Press releases are used to communicate news, grab attention, and generate publicity.
They are generally sent to local newspapers and other publications, local radio stations (BBC and independents) and regional TV centres.
There may be a number of reasons to send a press release, including:
- a specific event or regular activity – something new to share
- the appointment of a new member of the team – good news to share
- winning an award or recognition – share and celebrate success!
- crisis management – when things go wrong
Whatever the reason you think you have, work through the basics:
- Is my story newsworthy and interesting to anyone else but me / our church?
Make no mistake, when a journalist reads a news release, they are only interested in whether or not it is a good story and an interesting story for their readers/listeners/viewers. It doesn’t matter how interesting or important YOU think it is, if the journalist doesn’t see it as interesting and good for their audience, it won’t make the cut. And if they don't find it interesting in the first couple of paragraphs, it's in the bin!
- What makes a good story?
People stories are always the best, but not all stories are about people. Something new or updated; something different or out of the ordinary; something local and/or relevant to your community; something personal or about a person; something visual. A great story will stick in a person’s memory if it resonates with them.
- Write down the facts
Before you start writing a press release you need to think through what content you have. Write down the detail of what you know - as this helps you gather your thoughts. Who is involved? What is happening? Where is it happening? Why is it happening? How do people feel about this? How will it impact people? What will be the outcome? What do you want your reader to know, feel or do?
- Make it stand out
Journalists receive a lot of news releases each day so they will most likely feature the most interesting stories and the easiest ones to cover. Your subject matter is crucial here and you need to grab their attention in the headline and first paragraph, or you’ll simply be wasting your time! Also, remember that just because you send a press release, it doesn’t guarantee any coverage at all.
- Write a good headline
A good headline will grab the journalist’s attention, but the most important thing is that it leaves them in no doubt what the story is about. Don’t try to be clever with your headline. It needs to convince the journalist that they should read the rest of your release and feature your story (think: it does what it says on the tin).
- Write a good first paragraph
No more than three of four lines, your first paragraph should summarise the story and address the who, what, where, when and why questions.
- Keep it simple
Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to tell every little detail and list and thank everyone involved – this will make your press release long and boring! Keep it simple! Details that are important to you may not be important to a journalist or to a reader. Remember, you are writing for the reader, not for yourself.
- Keep it short
A news release should be less than a side of A4 long (300-400 words). If your news release is longer, you risk it not being read or parts of it being ignored. Sometimes, four or five short paragraphs and a quote is often sufficient.
You should almost always include a quote in a press release, but a quote should be used to add value to the story – aim to make your third paragraph a quote. They should provide a personal view and move the story forward – not information about the church. And don’t let a quote be used as an excuse to include all the boring stuff! Equally, don’t include extra quotes from someone just to satisfy them and make them feel included. If it doesn’t add to the story, don’t use it!
A photo is often essential in modern journalism, and you can attach an image to your press release. However, do ensure that it isn’t a large file size that will clog up the journalist’s inbox (you could instead attach a smaller image size and say in the ‘Notes for Editors’ section that a higher resolution image is available on request). Also, make sure it is a well-taken, relevant and interesting image!
- Notes for editors and contacts
Notes for editors can be used to add contextual information that doesn’t form part of the main story. Adding a contact – someone the journalist can call or email for more information or to discuss anything they’re unsure about – is vital.
- Writing style
The purpose of a press release is to communicate news, so don’t be flowery and casual. You need to strike a formal tone, At the same time, don’t try to be too clever in your use of language and words – write in a natural, flowing way.
Don’t include links to things on your Facebook feed – if you can’t be bothered to put the information in the press release, why should the journalist be bothered to look at it?!
- Get support
Before sending your press release, why not ask the diocesan Communications Team to take a look? Or feel free to talk to us before you start writing so we can give you some pointers and suggestions. Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org or 01332 388671.
- Press ‘send’!
But before you do, make sure you’re sending it to the most appropriate places. Not sure where to send it? Check with the diocesan Communications Team.
For printed publications, remember they often plan and write their copy days or even weeks in advance, so make sure you’ve checked the copy deadline.