Make Your Media Release Work For You

Why bother writing a media release? The answer is simple. To get free publicity. And unless your organisation or group is blessed with an unlimited advertising budget then free publicity is a golden opportunity to ensure your news gets to a wider audience.

One of the benefits of publicity over paid advertising is that readers, listeners and viewers attach a greater credibility to an item they see in the media than the same information included in a paid ad. You expect advertisers to push their product and we don't always believe the claims. But we read newspapers and watch TV bulletins and listen to radio for news that is of interest and relevance to us.

Free publicity works. How many restaurants have you visited as a result of a good review in your local newspaper? Or which film have you given a miss after hearing it get panned on radio.

So is your announcement, event, new service, latest appointment or success worthy of publicity? The answer is invariably yes. The question really is asking who is going to be interested? How wide an audience will want to know your news?

If it is a change of coach at your local sporting club, the chance is that it is of interest to the local newspaper, radio and maybe the local regional television station only. But if the new coach is a famous ex-player who was renowned as a player then the story is bound to arouse further interest than the local area.

Keep asking yourself whether it's a story that will interest the local newspaper or community radio station? Or is it of interest to the metropolitan media? Or is it something that is of specific interest to health reporters? Transport reporters?

Once you answer the question of how far your story will travel you can then work out your target audience.

How to articulate your story

How do you do that.

  1. Write down all the major points. Why will the media be interested? What are the main points that people will find of interest?
  2. Place your points in descending order from the most important to the least important.
  3. Does your message come through? In the points you have made, is your message clear?
  4. Could your message be made more topical? An example is an annual festival. What is it that is different about this year's event? Who is appearing? What is planned that makes it unique from the one the previous year and the year before that? It might be the 100th festival? It might be that the Premier is coming and has agreed to shear a sheep. Or that the parade will be led by a 110-year-old local or a gold medal-winning Olympian.
  5. Try to find a more human angle. It is much warmer and far more interesting if you are talking about people rather than an inanimate event or thing.

From there we go to the job of actually preparing the media release. Some people make a lot of money from spruiking the science of writing press releases and how they work. There are some lessons that are listed below but basically the main tip is one of common sense. Make the opening as compelling as you can. Grab their attention and make them read on.


The Headline

  1. Put a bit of kick in the headline, a bit of creativity. Grab the journalist?s attention right from the start. Force them to keep reading. If you can do that you are halfway home.
  2. Remember to keep the headline short but make it active.
  3. Just under the headline you need to put down when the release date is. It is best practice to only send something out if it is FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.
  4. If you are providing a release so they can prepare a story ahead of the date you are making the announcement you need to say for example STRICTLY EMBARGOED. NOT TO BE RUN BEFORE 6AM ON MARCH 30, 2001

The release
Without doubt the first couple of paragraphs are the most important part of the release. You have to win the interest in the first two paragraphs. A chief-of-staff/news editor or producer at a metropolitan media outlet will go through hundreds of media releases each day. You have to convince them of the worth of your story before they making the split-second decision whether to assign the story to a reporter or section or consign it to the bin.

