Senior communications officer Jessie Powell runs through how to write a good press release and ensure that your community is getting the local – or even national – attention it deserves.
elease or as it’s sometimes known if you’re sending it to TV or radio, a media release, is a brilliant way to share what your community is up to and raise the profile of your projects. It can seem intimidating, but putting one together can be quite straightforward if you have the right information at hand. Just follow these top tips to get you started.
Create a great headline
Your headline needs to grab the reader’s attention and convey your story in a nutshell, so it is worth taking a bit of time and thought to get right. It can be helpful to think of your press release as a triangle; the headline should be the shortest possible way to tell your story and then everything below will expand upon it.
The best way to come up with a great headline is to identify the real hook of your story: what’s new, exciting or impressive about what you’re writing about? Sometimes it might be a people-focused story, or some impressive numbers or facts. Whatever it is, the best headlines are always punchy and memorable, so don’t make it too long and always keep it clear and factual (as opposed to anything that is your opinion).
Identify your audience
A story’s ‘hook’ (in other words, what makes it interesting) is often determined by who the audience is, so make sure you’re always writing with a reader in mind.
For example, if you’re writing to your local newspaper, think about what local people are interested in: is it the launch of a new service or opportunity for them? Are you holding an event they could attend?
We didn’t have specific media expertise and had to learn the importance of writing press releases in a structured way.”
What about going regional? If you’re sending a press release to a regional newspaper, radio or TV programme, think about how your story relates to the wider context of where you live.
If you think your story has national potential then make sure you’re thinking about the wider, national context around the story you’re trying to tell. Is there a national event, date or announcement that is relevant to your story that you could link it to? Are you the first in the country to do something like this?
Build your story
Once you’ve identified the main ‘hook’, think about what else makes your story interesting, and the five ‘w’s: who, what, why, where and when?
The first and second paragraphs should include any crucial details you couldn’t fit into the headline. Later paragraphs can give background or extra information to give the story some more context. For example: think about who else is involved, why the idea or project started, if the story is one of a kind or whether it’s building on something already in existence.
We’ve been able to challenge negative assumptions about the area and attract more offers of support.”
Always make sure to tell your story from an objective perspective; don’t make commentary or claims based on your personal feelings or opinions. At this point, it’s all facts.
One Big Local area, Newington in Ramsgate, have already had success at writing press releases and securing coverage in local media. Charlie Fox from Newington Big Local explains: “We didn’t have specific media expertise and had to learn the importance of thinking about press releases in a structured way; who is our target audience or audiences? What do we want people to know? What do we want people to do? Who do we want to thank or acknowledge?”
Try to include images
People always say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and it’s true! Do you have any good images that could accompany your story? If so, include them; news outlets are more likely to run your piece if you can provide good imagery.
Pictures taken on a phone should be high enough quality, but try to make sure they’re over 2MB in size. And always make sure you have the permission of everyone in the photo before you use it (preferably in writing).
Use real voices
Up until this point, you will have written in a news style, keeping your story objective and sticking solely to the facts. The place where you can and should add some human emotion or opinion is through quotes.
Think about who can help to tell your story best; is it one of your colleagues who’s helping to organise what you’re doing? Has someone from the local council given you an endorsement, or do you have a specialist in the topic you’re talking about involved in the project? Quotes in press releases should be included after all the essential information has been given.
Keep it short and to the point
To avoid making the release too long you can do a couple of things:
- include ‘notes to editors’ – this is additional information about organisations, projects or things that may need a bit more explanation to someone who doesn’t have prior knowledge of your projects or the Big Local programme. Putting this information in the ‘notes to editors’ section at the end of the press release allows you to keep the story short and snappy.
- got a video about your project? A web page where people can sign up to an event? Include a hyperlink if more information on the topic can be found online.
In the ‘notes to editors’ you should also include contact details of someone the journalist could find out more from if they want to. Have a look at our template for an example.
Build a relationship
Once you’ve got your media release, you need to get it to the right people. When you’re contacting journalists and media outlets, there’s a couple of things to think about.
- is the story relevant for their readers/listeners/viewers? If the answer is no, don’t send it.
- are they the right person at the outlet to send it to? Often you can find contact details of specific journalists on the website of the outlet, look people up and email them directly. If you can’t find a named contact, don’t be afraid to call up the outlet and ask the best person to send your story to.
- when sending your media release in an email, make sure your subject line is interesting and to the point
- it’s ok to follow up an email with a phone call, but don’t hassle. More often than not if you’ve sent the story via email and the journalist is interested in it, they will either ask for more information or run it, asking if they’ve received your email may not be a good use of your or their time.
- keep in touch. If you’ve had success with a journalist, remember to give them a heads up on new stories as and when you have them.
As well as making sure your brilliant community projects are receiving the voice they deserve in the local press, securing media coverage can have a range of positive outcomes for communities.
As Charlie Fox describes: “Generating press coverage has helped the staff and volunteers of Newington Big Local feel more valued, we feel proud of our achievements and are much more visible in the wider community. We’ve also been able to challenge negative preconceptions of the area and attract more opportunities and offers of support.”
Feel ready to write? Take a look at our full guidance page, download the template or take a look at our sample press release.
Download the template Download the sample press release