Business Tips: How To Write A Press Release

What to include in a press release, how long it should be and other tips and rules for increasing your chances of getting it published or aired by the media for free.

On any given day, newspapers around the country are inundated with press releases from individuals and organizations with something "exciting" to announce. Unfortunately, the operative word of "exciting" is what often makes the difference between what actually gets printed and what ends up on the cutting room floor. Just because press releases are a free service provided by the media to promote local events and activities does not translate to automatic inclusion and front page glamour.

If you want your announcement to get published in a timely fashion, the following six tips will make you look like a pro.

IS IT REALLY NEED-TO-KNOW INFORMATION?

For a press release to get moved to the top of the editorial stack, it needs to be about something that will impact the greatest number of people. As scintillating as an announcement about the upcoming reunion of the Garcia family might be, for example, the bottom line is that only the immediate friends and relations of the Garcias will probably care. If, on the other hand, a Red Cross blood drive is being held in the community park from 1 until 3 a week from Saturday, this will resonate with the publication's readership because any one of them""at some point in the future""may just be in need of a transfusion.

TAKING "FREE" P.R. TOO FAR

Newspapers always take a hard look at submissions which might better be classified as commercial advertising. Let's say, for instance, that you are opening a new restaurant in town and want everyone to know about it. The newspaper's expectation is that you will pay for and take out a major ad to announce this event. To simply give you a lot of press space for free would set a precedent whereby they'd have to allow all of your competitors to run similar, free announcements themselves. Because newspapers are kept afloat by advertisers, you can easily see why they wouldn't want to do this. On the other hand, if your restaurant happens to be hosting a special event for a non-profit organization, the paper probably wouldn't bat an eyelash because the focus of the press release has now shifted and simply puts your establishment in the generic context of "location."

STAY OBJECTIVE"┬ŽAND BRIEF!

Avoid flowery adjectives, subjective opinions, and unsubstantiated claims when writing your press release. This is strictly news, remember? Readers want to know what the event is, when and where it will be held, how much it costs to get in, and where they can go for further information. Save all of the grand embellishments and testimonials for when you have your own weekly column and byline. You also need to remember that space is at a real premium in most city newspapers; the shorter your press release is, the better chance that it will get published. Avoid passive voice and wishy-washy verbs; your job is to stir public excitement, remember? Familiarize yourself with the brevity of existing press releases, keeping in mind that most editors would like to save themselves the time and trouble of having to rework the submissions they receive. If you plan to submit items on a regular basis to a particular paper, you will endear yourself to the management if your releases can go in "as is."

KNOW YOUR DEADLINES

Many a volunteer PR person for a club or service organization has gotten annoyed at the local press for failing to publicize their event in a timely manner. The fault, however, is more often with the writer for believing that newspaper editors are miracle workers and that an item sent in on Wednesday evening will appear without fail in the next morning's edition. Not so. The more advance notice you can give your local press, the easier it will be for them to accommodate it. This requires you to call ahead and apprise yourself of submission deadlines. An added bonus of advance notice, of course, is that the event may be of sufficient interest to warrant a larger story and/or interviews with the key players.



A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

While many newspapers prefer to stick to straight text regarding community news, a high quality picture can open doors you may not have expected. Is the SPCA hosting a Wiggle/Waggle/Walk to raise funds for the local shelter? What better PR tool than a picture of puppies. Is a celebrity speaking at the local bookstore? Bring in the crowds with a photo to accompany the information on when and where he or she will be autographing books. Perhaps it's the holiday season and your community's historic homes are open for tours. What better enticement than a sneak peek at what prospective visitors can expect. If you do submit photos, of course, make sure that they are the best they can be. Many newspapers will also inquire whether you can submit electronic copies of your work to facilitate the process in the event they choose to use them.

FORMATTING LIKE A PRO

The first line of your submission should indicate the release date (in caps) as this will clue the editor in on the urgency level of publication. For instance, you might use FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE or FOR RELEASE THE WEEK OF DECEMBER 20, 2005.

The next line of your release will be a catchy headline. For example: "Holocaust Survivor Ruby Weisberg to Speak at Soroptimist Luncheon." Your headline should be one sentence only and convey, in a nutshell, what your announcement is all about. For practice, glance through your local paper and make a note of which mini-headlines catch your eye. Strive to emulate their style and snappy slant.

Press releases are always double-spaced. If you can contain all of your information in one paragraph, use block style. If you need to say more, start each paragraph with a 5-space indent. The preferred fonts, by the way, are Courier, Times New Roman, Bookman and Palatino. Make sure, too, that you don't use anything less than a 12 point font and that you do all of your printing in black ink on white bond.

Always assume that the newspaper is going to print as little of your release as possible. Therefore, include your most important information""what, when, where, how much, and contact information""at the very beginning. Subsequent paragraphs can go into more detail but this will essentially be "gravy"; everything the editor and his/her readers need to know has already been shared with them upfront.

Avoid the use of underlining, italics, all uppercase letters and specialized jargon in your press release. Stay away from exclamation points as well, as they communicate that the author is an amateur when it comes to journalism. Don't trust your own eyes, either, when it comes to spelling and grammar. The more errors that crop up in your submission, the more damage is done to your credibility.

Last but not least, always address your press release to the appropriate editor and department. To simply send your work off to the Los Angeles Times will guarantee only one thing: a short trip to a deep wastebasket.

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