A guide to writing an effective press release
One of the main tools that should be used to communicate with journalists is the press release. This is simply a statement to the media explaining what story you are trying to promote to the media and all the necessary information for a journalist to write a story.
Your press release should always incorporate the following:
• What is happening?
• Who is doing it?
• Where it is happening?
• When it is happening?
• Why it is happening?
10 points to remember
1. The information must be accurate. Never attempt to mislead a journalist or bluff if you’re unsure of your facts. Concentrate on facts - numbers involved, full names of people, and statistics.
2. Your story must be newsworthy. The media will only cover a story if it will interest readers and listeners. Always look for a newsy local angle.
3. It must be concise. Don’t use flowery prose, jargon, clichés or waffle. A journalist is interested in facts and informed comment. If you read a story in a good paper, the gist is contained in the first paragraph and the rest of the story expands on the opening paragraph. Editors receive hundreds of releases every day, and can’t give them more than a cursory glance. Hide your story behind clever prose or wordy intros, and it will end up in the bin, no matter how newsworthy (see 2.). As regards headlines, keep it simple and try summarise the release in a few words.
4. It should be well presented. Type in double spacing leaving wide margins. A scrappy looking release will reflect badly on the union.
5. It should go to the right person at the right time. Make sure you know which journalist or sub-editor deals with industrial relations, or the specific sector you work in (e.g. if you work in a national museum it may be the Arts Correspondent), and that you provide the copy to them by their stated deadline
6. Keep your sentences short.
7. Avoid ‘trade union’ jargon. You may know what an AGM is, but a journalist probably won’t. Similarly, writing something like “taking everything into consideration, the Executive Member’s Committee consider it necessary to express in terms of the amended motion...” is not going to win you a “What the Papers Say” award.
8. Express yourself positively. Don’t write “Workers at No Such Workplace have decided not to accept management’s proposals...” but rather “Workers at No Such Workplace have rejected management’s proposals.”
9. Use direct rather than indirect quotes. Sub-Editors like to be able to use direct quotes, and they are also useful for getting across strong opinions that would be inappropriate in the main text of a release. Always remember that a Press Release is meant to be a concise piece of easily digestible news, not a campaign leaflet or manifesto. Releases written in the latter style end up in the bin. Newspaper readerships are a different audience to your members.
10. Punctuation - simply copy the style used in the quality press.
Guidelines on style and presentation:
- Email your press release with the text in the body of the email. Not as an attachment.
- Put a date on the release.
- Mark the release ‘MEDIA RELEASE’.
- At the end of the release, put “End” followed by ‘notes to editors’ which should include the name of the press contact plus telephone numbers.
A quick word about embargoes (a time stated on the press release before which the information cannot be published). These should be used if there is an obvious and justifiable reason, such as a speech that will not be given for some days, the text of which you are giving to journalists early in order that they have a chance to thoroughly digest it, or a departmental announcement that will be given to members at a certain time.
Example: NOT FOR RELEASE BEFORE 00.01 HOURS FRIDAY 7 JUNE