  1. MAKE sure you include the most important points in the first two paragraphs.
  2. YOU need to explain the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN. WHY and HOW of your story. You can keep the detail for later in the release but you need to summarise your message here. If you can't do that then you might need to go back to the beginning and refine the message you are trying to tell.
  3. READ it aloud. After each paragraph and ask yourself if it would interest other people. If you're not sure it is, think of a way you can re-work the sentence or information to make it more interesting.
  4. LIST the points of interest in descending order from the most interesting down.
  5. TRY to write the release in the way that you would like to see it reported. Don?t make it hard for reporters to find the best parts of the story. Structure it so it reads like a story would appear in the newspaper.
  6. USE QUOTES. Again make the release more human and also more relevant. Try and use quotes that add clarity or can sum up your release in a concise, lively manner. It also puts a face to your organisation.
  7. BE HONEST with yourself and the reader. Stick to the facts. Don't make outlandish claims and don't oversell. Instead of claiming your subject is the best-ever, the greatest, most spectacular or unique, why not provide three examples that demonstrate why it is actually different or of unique interest.
  8. HIGHLIGHT the benefits. Explain how people will benefit from going to your event, buying your product, seeing your show, attending your school.
  9. USE clear, concise, simple, economical language. Don't say digging instrument when you mean shovel. And don't use three words or a phrase where you can say the same thing with one word.
  10. MAKE your release active. Stay upbeat. If the language is boring the reporter will probably assume so is the interviewee and the subject. Maintain their interest.
  11. TYPE the release with one and a half or double space. This makes it easy for the eye to skip over your release. It also gives the reporter or chief of staff room to make notes.
  12. AVOID jargon. If you are trying to get your message to a wider audience, don?t alienate readers by putting in words that are known to your profession alone. There is nothing more frustrating than reading a phrase that means a lot to the writer but nothing to the reader. It is the same with acronyms. Unless you are talking about the NAB, AFL, or the ABC then use the full title with the acronym in brackets.
  13. KEEP the waffle or the advertising copy down the bottom.
  14. KEEP your media release to a page, a page and a half at the most. If people are interested in the story they will have been sold by the time they get to the end of the first page. If they need more information they can ring the contact at the bottom.
  15. REMEMBER to highlight the location, the date, the time of your event/announcement etc.

Include your contact details.

This is so crucial. There is no point arousing the interest of the media in your release if they can?t find anyone to talk to about it.

  1. ALWAYS put a name of the spokesperson, or an alternative if they are available and include phone numbers. (Office, home and mobile, pager if you have one) as well as address of the organisation, fax number, email address and website.
  2. MAKE it easy for people to contact you. By this stage you have gone to too much trouble to fall at the last hurdle.
  3. THINK about who you are putting up as spokesperson. Go for the person in your organisation who has enough authority to attract attention but, more importantly, will be able to sell your message effectively.

Before sending out your release it is important to proofread it.

  1. GO THROUGH again and again, reading it aloud to make sure it makes sense.
  2. GET a dictionary to check any spellings.
  3. MAKE sure you have spelled the name of your organisation and the names of your spokespeople correctly. If you misspell them, the mistake will be carried on.
  4. CHECK the contact numbers, the dates, the locations etc.
  5. Get someone else to read your release before it goes out. Ask them what they think the main points of it were. See if they were able to identify your main messages.

What next?

You have sent the release out, now what?

As we said earlier, media organisations can receive literally hundreds of media releases every day. Many of those will be chased up and become items on radio bulletins, TV bulletins and stories in the newspapers the next day. The reality is a lot don?t.

Sometimes it can be a matter of timing. If you send out a release on the day that there is a major bushfire or flood in your region then you have Buckley?s chance of getting a run. Things change in a media newsroom every hour, sometimes within minutes. A front page can be thrown out - media organisations are very fluid. What was a good story at 10am suddenly is thrust aside when the Prime Minister decides to call an election and the first 12 pages of the newspaper are devoted to the coming election.

Make a list of the media organisations or individual reporters / editors / producers or sections which are the most important for selling your message. You can follow up the release with a call to see if they got it and if they plan to run anything. Do not nag or hector. It is the quickest way to see your release go in the bin.

If you have a chance to relay some news information do so but don't go on and on. Many a commissioned story has been 'uncommissioned' after a chief of staff has been told why he SHOULD cover a story.

If the target person is not interested, ask if there is another section on the paper, radio station etc that might be interested. Often they will point you in the direction where you should have aimed in the first place or point you in the direction of the What?s On or community notices section. A couple of pars listing the details is better than no mention at all.

The main message is don?t be discouraged. Through practice you will make media contacts, learn which newspapers, radio programs etc are interested in your organisation and become smarter in the way you tell your story.