How to format a news release
You may have heard rumours of the demise of the news release, but I think a news release is a lot like chocolate: if it’s good, there’s always room for it. How you use a news (or ‘media’ or ‘press’) release to get media coverage may be changing, but the formatting and recipe for a newsworthy release are still basically the same.
If you haven’t written a press release before it can seem a little daunting; there’s a lot of competition, and you want your story to cut through the noise. One thing that can help: make it as easy as possible for a journalist to do his or her job.
Following a template doesn’t just show you which information belongs where, it also serves as a bit of a checklist to help ensure you don’t miss anything important. Here’s an outline of the basic elements your news release should have.
Anatomy of a news release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE or TO BE RELEASED ON…
If all goes well, you want your press release to be picked up by the media as soon as they receive it — most of the time.
There’s also something called an embargoed release, information journalists are encouraged not to publish until a specified date and/or time. These releases are sent in advance, giving reporters more time to arrange interviews or otherwise prepare.
While there may be exceptions, I’d avoid sending embargoed information; it generally makes things unnecessarily complicated, and there’s no guarantee your embargo will be honoured.
Clear, compelling headline
Your headline is the wrong place to test your creative writing skills. If you have a big announcement, make it clear; if there’s an event coming up, say so.
Try to keep your headline on one line using large font that’s easy to read at a quick glance. Choose your words carefully, but don’t bury what you’re trying to say behind metaphors or clever wording. The subheading — which is optional — may be a place to add a critical point that didn’t make it into the headline. For example:Dance-a-thon Helps Keep Local Arts Programs Alive More than $15,000 raised as mayor faces off with dance troupe
Adding the location of your organization or event helps clarify context; if you’re a Vancouver-based youth organization, your story may not be relevant to a reporter in the Kamloops area.
The standard is to include this information, but there are times when you can consider leaving it out — for example, a national campaign or a virtual event that has no particular location.
The lead is essentially the make-or-break moment for your media release: It needs to be captivating enough to hook a journalist into reading more, but still clearly tied to your headline. Maybe you can lead by introducing a compelling personal story, a surprising fact or statistic, or an amusing anecdote.
One piece of advice I was given years ago that stuck: drop “we’re pleased to announce” from your introduction. It’s boring, I was told, and it’s redundant — if you weren’t pleased, you probably wouldn’t send a press release.
The main content
Your main content is less about format and more about putting together a solid story. Write a release as if you were a reporter: An unbiased observer sharing an interesting news item that’s backed by solid facts and a compelling story.
- Understanding why your topic is newsworthy (and making sure you support your angle)
- Writing that is clear, concise and conversational
- Following the inverted news pyramid, which puts the most important information first so it doesn’t get lost among other facts and details
I also suggest keeping your release to one page (or approx. 500 words) and well spaced. This is a preferential thing, but I believe shorter is better: if you capture a reporter’s interest, they know that more information is a quick call or email away.
The boilerplate is a bit like the information on your “About Us” page: it’s a concise introduction that essentially explains who your organization is, what it does and why. Skip the list of statistics and numbers and focus instead on the difference your organization makes in the community.
-30- or ###
It’s commonly believed that using “-30-” to end a press release has its roots in the Civil War, when “XXX” — the Roman numeral for 30 — was used to note the end of telegraphs.
Whatever mark you choose to use (“-30-”, the more modern “###”, or even simply “END”), it indicates the end of your press release information. Anything above this mark is part of the story; anything below it is meant as reference information for the media.
Contact information and other specifics
Once you’ve indicated the end of a news release, include any information that will be relevant to the person writing your story.
- The name and contact information of your media contact. This person should be available to respond to media requests, like providing more information or arranging interviews, when your release is sent out.
- Links to additional information, like photos and documents — ideally in your online media centre! Avoid sending unsolicited attachments with your email, including your organization’s logo.
Following this format won’t guarantee you coverage, but including key information where reporters expect to find it helps make their job easier, and that’s always a step in the right direction.