Writing a Media Release
Media releases (also known as press or news releases) are processed pieces of news. They can be used to announce or report on meetings, demonstrations, decisions, the launch of new campaigns, responses to issues of the day and progress reports on campaigns. For examples of previous Viva! press releases, click here.
Newsrooms will receive piles of media releases every day and most of them will only be glanced at before hitting the bin. Therefore only use when there is something to say! Valuable time and money can easily be wasted on media releases.
The better the media release the greater its chances of survival. The easier it is for a journalist to use the more likely it is to make it into print.
A media release is not an in-depth report on the issue or the event but an outline of the facts concerning it. Keep it brief and to the point giving only as much detail as an uninformed person needs to understand. Use short paragraphs and sentences which only contain one idea. Use language which is clear, positive and strong.
Don’t use facts and figures for which there is no proof or quotes which cannot be substantiated. Don’t exaggerate things out of proportion or use information where the source is dubious.
Start the page with a headline which sums up the key point of the story. This is often easier to write once the whole thing is finished.
The first paragraph is the most important part of the media release because it is the part which will be read first. It can be the deciding factor as to whether the press release hits the headlines or the bin.
Always begin with the famous five ‘W’s - What, Who, Where, When and Why. If these questions are answered, it is unlikely that any key ingredients will be missed out.
Whenever possible use a short quote from a named person in the group. This expresses the group’s opinion without confusing it with the facts. It will also serve to add a personal touch to the story eg. Juliet Carter, coordinator of Brighton Viva! stated: “We are delighted that Brighton Council have rejected the planning application from Moron Meat Farms. Thousands of animals have been saved from a life of hell.”
If an event is being planned mention any special visual element to it because this can act as ‘bait’ to get coverage. This must be true because, if a reporter and photographer turn up on the day and the ‘special visual element’ consists of one badly written placard they are unlikely to turn out for future events. If the release is going to a radio station the visual effect may still be relevant as a radio reporter may come to your event and describe it.
Headed paper should be used for the media release, if the group has it. If not, head the page prominently with the group’s name, address and tel.
The easier it is to read the more likely it will be considered. Therefore, type it neatly using double spacing with wide margins. Type on one side of the paper only. Press releases should be one or two pages long at the most.
At the top of the page put the date that it is going to be sent (which may not necessarily be the same day as it is written) and ‘Media Release’. ‘News Release’ can be used if preferred. (They’re not called ‘press releases’ because they don’t just go to the press.) If a second page has to be used put ‘More follows’ or ‘Continued’ at the bottom of the first page, number the second and repeat the heading of the press release, adding ‘...Continued’. Staple both sheets together so that one doesn’t go astray making the press release worthless.
Under the last sentence of the release put ‘Ends’ so it is clear that it has finished. At the bottom of the page put the name and telephone number (day and evening) of someone who a journalist can contact for more information. This person should be available to take calls and should have the release and further information to hand.
If the story is not to be used until a specific time, such as when an action has been planned and pre-publicity would be detrimental to its effectiveness an embargo should be used. This is simply an instruction placed at the top of the release eg. ‘Not for broadcast before 1.00am Tuesday 4 March 2004’ or ‘Embargoed until....’. An embargo should be timed carefully taking into consideration journalist’s deadlines and should be used only when really necessary. Embargoes will usually be respected but if one is broken complain straight away. If an embargo is not being used put ‘For Immediate Release’ at the top.
Before the release is actually posted or delivered it should be proof read by someone, other than the writer, for mistakes. Always keep copies of press releases and make a note of who they are sent to and when.
After the release has been sent
Follow up the sending of the media release with a phone call a couple of days later to check that it has arrived and been read. This is particularly important if it is about an event for which media coverage is being sought.
This telephone call can be used as an opportunity to ‘sell’ the story and establish personal contact. Have further information to hand in case it is needed.
If the press release is used check the coverage to make sure there are no inaccuracies or misrepresentations.
Valuable media coverage can be gained through the use of press releases - but only if they are properly written and presented. It is important that the release is written enough in advance so that it can be gone over again not only to check for mistakes but to make sure it says everything it needs to, nothing more and nothing less.