usually be accurate.

The main reasons press releases fail to be published, broadcast, or effective in drawing media attention include:

  • Lack of newsworthiness
  • Lack of clarity
  • Lack of content
  • Lack of detailed facts
  • Lack of contact information
  • Late delivery

By following these tips, you will improve your chances of obtaining excellent press coverage as a result of your press release:

  • Always print your release on letterhead if it addresses an event or program of your organization.
  • The top left-hand corner of the page should include the date of release underlined with either a specific date or "For Immediate Release," along with the date the release is written. The top right-hand corner should include the name of a person to contact for more information, a title (when applicable), and his or her area code and telephone number.
  • Begin your first, or "lead," paragraph with the name of the city in which the event will occur or where your organization is located.
  • The "lead" paragraph is the most important part of your press release. Often, assignment editors and news directors will not read beyond the lead paragraph. Use the lead paragraph to capture the essence of your story. Include the following information in this order:

WHAT: The specific event, program or activity

WHO: Your organization or the participants in the event

WHEN: Day/Date/Time (include a.m. or p.m.)

WHERE: Location of the event (including street address)

WHY: The primary Purpose of the event or program

  • Limit your press release to one page. The media will contact you for additional details, as needed.
  • Always type your release double-spaced, and have at least two people carefully edit it and review it for typographical errors before distribution.
  • After the lead paragraph, expand upon the key information by providing greater details of the event or activity.
  • indicate if any "VIP's" will participate in the program or be present at the event.
  • For special events, describe any special effects, visuals or other media attractions.
  • Whenever possible, develop a creative, eye-catching headline. If you have no appropriate headline, leave adequate space for the editor or news director to fill one in.
  • Always include at least one good quotation from the major figure involved in the event or activity.
  • Always be clear and concise, using short descriptive sentences.
  • Check every statement in your story for accuracy. Be prepared to support your facts with background research or information.
  • If your release offers a publication, information or assistance, make sure your final paragraph indicates how to contact your organization for additional information.
  • If your press release must exceed one page, type "--MORE--" in the bottom right-hand corner. Indicate "Page Two" on the second page.
  • Never mention door prizes, raffles, etc. in the body of the release, as such inclusions are against the law.
  • At the conclusion of the release, type either "-30-" or "###" in the center of the page below the final paragraph (this signifies "the end").
  • Always keep the original copy of every release you distribute. You will need it not only for your media files, but for reference if a reporter calls for additional information (especially if the author of the press release is out of the office).
  • Always let your staff and volunteers know when a release has been mailed so they will know to expect calls from the media.

Know your deadlines for submitting press releases to your local media. Usually, they require two to three weeks advance notice of a special event. Always meet the specified deadline, and follow-up the press release with a personal telephone call offering additional information and details. For special events, send an "Editor's Advisory" out immediately prior to the event (refer to the "Editor's Advisory" section for additional details).

Who should receive your press release? Usually, it is the assignment editor covering the "community news" or "crime beat" for your local newspaper, or the news or public service directors at radio and television stations. Take time to call these media and find out the names of these people. A personalized envelope and letter will get a lot more attention than one which merely says "Attention: Assignment Editor." Maintain accurate records of these names, and up-date your list at least twice a year.

Your press release should be accompanied by a cover letter stressing the importance of your event or program and personally inviting the media to attend.

Excellent resources for learning how to write for the media and, in particular, how to write press releases are journalism textbooks for high school students or first-year journalism majors in college. These publications can provide you with a wealth of information about technique, style, and content. Check with your local schools and college bookstores to see which textbooks best suit your needs.

Date Created: December 6, 2007