There’s big news at your chapter: you’ve got award winners, you’ve got community service activities, you’ve got a big fundraiser coming up, you’ve got a new state officer elected from your chapter. Whatever’s going on, you want to get it out in the public eye, right? You want to take this great information from your chapter, and make it into a big news story that all the local media will want to pick up… and use to promote your chapter.
But before your information becomes news, you have to let the media know about it. The easiest way – for the media – is to send them a press release. A press release is essentially a one- to two-page document that tells the media everything they might want or need to know about something. Brevity is good as long as all the essential information is included. However, I would avoid sending more than two pages, especially if it is something the media hasn’t agreed to use.
The following are six tips to writing a good, complete press release.
- Make sure to include the essentials: time, date, location, contact person and telephone number. Include the date, month and day of the week for the date, and the address, room number and other relevant information for location. A contact person is necessary because a reporter may need more information than you provided. If you don’t want your number published in the paper, say so in the press release. But having a phone number in the paper helps the public know where to go if they want more information too.
- Avoid acronyms. Your organization’s name is FLIP and everyone calls it FLIP, but only your members know it stands for the Friends of the Library in Pomona. Reporters write for the general public and must define anything not commonly known. You can write VCR in the newspaper without defining it. But must define “CD,” because a CD is either a compact disc or a certificate of deposit. The acronym rule also applies for school names. The area where I work has two LHSs, and I don’t like guessing which one sent me a press release. If you are the only LHS in town, spell it out anyway, because some editorial staffers are not familiar with every school name in town.
- Proofread. Have someone else read over the release to catch any glaring spelling or grammatical mistakes. Misspelled words and bad writing are considered the signs of an amateur in the public relations world. But YOU are an amateur, so you are given some leeway. A couple of minor grammar or spelling mistakes are OK as long as you don’t have too many, or worse, misspell someone’s name. The journalist is relying on you to spell the names correctly, and those names will appear in the newspaper EXACTLY how you spelled them.
- Tell me exactly who you are. Include first and last names for everyone and their affiliation with your organization or school, i.e. parent adviser, business teacher. For teachers, I want to know the subject and grade level they teach. For students, I want their full name, age, grade and their title in the organization if they have one. If it is a multi-school event, also include the school for each person.
- Define yourself. Explain who you are and why I should be interested. Don’t just tell me you’re Friends of the Library in Pomona (FLIP). Tell me what you do. Perhaps FLIP is the only student organization that promotes literacy by offering after-school tutoring to primary grade students and by raising funds to buy books for the Pomona library. If you are holding a fund-raiser, don’t just write “fund-raiser.” Tell me where the funds will go. Are you holding a $5 car wash to send members to a national conference? Well, give me those details. Are you hosting the state conference and bringing in speakers to talk to students? Tell me about the conference and who the speakers are. This information may not appear in the paper but it gives the journalist an idea of what they are writing about and whether the event deserves more than a “brief.”
- Don’t wait until the last minute to tell me. You have no idea how many times I get a call from the day before or the day of an event that had been planned for months. I hate that. I’m not going to drop everything on such short notice to go and see your principal “kiss a pig” because your school met its test score goals. I would like to know at least a week or two in advance.
One last word of advice: don’t just send the release and never follow up. Media outlets receive literally hundreds of faxes and letters a day. A quick phone call an hour or so after you faxed or e-mailed it will ensure that your press release got to the right person and not lost somewhere. It’s OK to ask if the media will cover the event when you call; just don’t expect a definite answer.