A press release, also called a news or media release, is the standard method of distributing news or story to media outlets. Its objective should be to inform journalists of your story or event, and be complete enough to be used with little or no change. A press release is written specifically for a media audience. Note that in some countries, a press release is a paid advertisement. This page refers to press releases that are not paid for and that are sent to journalists on newspapers, magazines, radio and TV, to assist them in producing stories. This page will outline the advantages and disadvantages of using a press release as a communications strategy, and provide practical guidance on how to write and distribute a press release.
A press release usually serves to achieve some of the following:
- Draw attention to an issue.
- Outline an organization’s response to an event or action.
- Provide information about an event or action that will take place, or a report to be launched.
- Announce new campaigns and provide progress reports.
- Provide a report of a meeting.
- Report decisions taken by organizations/groups.
Should I write a press release?
When considering whether to write a press release, you may consider the advantages and disadvantages outlined below.
Advantages of writing a press release
Press release is a very public form of advocacy that can increase pressure on decision-makers to take action. With a press release, you can take your time to craft your message before handing it over to a journalist. In this manner, it lets you control the message by allowing you to offer your selection of facts and opinions, and by letting you decide when to give the information.
You may choose to use press release as part of your advocacy campaign strategy when the general public has been identified as an “indirect target” who will go on to influence a direct target, e.g. voters who will influence a candidate. It may also be useful when influential people are the targets of the article, e.g. politicians, ministers and community leaders reading a newspaper. Press releases are also useful when other advocacy methods are not working or when looking for allies.
Disadvantages of writing a press release
Journalists receive a high volume of press releases on a frequent basis. Consequently, your press release might run the risk of being disregarded, particularly if it is not interesting or if a big news story ‘breaks’. It is also difficult to involve many people in writing a press release.
It is not advisable to involve media in your advocacy work if you are not familiar with how the media in your area or country operates, if there are disagreements within the organization on the issue, or if bigger issues are dominating the media thus preventing your issue from getting appropriate coverage.
How to write a press release
Content of the press release
A press release is a pseudo-news story, written in the third person. It seeks to demonstrate to an editor or reporter the newsworthiness of a particular event, person, service, product or point of view. You may choose to structure your press release with the following advice.
- Headline: write a striking, simple and interesting headline that helps the journalist understand the story and what the news is.
- Opening statement: the first sentence should summarize the most important facts of the story
- Who is involved?
- What is happening?
- Where is it happening?
- When is it happening?
- Why is this happening?
- So what? How does this affect the reader? Why should they care?
- First paragraph: expand on these points in further detail. Include the most important facts first and the least important at the end. The aim of this paragraph is to persuade the reader of the facts and importance of the subject.
- Closing paragraph: your press release should end with a short paragraph that describes you and your organization, and reiterates the importance of the given issue.
- Should be written in third person.
- Use short sentences with around 20 words.
- Use short paragraphs with two to three sentences.
- Avoid using unnecessary adjectives or redundant expressions such as “added bonus” or “first time ever”.
- Avoid using jargon – explain technical words, abbreviations, and initials.
- Avoid fluff, embellishments and exaggerations.
- Mimic the style and story structure of the newspaper or news source you are submitting your press release to.
- Use active, not passive, voice. Do not write: “It is hoped that” Instead, say “I hope that”.
- Use a good case study or anecdote as evidence to support your point of view.
- Incorporate one or two brief and simple quotes that journalists can use in an article.
- Quotes should be used wisely. For advocacy, it should be a strong statement of condemnation or statement of the organization’s position, not a summary of facts we can include as normal text.
- Quotes are very useful for bringing a personal touch and for highlighting the comments of well-known or key people.
- Try to use direct speech quotations (as opposed to indirect quotations) from people involved in the issue or activity that:
- Express an opinion, fact, or be able to support the view you have expressed in your press release.
- Give a human dimension to the story.
- Remember to get permission to use quotations or materials from other organizations.
- Use or create headed paper so that it looks official and professional.
- Make sure that it is laid out in a way that is easy to read.
- Type it, using double spacing, on one side of the paper only.
- Include the date and the name of the organization.
- Provide contact information as available (name, telephone, fax number, and e-mail address).
- Give an embargo time (the day, date, and time when the journalists are allowed to use the information) if necessary.
- Provide brief background notes for the journalist.
- If appropriate, include photographs of key people, places or action mentioned in the press release if you have them.
- Remember to include them in the format specified by the publication.
- In addition to including the attachment, paste the text of the press release into the email body, after your usual letter text so that journalists can review easily.
Distributing your press release
Once a press release has been written, it should be distributed to selected journalists and press associations by fax or e-mail. You can telephone them to ask for these numbers/addresses. Try to research the most relevant journalist(s) and send the release directly to them. When you send press releases, send to staff or freelance journalists as well as editors. Once the journalists receive the press release, they will consider whether to include the story in their media work. They may also contact you for further information. As such, it is best to select one person from your team that will serve as the main contact for journalists and provide a 24-hour contact phone number on the press release if possible, so that you can be contacted at all hours. Remember, journalists have a different schedule than you do and may have some questions to ask pertaining to your press release outside of your normal business hours.
When do I…
- Send a fax? If you do not have a personal contact, fax is a good way to submit your press release. If you do not have a fax machine, try an online fax service, which sends and receives faxes from your computer such as http://www.myfax.com which is good and reasonably priced, and http://faxzero.com/ which is free with certain page restrictions.
- Send an email? Most of the time. Paste your press release into the body of the email instead of just as an attachment. You may attach the release as well, but never just send an attachment.
- Make a phone call? When your story is very urgent and/or breaking news. Only call if you have a 15 second pitch planned and ready to go.
- Send materials by postal mail? Almost never, only upon request.
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