Write a media release

Public Relations

Write a media release

Your media release needs to deliver a punch and resonate with your target audience if you want your story to stand out from the crowd

You will learn

  • The components of a good media release
  • How to create a great lead-in to your story
  • Getting the tone and pitch right
Start this project Takes up to 20 minutes
Beginner
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Introduction

Media outlets are busy places, they get hundreds of stories every day, so it’s vital that yours stands out from the crowd. Media releases that get picked up have relevance, are engaging, and have clear information that is easy to grasp.

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Getting started - refine your ‘Five Ws’

Many of you would have heard about the Five Ws of writing: the essential components of any good media release. In Journalism 101, students are taught the Five Ws that help them identify the value of a story. Here’s a quick overview of what they are and what they’re about. Even if you’re familiar with them, it’s always good to have them to hand and check what you’ve written against them to make sure you have covered the basics.

WHO: Who is this story about? Who is the person or institution in the centre of the story?

WHAT: What is this story about? You will have more success with your media outreach if you identify the “what” because your idea will be more focused.

WHERE: This should be one of the easier Ws to identify. Where is this story taking place? Does the location have any value or importance to your audience?

WHEN: Does your story have any timely components? Will your story take place on a single night or day? Is your story relevant at a certain time of the month? The timeliness increases your chances for coverage.

WHY: Why should anyone care about your story? The “why” could be the deciding factor that determines whether your story is pursued or killed. You need to communicate why someone should care about what you have to say.

By learning the answers to these questions, your story narrative will be more focused from the start, increasing your chances for coverage.

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Keep the 5Ws (and 1H) firmly in mind when writing your media release.

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Develop a good lead

One of the keys to a good media release is a good lead. This is the first paragraph of your release. The job of the lead is to summarise the story, incorporating as many of the Five Ws as you can. In a soft news story, the reader is drawn in first, and then presented the facts in the body of the story.

When you write a lead, ask yourself what is the story and why is it important. A good lead has focus and involves the reader. It shows why you want to read on. It will engage you and leave you wanting more. It will sound like a person talking to the reader, giving it a human touch.

Some common problems in leads include:

  • Containing more than one main idea
  • Not making it clear what the story is about
  • Lead is dull and has no tension or push to continue the story
  • Lead is full of adjectives and hype that over-sell and mask what you’re trying to say.
  • Leads should not be lifeless, but should sound like someone talking. Leads need to have an element of surprise that can clarify or make the reader smile. They should not be predictable.
  • Lastly, leads should not contain jargon, as this can exclude some readers.

quick tip: what do you think?

Read the first line of articles in your targeted newspaper / media channel to get a sense of what journalists (and thus audiences) are interested in.

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Pop quiz

What do you think? Are these examples of good or bad leads?

  1. “The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a bill legalizing same sex marriage in Britain, indicating that the bill is assured of passage as it moves through further legislative stages.”
    1. aGood lead
    2. bBad lead
  • Ready to see your score
Your score
[[ state.correct ]] correct [[ state.wrong ]] wrong
Correct!

This New York Times article is an example of a good lead because it has who, what, and when stated in a concise and appealing manner. The adjective “overwhelmingly” makes the topic that much more interesting thus drawing the reader in.

Answer: Good lead.

This New York Times article is an example of a good lead because it has who, what, and when stated in a concise and appealing manner. The adjective “overwhelmingly” makes the topic that much more interesting thus drawing the reader in.

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Pop quiz

  1. “Alleged arsonist and murderer Anthony Baye got some good news today, but in the end it could turn out to be the worst news of his life."
    1. aGood lead
    2. bBad lead
  • Ready to see your score
Your score
[[ state.correct ]] correct [[ state.wrong ]] wrong
Answer: Bad lead.

This Northampton Media article offers very little information as to what the article is going to be about. While the lead starts strong with a clear subject, it loses clarity toward the end, leaving the reader confused.

Answer: Bad lead.

