Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Writing a Press Release

  The most important thing I want to tell you about writing a press release is that you apply the same principles that we have used in writing other things.
     As we did in writing advertising copy, we consider who is the "recipient," and what is the "message" we want that recipient to receive. 
      In the case of a press release we are sending this to editors at newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, and often other people who are known in the trade as "CIs," or centers of influence. In Latin America (in my experience) press releases are usually sent out to announce and explain an event, usually a press conference, but sometimes a speech, or something else like that. It will be short.
     Unlike in the United States, an organization will rarely depend on a "press release" by itself to get the word out. Television stations will want pictures of something or somebody; radio stations will want "sound bites" they can record and put on the air. Often someone from the organization that is trying to get the story out will have to go to the stations and appear on programs.
     So to some extent, the press release you write for this class will basically be a test of how well you can explain your campaign because I do expect you to explain it clearly and concisely, providing all the facts that you want the various media outlet to include.
     It can, of course, also announce a press conference, or perhaps a speech by the mayor to an assembled group of business leaders, or some other such arranged event. (For example, the mayor could take reporters and Miss Santa Cruz on a tour of dirty spots in the city. But your press release will be graded on how good a job it does providing journalists with information they need to write stories and present reports -- much more than would be the normal case in a Latin American press release.  
    The press release is something you should be thinking about through the whole process, and you should probably designate the person who is going to write it early. But it is probably among the last things you will actually complete.  

       Your recipients, then, are the journalists who will assign and write the story. Your message is the information you hope they will put in it explaining the problem, and offering solutions. Give them the facts they need. And -- at the risk of being obvious -- give them the facts you hope they are going to use, and put them in the perspective in which you want them to view those facts. The press release (and press conference) is where you try to take charge of setting the agenda. 
        In terms of writing, you keep in mind the "Rules for Writing Anything," which are to get the reader's attention, tell him what the story is about, and why it is significant (i.e., why he should write a big story about it).
       Quite often the standard news lead -- what we have been calling the "5Ws and an H" lead will work very well for this purpose. Tell the media who is going to do what, where, when, why, and often how,
       But you can consider other ways of starting off. The bulk of the story should be arranged in a logical chain, with the more important information coming first. (Usually it is not possible to make it a chronology, but telling the history of how they campaign evolved is often interesting to include.
         It is NOT necessary to try to be cute and original. Journalists believe that that's their job. Your job is to give them the facts. They'll supply the clever touches. The tone should be practical, down-to-earth. You should be concise. Don't waste the journalist's time with extraneous information. If you have some extra added details, put them at the bottom (the end). 
         Often, as is the case in the material you read for today, the press release is accompanied by a "fact sheet" that an editor or reporter can use as a ready reference tool. Sometimes, a "Question and Answer" sheet is added, for the same purpose. In any event, you should have prepared for your own use the answers you will give to the questions you think reporters will or might ask.

There are three things that a press release must have. And it will cost you points if you do not include them. They are:

*  The date the press release was sent out (and sometimes the time, if that's relevant)

* The source of the press release and the name of a contact (or contacts) there, with phone number(s) and e-mail address(es). 

* An indication of when the information be released. Nowadays this is almost always immediately, and the release will state at the top (as in the case from the textbook) "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE." Only in very rare cases, usually involving information that will affect stock prices, will information be "embargoed" for release at a specified time and date.