Writing Press Releases

A press release can be an effective way to share your program’s story with the media. Use a press release to:

  • Inform the community and potential funders of your successes
  • Highlight your program if you have won awards or recognition
  • Announce classes, workshops, conferences, and special events
  • Demonstrate how you are making a difference

Strategies for Effective Press Releases

  • Use a catchy and interesting title to capture attention.
  • Find the personal stories within your agency. Volunteers are doing amazing things — use the press release to share the tangible human-interest side of your work.
  • Time your press release for when the newspaper is looking for stories — summer is usually the thinnest news time of the year.
  • Keep a copy of all of your press releases and newspaper articles. Reuse them as marketing pieces or selling tools when seeking potential funders or recruiting volunteers.

Guidelines

When writing a press release, follow these four guidelines:

  1. The purpose of a press release is to get attention.

The idea behind a press release is to stir up interest so that a reporter will interview you and write a full-page story rather than just a couple of lines of text. To get attention do provide enough information to be informative but don’t tell the whole story! Leave out just enough so that someone from the media will call you for more information.

  1. Use proper formatting.

A press release should only be limited to one page — one double-spaced side of an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper. If you can't say it in one page, keep editing until the story fits.

Include the following information at the top of the page:

  • (Upper right corner)Contact Information: include the name, phone number, and e-mail address of the person who can be contacted by reporters for more information.
  • (Upper left corner) Date and time for the story's release (e.g., "For Release at 9:00 a.m., April 2, 2002" or "For Immediate Release").
  • A powerful headline that describes the content. For example, you might say something such as "Grandparents Go Back to School" or "Seniors Receive Stipends." The headline is ninety percent of your release — make it riveting and get attention by using a boastful claim.
  1. Apply the inverted pyramid format to your content.

By using the inverted pyramid format, a press release puts the important information at the top. If someone reads just a few lines, they will have a good idea of what it is about. The inverted pyramid style uses the following elements:

  • Lead or summary: One to three sentences that answer the questions who, what, when, where, why, and how.
  • Bridge: Connects the lead to more detailed information to follow. This section may give more "how" and "why" information not included in the lead.
  • Body: This is where you may include more quotes or details illustrating your issue. If you do include quotes, use ones from experts that pertain to your issue and complement the lead.  Additionally, identify the people you quote with more than just a name. Don't just write "…says Lynne Brown." Instead write, "…says Professor Brown, a bilingual educator at the University of Massachusetts."
  • Call to action: What do you want the person reading this press release to do? Remember, the purpose of the press release is to get attention. Your call to action might say things like: "For more information, call the RSVP director at 415-202-7789" or "To find out how you can volunteer, contact Lynn Brown."
  • Dateline: Before the first paragraph indicate where and when the story was released (e.g., Sacramento, May 15, 2001).
  • Remember: The goal of a press release is simply to connect with you. Don't try to make a hard sell for anything with a press release — it isn’t appropriate and media people may find it distasteful.
  1. Revise and refine.

The last step in writing a press release is to leave it for a while. Do a final check for spelling, punctuation, and clarity. Then, when you think you have completed it, have someone else read it through. Finally, make sure that your release states your purpose in the beginning, and that you have included contact information.

This material was adapted with permission from the presentation "How to Write a Press Release," presented at the 2001 Cluster Conference in Philadelphia by Lynne Brown-Zounes, Senior Corps project director, Lowell, Massachussets. Download a Sample Press Release written by Lynne.


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