How to Write a Media Release in One Easy Lesson
Posted on 24 July 2011
This is a slightly revised version of my article titled “How to Write a Press Release in One Easy Lesson”, which I originally published on the “Articles” page of my website several years ago. I’ve used it as a handout many times in workshops I’ve taught. It’s based on my 30+ years of experience writing media releases, and also on my experience as the Listings Editor in the Features Department at the “South China Morning Post” newspaper in Hong Kong – I worked there from 1996 to 2002, and I received lots of really BAD media releases.
Practical tips on how to write a media release; what to do about photos; who to send your media release to; how to follow up…
The purpose of a media release is to provide newsworthy information to the media about recent events (e.g. the appointment of a new GM of your company, the announcement of annual results etc.) or coming events (e.g. a product launch, a show etc.), in the hope that they’ll run your story. It’s best to provide this information in writing rather than verbally, to minimise the chance of mistakes.
- Keep it brief and to the point – one page is best (with a hard-copy media release, attach background info separately; with an emailed media release, include links to background info).
- If you send a hard-copy media release, use your company’s/organisation’s letterhead, with an address.
- Main points up front, not buried in the middle. Use layout or bold text to make it as easy as possible for the journalist to extract the most important points.
- Your media release should answer the following questions (imagine that you are being interviewed): Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, How?, How Much? How Many? What language is your show in? How do people get a ticket or buy the product?
- What makes your story newsworthy? Think: topical/timely; politically/economically significant; first/last time ever in the world/Asia/Hong Kong; innovative product breakthrough; human interest; controversial; funny; sad; tragic; heart-warming; unusual; witty; award-winning; celebrity…
- In Hong Kong, it’s important to specify what language(s) your event/show/lecture is in. Say what translations/subtitles are available, if any.
- Write “Media Release” at the top of the page. Then put the date (i.e. the date that you send it), and a title for the story. Make sure the title is catchy, giving the journalist a good reason to read on.
- Quotes are good. Give the person’s name and title, and/or the name and date of the publication quoted.
- After the text that is intended for publication, print a horizontal line – anything below this line is for the information of the journalist, and is not for publication. Most important here, give the name/title and tel/mobile/fax/email contact details for a key person who can be contacted for further information, and who can talk intelligently about your story. You can also add a note here specifying whether there are any attachments, e.g. background information, brochures, flyers, photographs.
- Double check the spelling of any proper names, and double check all numbers (specify currency if there is any chance of ambiguity). Ensure consistency. Be specific with dates, times and numbers – avoid such vague terms as “from early December”, or “nearly 20 people”.
- Consider the tone/style of the publication to which you are sending your media release (serious? satirical? gossipy?). Read back copies or watch/listen to the programmes.
- Consider the end reader. What would inspire her/him to attend the event or buy the product, and what practical information would she/he need in order to attend/buy, e.g. date, time, place, price, how to get a ticket?
- There is no need for a covering letter saying: “We’re a charity and we’d really appreciate any publicity…”. The media release itself is by definition a request for free publicity. Any relevant information should be in the media release.
- It is always a good idea to send your own. Do not expect the publication to send a photographer, or to chase you up if you write “Photographs available on request” – there may not be time.
- Read back copies of the publication to see what kind of images they use, and what kind of format they need (prints, slides, digital images, b/w or colour). If in doubt, ask!
- Label every image clearly, in the appropriate language (for hard-copy images, use a sticky label, don’t write in biro directly onto the pic).
- Do not “bend, fold, spindle or mutilate”. Do not attach hard-copy photographs to the media release with staples or paper clips – use an envelope or a ziplock bag. Or send high-resolution digital images.
- Consider the “reproducibility” of the image. Is it in focus? Good contrast? No fussy or distracting backgrounds? Most important, is it interesting? Does it tell a story?
- Avoid dark colours against a dark background, e.g. a Chinese man in a dinner suit against a black background – when the pic is reproduced in b/w, it will be hard to see where he ends and the background begins!
- Send the biggest prints you can afford rather than 3R snapshots, or send high-resolution digital images. Get a professional photographer.
- Give the photographer’s name, and specify whether credit is required.
Who should you send it to?
- Read your targeted publications, and watch/listen to the appropriate programmes, to identify the relevant editors, journalists, producers etc. Develop your own media list that’s appropriate to your organisation, and keep it up to date. Ring up and ask! If in doubt, send your media release to “The Editor”, or “The Producer” (but it’s better to get the person’s name).
- In any given publication or TV/radio station, there may be several journalists who should receive your media release, so send it to all of them.
- You can send your media release by fax or email, then send a hard copy with any pix or other enclosures. If you send it by email, include the text within the body of your email, to make it easy for journalists to read it quickly and copy and paste the information they want to use. Do not send the text as an attached Word file (or worse, a jpg file, which is not editable) – journalists don’t have time to open attached files, and such files might contain viruses.
- As a courtesy, send a copy to any person or organisation mentioned/quoted in the media release – the journalist might want to follow up with them directly, so they ought to know what you’ve said about them.
When should you send it?
- Check deadlines, especially for monthly or weekly publications/programmes. If in doubt, ask.
- Consider when the public needs to know, i.e. when can they start buying tickets?
- On the other hand, don’t send a media release too far in advance of the event, as it might get lost in the in-tray.
What about follow-up?
I think it’s fine to call a few days after you’ve sent the media release, just to double-check that it’s been received by the right person, and to ask whether any further information is required. However, please don’t try to re-sell the newsworthiness of the story over the phone, or apply any pressure (as too many desperate PR people do) – all the selling of the story should already have been accomplished in the media release.
Update, July 2011
See the Media Relations category here on my blog for my “So You Want to Write a Media Release and Influence a Journalist?” series, in which I list lots more resources (by various people).
See also my blog post, “Media Relations Do’s and Don’ts”.
Do you have any questions or comments about media releases?
© Kay Ross