Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What is a press release?

There are several tools and tactics that can be used to communicate an organization's news to the media. One of the most popular methods is the press release (also known as a news release). To provide a concrete example, below is a press release that I wrote and distributed when I worked for a company called West. Let's take a look at some of the key elements of a press release:

1. Company information: The company name, address, phone number and website URL let journalists know who is sending the information.
2. Media contact: Journalists need to know whom to contact for more information or to request an interview. Often the media contact is the person who wrote the press release, but it's more important for the contact to be someone whom journalists can get in touch with quickly if they would like to do a story.
3. Headline: Summarizes the essence of the story; Ann Wylie, a highly respected communications professional, recommends that the headline be eight words or fewer.
4. Subhead/deck: Provides an opportunity to expand a bit upon the headline while still providing a summary. Wylie recommends that the deck be 14 words or fewer.
5. Dateline: Includes information on the city and state the information is originating from as well as the date of release.
6. Body: This is the essence of the news release, and includes more details about the announcement, quotes from appropriate people, etc. When writing the body, try to think like a journalist. Consider what will be most interesting to a media outlet's audience (the news hook). Given that many media outlets are doing more with less, there's a distinct possibility that your press release could be used verbatim.
7. Boilerplate: Offers a summary of the organization issuing the press release, such as services offered, ticker symbol, key statistics, etc.
8. Close: Lets the journalist know that this is the end of the press release; typically "###" or "-30-". Also, in case the pages get separated, it's important to include "2 of 3" or the respective number of pages.

A related tactic used to announce information -- generally events -- to the media is called a media advisory. Below is an example from my days at Musicland Stores Corporation.

Let's take a look at the key elements of a media advisory:
1. Contact information: It's important for reporters to know whom to contact if they want more information or need credentials to cover an event.
2. Headline: Again, a pithy summary is best.
3. Facts: This is the essence of the media advisory, answering the core questions that reporters have about an event and why it is newsworthy.
4. Boilerplate: Offers a summary of the organization issuing the media advisory, such as services offered, ticker symbol, key statistics, etc.

In general, media advisories should be limited to one page to make it easier for reporters to capture the essence of an event -- the purpose of a media advisory is to get the reporter to attend the event in person.

For a collection of more public relations tips, insights and reflections, buy the book "19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management" from amazon.com!
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