Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Need help with a press release?

At C+E, we get asked for help with press releases all the time.  I've also addressed the topic on this blog a few times before.  But since it seems to come up often, I thought it was worth another short post. 

Of course, press release writing is one of the services we provide for our clients, but if you're looking for some quick DIY tips, read on.

Start by writing a short response to each of the questions below:
  1. What's the big news? What's the one thing you want people to know?
  2. Who is it about?  Give a little detail on the human being(s) behind the announcement, and what makes them special.
  3. Why is it important? Is it the first time this has happened?  Is it a brand new idea? 
  4. How can people get involved? Is there a place they can sign up? Find out more?
  5. Who are you? What's your story in 3 sentences or fewer?
Once you have these key building blocks to work with, put them all together so your final release looks something like the template below (note that everything contained in [brackets] should be considered instructional, and replaced/removed before your final is ready for release):


[Your name and title]
[Your group or organization's name]
[Your phone#]
[Your email address]


[Secondary headline - if needed]

[Your city, State] -- [Today's date]  Use the first paragraph to answer item #1 from above.  You want this paragraph to be about 2 or 3 sentences long - not longer.  And it should be written to make the reader want to hear more about the thing you're announcing.  Avoid exclamation marks and words like "amazing" and "spectacular" and "out of this world" - editors might think you sound a little silly.

The second paragraph is your answer to item #2 above.  This is your chance to make your release feel human.  Quotes from key people, a personal story, or a little fun fact is a good way to help the reader connect with your story.  Editors are still trying to figure out what makes your announcement of interest to their audience.  If you can't help them answer that question, they'll ignore your release - and rightfully so.

The third paragraph is your chance to answer item #3 from above.  If you believe your announcement is important enough to be considered "news" - this is your chance to explain why.  What's newsworthy about it?  Why should it make the papers or the evening broadcast?  What's makes it special?  Here's another opportunity for a quote from key players, or a human interest anecdote.

Finally, wrap up with an action item.  How can people get more involved? Where can they find out more about the thing you're announcing?

[Traditionally, a set of ### symbols is used to indicate the reader has reached the end of your announcement - it should appear centered underneath your final paragraph]   

About [you or your group]
Include a 2 or 3 sentence summary of who you are immediately under your release.  This is your chance to explain why you're qualified to make this announcement, and how to find out more about you.  Be sure to include a URL to your website if you have one.

[Traditionally the word 'end' should appear at the end of your release to indicate there's nothing else to read - it should appear centered underneath your 'about' paragraph]   
--- END ---

When you're ready to send your release out into the world, consider using the following (free) services:
- PitchEngine (one of our favorites at C+E - check out our agency's newsfeed to see how it works)
- Facebook (you can publish your release as a "note" on your group's fan page and publish it to your followers that way)
- PresseNews (for international distribution)
- Gay Media and Press Network (for LGBT media distribution)

Have other suggestions?  Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fighting Hate With History

The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report this week confirming that membership in extremist groups in the United States saw exponential growth in 2009.  The report, titled "Rage on the Right," said anti-government "patriot" groups saw a 244 percent increase in new groups in 2009 - with the total number of groups growing from 149 in 2008 to 512 (including 127 new militia groups) that year.
"This extraordinary growth is a cause for grave concern.  The people associated with the Patriot movement during its 1990s heyday produced an enormous amount of violence; most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead."
--  SPLC Intelligence Report editor Mark Potok.
Hate comes in all forms, but at its root it's not complicated.   Change frightens people.  Cultural shifts in cultural norms related to skin color, language, religion and gender roles have rocked this country to its core on a regular, almost rhythmic, schedule.

One of the more recent of these shifts centers around sexual orientation.  As the overall climate of hate in this country has intensified, hatred specifically directed towards the LGBT community has intensified as well.

On one hand, this new climate has set the LGBT equality movement back on its heels.  Those working to pass marriage equality at both the federal and state levels have faced multiple setbacks.  Activists are still both stunned and frustrated in the aftermath of California's Proposition 8 still.  Larger LGBT organizations face uphill battles over ENDA and DADT.  LGBT individuals and communities are witholding political contributions around the country in protest.

On the other hand, though, it appears that the general pattern of social change is simply taking its course.  Before each breakthrough -the Suffragettes, the Civil Rights Movement, and others - the tectonic shifts of culture are inevitably preceeded by an intense moment of cultural conservatism.  As  change looms in the distance, those that are most opposed to its approach expend unusual amounts of energy to stop it.

I choose to believe that is where we find ourselves today.  This moment - as we face unprecedented backlash against the very idea that LGBT people could be legally and socially equal to their non-LGBT neighbors - is a necessary evil.  Our job is to survive it.  And to ensure that our community's children survive it free of the physical, psychic and social scars that so many of us have had to bear.

The truth is, there is only one way to survive intact.  And that is to carry our stories - our history - our truths - with us.  Without them, we have no community of our own.  We have no way to reassure our youth that they have solid, safe roots from which to draw strength when things get hard.

If we don't actively preserve our own stories, our community's history and legacy, we will lose them forever.  And we will lose a critical part of what we have been fighting so hard to acheive.  Political and legal equality will mean less if we don't collectively remember what it means to live without it.

The only way to win against those that are working so hard to destroy us, is to faithfully remember how far we've come - and that this is simply the last, painful - but so very necessary - step at the end of a very, very long road. 

There are many efforts underway to collect and preserve the LGBT history that is all around us.  A small handful of them are below. Please feel free to suggest additional resources in the comments section.