Press releases are how organizations can communicate with large numbers of people at once. Imagine if your organization is holding a fund-raiser, and no one knows about it. How much money are you going to raise? You could go door to door soliciting funds, but we all know how popular unwanted solicitors are. We could put posters up on telephone poles and at the local stores, but people have a tendency to ignore them. Announcing through the media is the best, easiest and least expensive way to get the word out.
A press release is not an advertisement. If you want to pay money for advertising, you can put an announcement into the paper or on the air, but that can become costly. Press releases are free, and people tend to look at news-type items more than ads anyway. But you cannot “advertise” in press releases. You can’t identify upcoming sales, for instance. You have to be discussing non-profit topics, like fund-raisers, that the public will have an interest in.
The audience for your press release will usually be the general public. If you have announcements for specific organizations, you shouldn’t use press releases. For instance, if you represent the Girl Scouts, and you want to mention an upcoming meeting for local Girl Scout leaders, you’d be better off sending out memos or letters to the leaders. A press release has to announce an event open to the public. If you are inviting people to come and see if they want to become Girl Scout leaders, that is fine.
But your real audience for a press release is the newspaper editor or the TV or radio new director. It will be up to them as to whether they will publish or announce your release. So you have to sell the idea to them. Let them know the public will be interested in your topic, that it is open to a wide-ranging audience. Find something in your opening that will be attractive to the public.
The press release is a little different than most of the other assignments you’ve had in that your initial reader (the editor) is liable to make some changes to it. So it should be double spaced (remember how composition teachers wanted you to double space so they could mark your essays). The press release should also include a heading identifying the topic, your position with the organization, the date this release can be used and a contact phone number so the media can contact you if need be.
Let’s take a look at a press release, paragraph by paragraph, to see how it should be organized from most to least important information.
Lake Champlain Basin Program CONTACT: Bill Smith
45 Snurf Street (561-0000)
Plattsburgh, N.Y. 12901 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PLATTSBURGH – Scientists will discuss ways to reduce phosphorus in Lake Champlain
at the Oct. 11 meeting of the Management Conference.
Your opening paragraph should be very brief. Remember, in the paper, you are dealing with a different medium: columns. So paragraphs will appear to be much longer than they are. A five or six line paragraph on 8 1/2 by 11 paper will be three times as long in an article. So pick the most important point you want to say and use it in your opening paragraph.
The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at Howard Johnson’s in Plattsburgh
and begins at 10 a.m.
Although both of these sentences could have been combined in one paragraph, it is better to separate them in two for press releases. Again, the column issue comes into play.
strategies to reduce the amount of phosphorus that is entering the lake. Watzin and her staff
have been analyzing the impact of phosphorus in Lake Champlain over the past several months.
As the public-relations person for your organization, you may not be the expert on the topic you are writing about. You might want to interview someone you can use as a qualified source. Letting your reader know you have done research will improve the validity of what you have to say.
“Phosphorus loading is definitely a problem that the Management Conference has to take
a serious look at,” Watzin said. “There are many possibilities (for reducing phosphorus) available
to them, but they have to look at costs and potential impacts on business and industry.”
Direct quotes are very important in press releases. They add to the news-worthy aspect of the release. Someone in authority is speaking. It’s not just a publicity document from the public-relations department. It also makes the information timely. Watzin is telling us right now that this is a problem.
Eric Smeltzer and Richard Croft, biologists from the Vermont Department of Environmental
Conservation, will discuss trends in phosphorus movement throughout the lake. Vermont contributes
about 75 percent of the phosphorus that is entering Lake Champlain.
Remember, you are dealing with facts here. Try to give your reader enough information to influence them to attend. If they see that more than just one expert is involved, it may be enough to get them involved.
Phosphorus is a nutrient that comes from many different sources, including sewage-treatment
plants and runoff from farms and urban areas. Too much phosphorus in the lake causes excessive
growth of algae and other plants in the lake.
Definitions are always important in all the documents we’ve been discussing, but this issue has been around for a long time, and most people attracted to the article would know about phosphorus. So the information has been included, but quite a ways down in the story. Remember, you are going from most to least important info.
A forum for public comment will also be held from 10:05 to 10:15 a.m. Anyone with
questions or concerns about lake-related issues is invited to participate.
When announcing an upcoming meeting, you can’t say everything there is to say about the meeting. You don’t want to give the entire agenda. But there may be other issues besides your main point you want to present. The fact that the public can talk at this meeting is kind of important but should follow the info about phosphorus.
The Management Conference is a group of local, state and federal officials, as well as
business, educational and environmental leaders. The group is responsible for developing
a management plan for the lake’s future. Funding for the program comes from the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
at a site to be determined in Vermont.
These last two paragraphs include information the writer wants to include but knows may not be included in the final news article. If your release is going to be cut, it will probably be cut from the bottom up, so don’t put essential information there. You are vying for space on the air or in the paper. Be happy with what you get.
Information on submitting a Press Release is provided on the next page.