Press releases (also called news releases) convey information to the news media; they are requests for attention, and many reporters depend on them for news tips. Writing an effective press release can help you present your messages in a way that obtains maximum exposure, or it can be a waste of time, if not done properly.
News editors receive numerous press releases each day; only a few of them make the news. Before writing a press release, consider the needs of the news media and your purpose in writing it. Editors print what they deem to have the greatest impact on the public. Always ask yourself whether your message is of interest to the public or the community, and take note of the kinds of people and stories that dominate the news. Members of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) can also consult with ACEP's Public Relations Department for help in writing and distributing press releases.
See examples of press releases in the Appendix.
Many press releases are written in the "inverted pyramid" style of news writing, which begins with a catchy headline and then a strong lead paragraph answering the questions who? what? when? where? why? how? The order of paragraphs are conclusion first, then supporting facts, followed by information in decreasing significance.
To make sure your press release receives attention, it's essential to write a good headline, because it may be the only words some editors read.
A headline should be as brief as possible and convey the most important point. It uses strong action verbs (e.g., announces, calls, applauds). For example:
ACEP CALLS FOR SOLUTIONS TO KEEP AMERICA'S HEALTH CARE SAFETY NET FROM UNRAVELING AS EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT VISITS INCREASE BY FIVE MILLION IN ONE YEAR
A strong lead makes a clear statement of the main points of the press release. It should be concise, one or two sentences in length. If possible, the release should include a compelling statement that distinguishes it from others. Construct your lead paragraph by organizing answers to the inverted pyramid questions. For example:
The American College of Emergency Physicians [WHO] today [WHEN] said the latest data on emergency department visits up five million in one year [WHAT] confirm that emergency departments [WHERE] will continue to face serious overcrowding problems [WHAT] unless solutions are found [WHY]...
Other tips on writing press releases:
Tip 1: Write a press release as if it will be used as the basis of a news story. Rather than assigning a reporter to write an original story, an editor may use the press release to write a story.
Tip 2: Organize the information in a release logically. The press release should begin with the most important facts first and end with the least important facts; the second and third paragraphs often contain a quote and more details about the first paragraph. Each new paragraph becomes less important than the paragraph that precedes it.
Tip 3: Keep the release concise.one or two pages. Again, editors make decisions quickly about what they consider news. They won't take the time to sift through pages of material, so be brief.
Tip 4: Don't make unsubstantiated claims, and don't use secondhand information. Don't take a chance on damaging your credibility or losing someone's trust. Always check things out and make sure the information you provide is accurate.
Tip 5: Write clearly, and use correct grammar and punctuation. Editors are more likely to use material when it is presented well and doesn't require extensive editing.
Tip 6: Always include contact information. Reporters often want to follow up on a press release by getting additional information and other quotes. Make sure they call you first by putting your contact information on the press release. Never list a contact name without first discussing it with the person. Make sure he or she is familiar with the subject of the press release to answer questions or can direct the reporter to an expert who can.
Tip 7: Print press releases on Chapter or business letterhead or specially printed press release letterhead. If you do not have press release or business letterhead, use plain paper and put the name, address, and telephone number for you, your Chapter or hospital at the top of the page.
Tip 8: Indicate the end of the release or media advisory by using the characters # # #. It signals reporters they have the entire document.
Tip 9: Mark your news release For Immediate Release, unless you need to ask the press to hold the information for a future date and time.
If you want to release information prior to an event, such as the text of a speech that has not been delivered, or announce the results of a study that has not been published, you may want to embargo it.
Embargoing means the information is restricted and that reporters can use it to prepare a story, but cannot publish it until the embargo is lifted. This can be risky because journalists sometimes break embargoes.
However, embargoes gives the news media a level playing field by allowing them to obtain a study or information early enough to evaluate it, use the information to write a story, and file it in a timely fashion, without worrying that another news organization will .scoop. them. This is especially important with technical journal articles. Embargoing helps promote coverage of the press release, because reporters know no one else can publish the story until the embargoed time and date.
Embargoed for Release at 2 PM, EDT, Friday, February 1, 2002
Media advisories are more brief and more direct than news releases, and as such, cannot be used as the basis for a news story. (See examples of a media advisory and a media advisory template in the Appendix.) Instead, they are used to:
The guidelines for disseminating press releases and media advisories are generally the same, except for the timing of distribution. Media advisories should be sent three to five days before an event. They also should be sent out again the morning of an event to remind reporters to attend.
Target media that will be most interested in your issue or event (see how to develop media lists in the chapter on Media). For example, you may want to send a press release to all the health and medical writers, editors, and broadcast correspondents in your state. For another press release, you may want to send it to all the trade publications and online reporters in your community. Press releases also can be sent to corporate or university newsletters, as well as to public information offices of local governments, social service agencies, or nonprofit organizations.
A press kit goes one step beyond a press release to present a package of information that contains details about your news. If presented well, it can improve your chances of coverage; if presented unprofessionally, it can work against you. Be sure your press kit enhances your image and opportunity.
Materials often included in press kits:
Use color and a good design to present a professional image with press kits, but be careful not to send the wrong messages. For example, a nonprofit organization seeking funding might be criticized for presenting expensive, slick media kits, and a medical organization known for scientific expertise might be criticized for including unscientific literature or inaccurate statistics.