How to write a press release

How do you get the media to pay attention to the great work your nonprofit is doing? The secret is writing a good press release.

Learning to write a good press release (and get it to the correct person) is one of the most important things you can do to promote your organization and the impact it is having on your community.

Newsroom staff are generally very busy so it’s important to do much of the work for them. If they can grab a blurb directly from your release and you’ve already attached a nice, high-quality photo then you’ve got a better chance of getting covered. And increasing your odds and staying top-of-mind is half the battle.

1. Writing the Press Release

Letterhead

At the top, include information about who is sending the release. Use your organization letterhead if possible – if you don’t have letterhead, make some up.

Header

Including 1) the text “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE,” 2) Date of the release and 3) Contact Information (e-mail and phone number). If you don’t have a professional email address then get one. FirstInitial.LastName@gmail.com or something similar is fine. If you’ve got a website, make one like press@yourwebsite.com. Just don’t use your BigSexyMamma@hotmail.com account.

Website

Get a website for the project, even if it just has one image (maybe the poster?) on it. Facebook doesn’t count.

Date of event

Don’t forget to include this information!

Headline

This is a modified version of your subject line (or vice versa), and can also be adapted when Tweeting or texting. Keep it around 160 characters.

Description

A one-sentence, exciting narrative about the project – If you can’t summarize your concept or event in one sentence then you may need to revisit your concept – it may be too complicated. This also your “elevator pitch.” Pretend you have a potential sponsor’s ear for 30 seconds. What would you say?

First Paragraph

Begin with the location “San Diego, CA –” or wherever the project takes place. The first paragraph should contain all of the most important information: Who, what, when, where, why should I care? Date, time, location, what is it, how much does it cost, etc.

Second Paragraph

This is your sell paragraph, like your pitch about why this thing you are doing is awesome. It should be written as if you were writing it directly for publication in print – Media people are very busy and if the second paragraph is well written (and relatively objective) they will often grab it word for word. This is an example of how you can make their job easier and therefore increase the likelihood that it will get picked up.

Other paragraphs

Highlight what is interesting. You can even say, “Highlights include:” and provide a bulleted list. A bulleted list is great for on-air personalities (anchors, DJs) who read press releases at a glance and prefer information distilled into easily readable bites. For this reason, don’t use too many big words in this section. This is also a good place to use press or critical quotes, “What people are saying about BLANK:”

Last Paragraph

Include some form of the language, “If you have questions, please contact Your Name at your@email.com or (your) phone-number.” This is for the media, if they need more information or possibly additional photography, but also for people with questions about the event or project. Once you put your phone number in print you may get people calling you with weird questions – this is unavoidable. Change your voicemail greeting to something semi-professional and short.

Fonts

Although it might not looks as fancy, you should use one of the standard ‘web-safe’ fonts in your release. Web-safe fonts are standard on all computers, so using them ensures that the documents will look the same no matter who opens them. You can google for a complete list of web-safe fonts but some standard favorites include Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana.

The total length of your press release should be one page if possible, but certainly no more than two.

2. Email Procedures

Include the words ‘PRESS RELEASE’ in the Subject Line

Attach and Paste

Sometimes companies will not let their employees download attachments in their work email for security reasons, or attachments get omitted when replying/forwarding, or they’re simply overlooked. It’s good practice to always paste the text of the press release in the body of the email as well as include it as an attachment (PDFs are best, as most platforms can read them and it maintains any formatting). Keep the entire message to under 5MB.

Press Photos

Attaching a good press photo makes it easier for calendar and events editors to have a pre-packaged blurb and photo that they can drop into an issue, again increasing your likelihood of getting press. Choose a colorful or dynamic image that conveys the theme/tone of your event, and make sure you have permission to use the photo in print before including it, especially if you did not take the photo yourself. You may need to credit the photographer as well. This can be done by changing the filename of the photograph to “Art_Show_Photo_by_John_Doe” or something similar as it pertains to your event.

If the image requires explanation, include a photo caption at the top of your press release. For example “(Photo caption): Local author Joe Sixpack reads from his latest book during opening day festivities at Fancy Pants Literature Festival 2018. Photograph by Jane Sixpack.”

Images should be 300 dpi resolution – this is the resolution generally required for print. There are a number of tools available online that can help you determine and/or edit the resolution and size of your photo. Make sure you keep an eye on the size of the file – with a little tweaking you’ll be able to provide print-ready images that fit under the 5MB email limit.

BCC:

This one is particularly important: People are very protective of their email address. Having all of the addresses in the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field means that no one can see who else you’ve sent it to. Place your own address in the “TO:” field, and everyone else in the “BCC” field. Not doing this simple step is a mistake made by amateurs and puts your database at risk of being appropriated (and spammed) by other groups.

Press Database

Creating and maintaining a press/public relations database is important. If you’re starting from scratch, ask around to see if anyone has a basic list that you can use as a starting point. Then, make a list of all of the media outlets you would like to receive your release and spend time on their websites. For print, you are looking for the editor of the section you want to cover your project – Music, Food, Arts, Movies, etc. You may end up with more than one list (by type of media or category) or you may work from one master list.

Usually websites have an ‘About’ or ‘Staff’ link at the bottom of the front page. If you can’t find the email, try and figure out the company’s email naming convention. It is usually something like First.LastName@companyname.com. Try googling “@companyname.com” (including the quotes) and see what comes up. If you know the editor’s name and the company’s email naming convention you can figure out their email this way. Or simply call the front desk and ask.

Timing

In most places you can get away with the initial release or announcement going out six weeks prior to the event. If you’re looking to get coverage in magazines that only publish monthly you will need to back out your timeline. Four weeks (follow-up release), then two weeks (second follow-up), then week of (final release, just in case). Each release should have the same format and same ‘Sell’ paragraph but should include the most current information, with any new programming announcements toward the top and in the subject.

Sounds easy, right? Take it slow for your first one, and the effort will pay off.

Check out our sample press release here: