Friday, February 8, 2008

Press Release Basics

I've posted before about what separates a good press release from a bad one for non-profit organizations. It's been a while though, so I thought it might be helpful to revisit some basic principles of press-release writing in an easy-to-digest format.

Never forget that a press release is chance to tell a story. And any good story (and therefore any good press release) has the following elements:
  1. A central human story. If your release isn't about people - their lives, passions and struggles, it's a lot less likely to grab the attention of anyone - including the media. Start with the people in your story and deliver your message from their perspective.
  2. A central conflict. A great story requires conflict - something that must be overcome or resolved. Without conflict there can be no transformation, and without transformation your release is likely to fall flat.
  3. A beginning, middle and end. Your release has to answer the question "what happens next?" to grab your readers attention and keep them engaged. Begin by explaining who is telling the story, then discuss what conflict they're trying to resolve, then end with the outcome of that resolution. Skip a step, and you'll lose your reader's attention and interest.
  4. A way to find out more. The point of issuing a press release is to create a reason for the media to write about your organization. If you're successful, reporters will need to contact you to generate a story. Make it easy for them to find out more about your organization (see my earlier post about creating a media kit), and easy for them to contact you directly.
In terms of structure - your release should follow these standard conventions so that reporters can easily find their way through your information.
  1. Your organization's logo should be at the top of the page
  2. Your designated speaker (probably your ED) should be listed immediately underneath your logo along with their direct contact information (land line, cell phone and email address)
  3. When your release can be published (e.g., "For immediate release", or "Release Date: February 24th, 2008")
  4. Release headline (in all capital letters) and (optional) subhead (with the first letter of each word capitalized)
  5. Location and date of the release (e.g., "San Francisco, CA - February 24th, 2008") in bold text
  6. Leading paragraph (a short paragraph that acts as a summary of the release - assume that this is all the reporter will read before deciding whether to throw your release away - make it as engaging as possible)
  7. Body of release (try to keep it to a single page)
  8. A brief descriptive organization paragraph (begin the paragraph "About [orgname] - " in bold text) that describes what your organization does.
  9. Contact information (e.g., "If you’d like more information on this topic, or to schedule an interview with [designated speaker], please contact [name, email and phone number of scheduler for designated speaker].")
  10. A marker that the release is complete (the convention is to use "--- END ---", centered, at the bottom of the release). If you aren't able to keep your release to a single page (which is always preferred), be sure to use the tag (again, centered) "--- MORE ---" at the bottom of the first page, and then "--- END ---" at the end. This is a holdover from when most releases were faxed - and fax machines were notorious for only sending partial documents.
I hope this helps as you generate press releases for your organization. Good luck - and be sure to send me any success stories you might have!


Anonymous said...

I found your article extremely informative. I try to promote certain charities on my blog and I would really love to be able to effectively increase volunteer participation. I will definitely follow your guidelines to develop a good post that will attract people to the featured charity...

Thanks! Keep them coming

Leyla Farah said...

I'm thrilled to be able to help!

Thanks for stopping by - and good luck with your efforts!