Writing a press release
Thousands of media releases are generated every day on issues as diverse as cattle management, interest rates and struggles for national liberation. Most of these will not succeed in attracting media coverage – at least not on television or in the main newspapers.
Sometimes this will be because the subject matter is not relevant to a broad audience; sometimes it will be because of something as simple as the title not being catchy.
There are a number of things you can do to maximise your chances of the media reporting your issue. It’s also important to remember that the media is broad and diverse and there are many thousands of small publications and radio programs focusing on specific areas of interest. So, while you may not make it on to the evening news, you could find yourself reaching audiences you were never even aware of!
Here are some tips to help you get started on your media release.
Follow format protocol
A media release should be set out on a standard size (A4) sheet of paper with a margin of at least 2 centimetres on each side and at the top and bottom. It should include the words ‘Media Release’ in large, bold font near the top of the page, so that it is clear what it is.
It is also important for the media to know exactly who has issued the media release. If you are writing it on behalf of an organisation, you can use letterhead or a small logo. If you are writing it on your behalf, you will need to make sure your name and a relevant description of yourself are set out near the top of the page – for example, ‘Melanie Brown, Smith Street High School Student’. Don’t use graphics or pictures on the release.
The headline of your media release will be the first thing a reader looks at. Put it in bold, large font. The headline serves two purposes: the first is to make it clear what the issue is and what the main message of the media release is, and the second is to catch the reader’s attention and inspire them to read on. For these reasons, the title should be short, punchy, bold and clever.
Say it in the first sentence
Think about the most important and catchy point you want to make and put it in the first sentence. Remember the journalist may never make it to the bottom of the page!
Keep it short and sharp
A media release should never exceed one page. Don’t forget that the main purpose of the release is to catch the media’s attention. If they need more information, they will contact you to follow up.
Your sentences and paragraphs should be short and sharp. Set your other points out clearly and logically and delete any unnecessary words or phrases. Try not to use acronyms, abbreviations or jargon. Although it may seem like stating the obvious, try not to make your media release boring. Boring stories do not make news.
Direct quotes are essential in a media release. They enable a journalist to report on the issue or event as if they had conducted an interview with you. Remember, you may only get one quote into a radio story or newspaper article, so each quote should be worthy of publication. Ideally, quotes should be short, punchy and contain an interesting piece of information or argument.
Individuals quoted in a media release should be identified by their position – for example, ‘Matthew Davis, Chair of the Broken Hill Aboriginal Health Action Group’.
Does it pass the ‘no idea’ test?
If someone with no background on your issue read your release, would they understand it? Your release must be informative, interesting, relevant and, most importantly, easy to understand. You must inspire the reader to want to do something about your issue.
Back it up
If you are making claims, you need to have facts and figures to back them up. Try not to make generalisations.
Don’t be libellous
It is critical that you don’t make statements in a media release that could get you sued. Statements like, “The Minister is a liar”, even if they may be true, are not a good idea.
What do you want?
Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve by having your issue covered in the media. If someone hears about your issue on the radio or reads about it in the newspaper, is there any follow up action that you want them to take? If you would like them to attend a rally or sign a petition, for example, make sure you include all the information they will need to do this.
Include contact details
The last thing on your media release should be the name of a contact person and their contact details. Make sure the contact person is going to be available to take calls from the media on the number you have provided.
If you have time, put the release aside for an hour then re-read it. Ask yourself whether it is logical, informative and compelling. Is everything spelt correctly? Is it something that will advance your issue or organisation? If so, it’s ready to go!