News Releases CSE/ISE 300 Spring 2011 Tony Scarlatos
What is a Press Release? • A press release (often also called a news release) is a communication between the author and the media, such as a news organization (print, TV, radio, web). • Press releases seek to provide publicity for a news-worthy item, such as an event, or a new discovery or invention. • Press releases provide journalists at the news outlet with an information subsidy with which to develop a story. The goal is to get a story published, or to have the news item included in a story about similar and related topics. • As such, press releases should conform to journalistic norms for content and format.
Not to be confused withAdvertising or Public Relations • Advertising and Public Relations are generally aimed at media consumers (not media producers), like potential customers. • Standards for accuracy, context, and completeness of the information are much looser. • The emphasis is on persuasion, not merely providing information. • A much more imaginative writing style is required. Above: Nike ad and Dove Soap PR campaign
Anatomy of a Press Release Optional Author’s Contact Info Release Date Headline & Subhead News Hook Lede Body Boilerplate Close Further Contact Info Template from Publicity Insider (www.publicityinsider.com)
Before you start writing… • Consider which news outlet(s) would be likely to run a story like your news release. • What section (or column) of the newspaper would it be published in, or what segment of a show would broadcast it? • Which reporter has that beat? (You should read some of their recent columns, get a sense of their style). • Who do you think the reporter’s audience is? Are they consumers or professionals? What are their interests and concerns? • Getting a feel for the kind of information a particular reporter or columnist needs will help you to write a news release that will get used.
Press Release Header Components • Letterhead or Company/Institution logo • Optional • Letterhead does provide the news editor/columnist with some authentication/validation of the integrity of the source • Contact Information (left margin) • Contact information of the author, who is not necessarily the subject of the press release • Should include phone number and email address, other information is optional (and probably best left out) • Release Date (right margin) • Can be either “Immediate” or “Embargoed Until…” • Embargoed press releases specify the date on which the information can be published
The start of the Press Release • Headline and Subhead (typically centered) • The headline is the “news hook”. It should be short and is designed to catch the reader’s attention. Sometimes the headline is set in all caps, a larger font, or in bold. The Subhead clarifies the headline and adds some key detail(s) to it. • Dateline • Provides the name of the city where the author is writing the press release, and the date it was written. • Optional
The body of the Press Release • The Lede (lead paragraph) • The most important part of the news release. It should encapsulate the story: what it is about and why it matters. This may be the only part of the release that gets read, so it has to provide the “gist” of the story in a few sentences. • Body copy • Several paragraphs that address the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of the story in more detail. Whenever possible it should contain at least one quote from a principal in the story (i.e. a researcher or event coordinator), which adds human interest. • Boiler plate (last paragraph) • Provides background information and context for the story. For example it may provide information about a research lab, such as the types of research done there, the specialized equipment it has, how many grad students work there, the level of funding, etc.
The end of the Press Release • The Close • Centered below the last paragraph, it is indicated by three “pound” signs in a row: ### • Signals the news editor/reporter that the dispatch is over • Further contact information • Sometimes referred to as the “call to action” • Provides contact information for one (or several) of the principals in the news release • Can also provide information to readers about how to get involved (i.e. where to get tickets, how to participate, key dates, etc.)
Press Release Tips and Tricks • Write the headline after you have written the body of the news release. It is likely that a good headline will emerge from the facts presented in the story. • Press releases are rarely more than one page (less than 500 words). So use a compact writing style, avoiding redundancy, cliché, hyperbole, and jargon. • Press releases need to be timely. Try to tie the story into a current event to give it additional relevance. • News releases accompanied by a photo or illustration are more likely to be run. The photo can’t be gratuitous, and the release must stand on its own without it. A good short caption for the photo is also important. Rights to use the photo or illustration must be cleared before sending out the release.
Preparing for the Interview • First of all, do your homework (research the story). You are looking for a quote that will add human interest to a story you are already very familiar with, not looking for someone who will explain everything to you from scratch. • Write out a half-dozen questions that are open-ended (not yes/no). Some examples: • What do you see as the significance of your discovery? • What will be the benefit of participating in this event? • What were some of the challenges you overcame? • What implications does your discovery have for future research?
Contacting Your Source • Always bear in mind your source is busy and he or she is doing you a favor. Contact them well before your deadline. • You can contact them by email, and follow up by phone (once). Do not harass your source! Introduce yourself, explain the purpose of the contact, indicate your interest in the story, ask them for an interview when it is mutually convenient (look up their office hours, for example). • It is fine to send your questions to them in advance. If they cannot meet with you, ask them to submit their answers in writing. Tell them you are looking for a few short quotes for your story. • It is much better if you can meet them at their place of work (i.e. research lab). That will give you a chance to look around, maybe even snap a picture or two (with permission). • Offer to send them a copy of the release when it is finished.
Conducting the Interview • Tell your source you only need about 15 minutes of their time. Be prompt to your appointment! • Be prepared with your list of questions and a notepad. Ask your source if it is OK to record the interview. Even if you record the interview you should be taking notes as well. • Try to get them talking right away. Ask open-ended questions that allow them to elaborate. • If they go over the time allotted it’s OK. If you have to leave, mention politely that you have enough information and don’t need to take any more of their valuable time. • When the interview is concluded thank them for their time and provide your contact information should they want to follow up with you.
Search Engine Optimization • SEO formatting of news releases is a new area. • The inclusion of keywords in your copy, digital media, hyperlinks, and breakout quotes increase the chances the release will get picked up by search engines.