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How to Write a Press Release

in One Easy Lesson


by Kay Ross

Practical tips on how to write a press release; what to do about photos; who to send your press release to; how to follow up...

Why?

The purpose of a press release is to provide newsworthy information to the media about recent events (eg the appointment of a new GM of your company, the announcement of annual results etc) or coming events (eg 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.

What?

  1. Keep it brief and to the point - one page is best (background info can be attached separately).
  2. Use your company's/organisation's letterhead, with an address.
  3. 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.
  4. Your press 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?
  5. What makes your story "newsworthy"? Think: topical/timely; politically/economically significant; first/last time ever in the world/Asia/HK; innovative product breakthrough; human interest; controversial; funny; sad; tragic; heart-warming; unusual; witty; award-winning; celebrity...
  6. In HK, it's important to specify what language(s) your event/show/lecture is in. Say what translations/subtitles are available, if any.
  7. Write "Press Release" (or "Media Release") at the top of the page. Then put the date (ie the date that you send it), and a title for the story.
  8. Quotes are good. Give the person's name and title, and/or the name and date of the publication quoted.
  9. 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for publication, print a horizontal line - anything below this line is for the information of the journalist, and is not for publication.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/e-mail numbers 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, eg background information, brochures, flyers, photographs.
  10. 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".
  11. Consider the tone/style of the publication to which you are sending your press release (serious? satirical? gossipy?). Read back copies or watch/listen to the programmes.
  12. 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, eg date, time, place, price, how to get a ticket?
  13. There is no need for a covering letter saying: "We're a charity and we'd really appreciate any publicity ...". The press release itself is by definition a request for free publicity. Any relevant information should be in the press release.

Photographs

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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).
  4. Do not "bend, fold, spindle or mutilate". Do not attach photographs to the press release with staples or paper clips - use an envelope or a ziplock bag.
  5. 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?
  6. Avoid dark colours against a dark background, eg 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!
  7. Send the biggest prints you can afford rather than 3R snapshots. Get a professional photographer.
  8. Give the photographer's name, and specify whether credit is required.

Who should you send it to?

  1. 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 press release to "The Editor", or "The Producer" (but it's better to get the person's name).
  2. In any given publication or TV/radio station, there may be several journalists who should receive your press release, so send it to all of them.
  3. You can send your press release by fax or e-mail, then send a hard copy with any pix or other enclosures.
  4. As a courtesy, send a copy to any person or organisation mentioned/quoted in the press release - the journalist may want to follow up with them directly, so they ought to know what you've said about them.

When should you send it?

  1. Check deadlines, especially for monthly or weekly publications/programmes. If in doubt, ask.
  2. Consider when the public needs to know, ie when can they start buying tickets?
  3. On the other hand, don't send a press release too far in advance of the event, as it may 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 press 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 press release.

Copyright Kay Ross

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Kay Ross is a Hong Kong-based marketing consultant & coach, editor and copywriter. She devises creative marketing strategies and crafts compelling English-language marketing communications messages that translate into bottom-line results for her clients. To learn more, visit www.kayross.com.

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Sharing tips at the "Making the Most of the Media" seminar
September 18, 2006