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Writing press and media releases

link SAMPLE An example of a press release.

What the media wants is good 'copy'. Papers and local radio (even national radio and tv) have to fill their spaces. Anyone can help them to do this. A decent press release with something of a new 'story' is a godsend to them.

There is no need for fancy letter heads (though you may like to have one). Good copy does not need any dressing up. Just head your story with the name of your organization. Under that indicate in a sub-heading that this is a Press Release. Show what organization it is from. Give the date of its issue and give the press officer's name and telephone number.

I like to give a 'headline' showing the main thrust of the story, or the angle you wish to present. It might be something as simple as Recital on historic organ or, if the story justifies it, something more dramatic like Congregation calls for ban on fireworks.

Use double spacing and a good clear font like Times New Roman.

Your story should have a good 'angle' and your opening sentence should normally give its essence. Try to begin with the key word rather than with 'The' or 'A'. But don't worry too much if you cannot manage this. I do quite often break my own rules successfully. Active verbs are preferable to passive ones: not A social evening will be held by members of Pudsey Unitarian Church but Pudsey Unitarians will hold a social evening.

Include as much factual data as you can (check it before you send it out!) For example always give both full Christian/first names and surnames of the main people in your story and perhaps the street, locality (not the house number) where they live. For young people, and with their consent, give their age. This can be useful in some stories about older people too, for example 82-year old organist to give recital. But be sure to check that the individual does not mind having her/his age revealed.

Newspapers and magazines now favour the inclusion of direct speech. It is useful, therefore, to get someone significant to say something significant - albeit brief - that you can then quote in inverted commas, adding says ..x.

Write the story as economically as possible in short - even very short - paragraphs. Never run a paragraph beyond the bottom of a page. Pages must be self contained. Many good press releases will occupy no more than a single page anyway.

Make the first two or three paragraphs as succinct as possible - what, who, where. Then, if you want to amplify the story, or offer more general information about any organization, its history, its membership, individual people, their background, you can do this towards the end of the story. Journalists can cut it out more easily if they wish to. Sometimes papers are glad of additional material... depends how interesting they think it will be to readers and how much space they have to fill.

Some people recommend keeping all releases to a single sheet. I have never found that at all necessary and often get quite long pieces published in their entirety and verbatim. However, if you do use more than one sheet, see that each has a heading which shows that it still relates to the same story and that each page is numbered at the top.

Put 'ends' at the end of the story. Then add further data like 'Further information from...and be sure to give the names and telephone numbers/e-mail addresses of all key contacts.

Do not expect anyone to acknowledge your release. Nor should you expect payment. But you should look out for its appearance (generally much edited) in the papers you have sent it to or try to check whether it has had a mention on local radio.

The same press release can be sent to as many outlets as you like. Just photocopy the original, or run off multiple copies on your printer. However all copies should be posted on the same day by first-class mail.

There is really no point in sending your press release to local or national TV or to national newspapers unless you really think the story is a big one. (Minister unites couple in wedlock isn't; minister blesses gay couple might be; minister knocks bridegroom down is) - but does your congregation want a national splash?

If you know the e-mail address of a paper's editor, or of the news editor, or a relevant member of the news team (e.g. the RE correspondent) then send the release by e-mail. As some editors/newspaper staff are unwilling to open attachments, it is best to copy it into the body of the e-mail.

It is worth planning a press campaign and getting quality black-and-white (in advance - they take time to process) or digital or colour (quickly processed) shots to send with some of your releases.

A press release can be a splendid way of obtaining free publicity for an event. Be sure to send it out in good time (but not more than 3 weeks in advance normally.) If you think the event warrants the attendance of a reporter or the newspaper's photographer, or a tv film crew (!) then include a formal invitation with your release. (But recognise that it is very rare to get someone from the media to attend.)

I don't believe in paying for publicity and I manage to get free notices even of little things like coffee mornings in the local weekly paper (which is one of the best in the country with a very large circulation) but I do sometimes think up rather gimmicky angles like Tea among the churchyard tombs. Even Coffee morning will aid chapel funds will do but Chapel to hold coffee morning is too lame.

You can, of course, send reports of events that have already occurred. These will normally be published only by the local weekly papers and provided that you get them in three or four days before the paper's day of publication. However I do get a fair amount of stuff in the regional evening paper by sending it by e-mail on the evening that the event has happened or by taking it into the newspaper office by 9.30am the next day.

A provocative talk, or a sermon, is sometimes worth reporting, briefly, for the local paper.

If you do have a really big story, then phone any papers, or radio stations, that you like, asking to be put through to the news-desk. If, for example, someone crashes his car just as he arrives at a meeting and it bursts into flames..A good citizen calls the fire brigade, a good doctor gives first aid, but a good journalist gets out her mobile to contact the media..

Kate Taylor, November 2002