News releases, also called press releases, are the quickest, least expensive and most widely used means of initiating media coverage. You can send them to several news outlets at once, which increases your chances of getting coverage. Editors, news directors and assignment editors read news releases to decide whether an event is newsworthy. If you write releases effectively, you’re more likely to sell an editor on your story.
The Anatomy of a News Release
- Start with standard letter-size paper (8.5” x 11”). Use one side and use letterhead if you have it.
- At the top, include your organization’s name (if not already on the letterhead), a contact name, and all possible day, night and weekend contact numbers.
- Also at the top, include the release date (the date on which the information is approved by you to be publicized). Either say: “For immediate release” or “For release at (what time and what date).” Most news releases say, “For immediate release.”
- Next, write a brief, eye-catching headline
- The text of your news release should include who, what, when, where and why. It should also pitch your angle.
- Keep your release as short as possible (one page is best) while relaying the essential information.
- If you name people, identify them by job title, occupation or other facts.
- Be sure to include a brief description of what your group does, or boilerplate. Add it at the bottom of the news release.
- A “###” or “-30-“ symbol at the bottom denotes the end of the news release.
- You may also want note what photo opportunities might be available, and/or what might be of visual interest for television coverage, and provide access to people to be interviewed.
How to Write a News Release
News releases are written in a way different from what most people are used to. Like most newspaper articles, they are designed to have the most important information at the beginning, allowing the piece to be cut from the bottom. Here are a few tips:
- Use the Associated Press Stylebook. It outlines the standard news writing style used by all newspapers. It can be ordered at: https://www.apstylebook.com
- Limit and identify all acronyms
- Never, never use jargon
- Write as if you are explaining it to your mother
- Avoid superlatives. Let the facts speak for themselves.
- Be concise. Keep it simple.
- Be accurate and double-check for errors. If possible, have several people proofread your release before you send it.
- Use the Inverted Pyramid
- The first sentence, or lead, should contain the basic who, what, when, where, why, and how
- Follow with background information
- End with less important information
How to Send Out a News Release
- Restrict news releases to real news. Don't randomly fire out press releases. Occasional, strong, and appropriate ones are better than frequent, weak ones.
- Email it in the body of an email, not as an attachment. More than one person per news outlet is okay. Do not fax. You'll be competing with hundreds of other faxes all going to one number instead of a specific person.
- After you have sent out your release, it is good to follow up with key reporters with a polite phone call to see if each person got it and if they need additional information from you. But be wary of calling a reporter or editor asking if or when a news release is going to get published or aired. Many simply don't like it.
- Always stay on top of local current events so you know what else is causing news in your area. Watch your timing. If there is other local or national news breaking your issue may be ignored.
- “Fact sheets” and packages of useful information can often do more to establish you as a reliable source than simply sending news releases.
- Be creative about getting your organization mentioned in a story. Make follow up calls during a breaking news event. It doesn't have to be your news release or press event for you to get quoted or mentioned in a story.