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Your organization thinks it has some news to report and your plan is to disseminate it via a press release to media outlets throughout your region. But wait... is your story strong enough to stand up in a press release? Or will it end up on the newsroom floor? The fact is, many groups spend precious time and money putting out press releases on news that is not fit to print. This practice will not net you positive media coverage and even worse, may hurt your credibility with reporters.

Can't figure out whether your story is press release worthy? Use the following strategy section and /files/includes/top.css 10 lists as a guide:

A press release is used to let the media know about breaking news from or about a newsworthy event or the announcement of an important decision. Releases should be written like the best of all possible "stories" coming out of your event. You want reporters to be able to write a short news story directly from your press release.

10 Reasons to Write A Press Release

  1. Your mayor has made a groundbreaking decision regarding one of your concerns and you are issuing a reaction.
  2. You want to release new data on an environmental problem you are studying.
  3. An important and precedent-setting legal decision is made.
  4. You want to disseminate the announcements made at a press briefing you had with top experts on your issue to a broader group of reporters unable to attend the briefing.
  5. You want to deliver a local reaction to a major national environmental decision.
  6. You want to expose or counter a controversial environmental legislative bill/rider in progress.
  7. You want to release a report card or indicator report from respected sources on how cities/states are fairing in addressing your environmental problem.
  8. You want to release new polling which strongly shows support for your campaign.
  9. You want to highlight an event such as a public hearing or a demonstration, for reporters covering your issue.
  10. You've reached a "milestone" event -- for example, collecting 225,000 signatures to place an initiative on the ballot.
10 Reasons Not to Write A Press Release
  1. Your organization hires a new employee. (Put this in your newsletter instead.)
  2. You plan an event at which Joe Shmoe will be reading from his book ... (Note this in your newsletter or a calendar instead.)
  3. Because you like to send out a press release at least once a month.
  4. Your organization releases its annual report. (Annual reports are not geared towards a media audience.)
  5. Your organization receives a $10,000 grant.
  6. You want to announce an event. (Use a media advisory instead.)
  7. Your news is "soft" or "featurey". (Make individual pitch calls to reporters instead.)
  8. You want to announce a benefit lunch for your organization. (Use a calendar notice instead.)
  9. You want to announce your new office address. (Use a postcard instead.)
  10. You want to announce your new web site. (Use a postcard instead.)
(Keep in mind, the preceding "/files/includes/top.css 10" lists are illustrative, not ironclad rules.)

If you think your idea passes the press release criteria test, remember these useful tips for writing an effective news release:

  • Use a catchy headline. You need to hook reporters into your story, and make sure they get the gist of your news story immediately. Include all the facts necessary for a reporter to file a story. Write it in an inverted pyramid format: conclusion first with a soundbite quote, then supporting facts, with the least interesting information or history at the end. The lead is used to grab a reporter's attention but should also concisely summarize your "news." Include a quote or two from your spokesperson or use two different sources for quotes. The last sentence or two should describe the organization that is announcing the news, and potentially point reporters to a website for more information.

  • Releases should end with ### at the end as a signal to reporters that they have the entire document. Releases that are more than one page in length should state -more- or -continued- on the bottom of the first page so that reporters look for the next page. Press releases should never be more than two pages.

  • At the top of the second page, use a one-word "slug" to indicate it is the second page of the release. For example, a release about logging issues in the Pacific Northwest might use the slug "logging/page 2." This is helpful in case the two pages become separated at the fax machine.

  • Releases are sent on the sponsoring organization's letterhead with a date of release and a contact person's name and phone number clearly listed at the top.

  • Releases should be sent to beat reporters who cover your issue; e.g. environment, education, etc., assignment editors at television or radio stations and radio and TV producers or bookers who schedule for shows that may cover your issue. In the case of a release that follows a press event, the release should be sent out to the same list of reporters who received a media advisory about the event. You may also want to add others if new angles develop. You should also include the release in press kits handed out at your media event or mailed to journalists who express interest.

CASE STUDY: In order to increase media attention to the roll-out of an unprecedented environmental paid ad campaign, EMS created a press release describing the ad campaign, its ads, and contributors. EMS used the unique combination of collaborators as the lead topic, included quotes from organizers and participating organizations, and a brief description of a few of the ads. Several billboard images were attached and available online. See sample press release.

FOLLOW-UP: Most releases tend to end up as fodder for the "circular file" (a.k.a. trash can) in the newsroom. In order to avoid this happening to yours, follow up your release with a phone call to encourage coverage. It is a waste of paper, your time, and money to fax out a press release if you have not set aside the time to call target reporters to pitch them the story that day. Most importantly, you should position your organization as a reliable source with reporters at the outlets you want to receive coverage from so that when they see your organizational letterhead they will take the time to read it.

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