Press Release Basics

A press release, also called a news release, is the standard method for providing information to journalists that will result in some type of media coverage. Sometimes, if your release is well-written, an editor will run it almost exactly as you wrote it. Other times the editor will re-write the information for publication or assign it as a story to a reporter. Most releases, however, go into what we call “File 13,” in other words, into the trash basket.

 How do you help ensure that yours stays out of File 13? I have several suggestions:

  • Learn what your local publications want. (You can ask them!)
  • Learn and use the accepted format for preparing and submitting a release. (Much of that information is below.)
  • Write to your audiences

I’d like to say a bit more about that last item because it is so often neglected. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have just one audience, you have three. Can you guess what they are? Most people write to just one of them and forget the other two. If you “get it” and use this insight, your releases (and anything else you write for publication) will be far more effective than even many PR professionals.

So, who are your three audiences?

  1. Your “end audience,” or the reader you are trying to reach. If your news ends up in the media, it must still be interesting enough to capture the reader’s attention and hold it through the end of the article.
  2. The editor. No matter how interesting your news is to your intended audience, if they never get to see it, it has done neither of you any good. Thus, you must keep the editors and reporters in mind as you prepare your news release.
  3. Yourself! You are your own client and you have a vested interest in getting an article published. Not just any article will do, however; you want something that is effective. In other words, to be worth your time, the press release must have some results. You may simply want to inform or you may want your end audience to take some action, such as referring you or calling for an appointment. You must keep your objectives in mind when you are writing to increase the probability that you’ll achieve your goals.

What makes a good press release?

A good press release is informative and written in clear English. It is structured to provide the most important information first, then continue in descending order of importance.

It should be short—it’s best to keep it below 500 words—and should not contain any specialist language that readers may not understand. A short, informative release is more likely to be published than a long, rambling, overly detailed one.

Avoid ‘fluff’ and ‘hype.’ Don’t fill your news release with glowing endorsements about your practice that will make a journalist skeptical. At best they will be edited out. At worst, they will encourage a journalist to scrap your release altogether.

How Do I Grab the Reader’s Attention?

With a snappy headline! The title should be short and to the point. A good, strong title will grab the attention of a journalist and make your press release stand out.

Remember that your first challenge is to get the editor to read the release; your headline must convey in a few words what your press release is about and that it is newsworthy. Realize that it will never be seen by the end audience; it is simply for the editors. If they decide to do a story, or even publish your release as-is, they will write their own headline.

Professional writers often leave the title until the body of the release is written. One good method is to take the keywords of the release and write a title around these. Think of the ticker scrolling across the bottom of the TV news. If that’s all the editor got to see, would it be enough to convey the gist of your news? That’s what your headline needs to do.

The perfect press release – Who, What, When, Where, Why

Use the five Ws as your starting point. The first two to three paragraphs should sum up the important information, the five Ws. Follow these with the H – How. The ‘How’ paragraphs expand on the five Ws to build the vital information into the release. This ensures that, should an editor need to shorten your release, the important information will not be cut off.

The first sentence, called “the lead,” determines whether your audience will continue reading so it is vital to grab their attention. Tempting though it may be, never open a news release with the name of your practice. For example, “ABC is to launch a new business club for young professionals this week.” This may provide the right information, but “Tomorrow’s attorneys will soon have the opportunity to expand their business network with the launch of a new young professionals club” is a much more eye catching and enticing opener. The opening sentence determines whether your release is read or passed over.

To ensure that important information is included the way you want it, use it in a quote from a specific individual. This ensures that a journalist will not reword the information, although they may delete some of it if it doesn’t change the meaning.

Another imperative is to make it newsworthy. Does your information link to a current news item? Can you target it to a specific subject that is being covered from another angle? In journalistic terms, this is referred to as a ‘hook’. Can you find one for your information?

Notes to Editors – what are they and why are they important?

So, you have written the perfect press release. What else do you need to do? One of the most important parts of any well written release is the ‘Notes to Editors’ section.

In this section, include the name and contact details for an individual at your practice who can respond to any queries from the press to clarify the information or add detail. This section can also be used to provide background information regarding your practice and the subject of your release. It should always include your website address.

The Mechanics

  • Under the title, include the date of issue, followed by the words ‘IMMEDIATE RELEASE’ or “Embargoed until [date]” and the city of origin.
  • If sending via email, include the title of your release (or a shortened version) in the subject line.
  • If sending hard copy, send on your practice’s letterhead stationery and use double spacing.
  • Use the body of the email for your text. This makes it quick and easy for editors to read. The easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to run your release. It is best not to send an attachment unless invited by the journalist. Most of them will not open attachments due to fear of viruses, etc.
  • Do not use any colored text. It won’t do anything other than annoy an editor.
  •  If possible, send a good image to run with your story. Be creative! If it’s an image of people, get interesting poses, rather than the ‘grip and grin’ handshake shot
  • An ‘embargoed release’ (meaning it should be held from publication until a specific date) can help editors to plan space. An embargo should be no more than 7 days. That also gives them time to contact you for further information, if necessary.
  • End the body of a press release with 3 # symbols. This is a recognized journalistic standard.
  • Below the #s add contact details and background information, links, etc. under the label “Notes to Editors.”

Appropriate Topics

The final way to keep your release out of “File 13” is to make sure it really is news. Here are some ideas of appropriate “newsworthy” topics:

  • The opening of your practice or a new practice in another geographic area
  • The addition of a new professional associate to your practice
  • An announcement of an award you’ve received from your profession
  • Your presentation of a paper at a professional conference
  • The addition of important new services your practice will now offer. Tell what they are but don’t go into too much detail or it will make your release sound more like marketing than news and it won’t be published. Instead, tell why you’ve added the service and how it will benefit your patients or clients. A quote from a client about the new service would be a great addition.
  • Make an announcement or provide useful information that ties in with an upcoming holiday or event.

Remember, it is not an advertisement! If it sounds like marketing instead of news, it won’t get past the editor. Get it right and your press release should appear close to how it was written.

Return from Press Release Basics to Free Marketing?

Return to Home Page