This Northampton Media article offers very little information as to what the article is going to be about. While the lead starts strong with a clear subject, it loses clarity toward the end, leaving the reader confused.

antoccijenn.wordpress.com

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Pop quiz

What do you think? Is this an example of a good or bad lead?

  1. “A former Navy reservist who was fired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008 has gone on a murderous rampage aimed at police officers and their families, law enforcement officials said Thursday, killing at least three people - including an 11 year veteran of the Riverside Police Department - and setting off a huge manhunt across Southern California.”
    1. aGood lead
    2. bBad lead
  • Ready to see your score
Your score
[[ state.correct ]] correct [[ state.wrong ]] wrong
Answer: Bad lead.

In this New York Times article, the reader does not even find out that three people were killed until much further in the paragraph. Less important information was put before the crucial news.

Answer: Bad lead.

In this New York Times article, the reader does not even find out that three people were killed until much further in the paragraph. Less important information was put before the crucial news.

antoccijenn.wordpress.com

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Pop quiz

What do you think? Is this an example of a good or bad lead?

  1. “Two more Marines face criminal charges over a 2011 YouTube video showing members of a scout sniper platoon urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.”
    1. aGood lead
    2. bBad lead
  • Ready to see your score
Your score
[[ state.correct ]] correct [[ state.wrong ]] wrong
Answer: Good lead

Good lead. This Daily Hampshire Gazette article provides a clear subject (two more Marines), a clear time (2011), and it is clear what the article is going to be about. This is an event that happened two years ago and the writer has made it clear why we are revisiting this piece of news.

Answer: Good lead

This Daily Hampshire Gazette article provides a clear subject (two more Marines), a clear time (2011), and it is clear what the article is going to be about. This is an event that happened two years ago and the writer has made it clear why we are revisiting this piece of news.

antoccijenn.wordpress.com

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Check your tone

Tone in writing is much the same as your tone of voice; it’s how you say something. The adjectives and adverbs you use, your sentence structure, and the imagery you use will show your tone.

Getting the tone right in your media release is important. Check out the tone of articles in the channels you want to use - is it chatty or more business-like? Either way, read out loud what you have written. It should sound natural, flow well and be easy to read.

Read more: Examples of Tone in a Story.

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Other writing tips

Here are some extra tips to make your writing shine.

  • Sentences: These should be under 25 words and contain one idea. Don’t use many commas and use the subject-verb-object structure.
  • Voice: Use an active voice. This helps the writing be strong and easy to understand.  
  • Words: Don’t use complicated words. Reduce them to a simpler word. Also, use precise words so you will need fewer words.
  • Numbers: Don’t include more than three numbers in a sentence.
  • Phrases: Don’t put more than three prepositional phrases in one sentence.

Read more: Tips for Writing in a Newspaper.

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Invert the pyramid: How to structure your content

1. Cast your hook
Get your hook in and sum up the key messages in the first paragraph (the lead). That's how journalists write. The idea is to draw the reader in so they get what your story is about and want to find out more.

2. Descending order of importance
If an editor wants to cut your story short, they’ll simply take off the last few paragraphs, so put the main aspects of your story near the beginning.

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3. Use quotes!
Lots of long paragraphs of text are boring. People naturally skip to the parts where someone is talking. So use lots of quotes and make them interesting. We like hearing what people have to say, and it makes your story more human.

4. Stick to one page
One page is ideal for a media release, a page and a half at a push. Look at the length of your media release from the reader's point of view. People have short attention spans and like their media bite-sized. If journalists want more information, they'll contact you. If you want to provide more information, write a separate background sheet, using a question and answer format.

5. Include your contact details
Make it easy for journalists to contact you.

6. Use plain language
Keep your sentences short. Use everyday words and cut the jargon. Contractions (I'm, we're, didn't) make your writing sound more conversational, and it's the style of language many newspapers use.

7. Write an eye-catching headline
A good headline grabs attention! It makes people want to read what you’re saying. Sometimes it helps to make up your headline last, once you’ve polished your media release and have all your key messages sorted. Journalists may use it or may write their own.

8. Add a call to action
If your media release is about an event, make sure you put very clear information and directions for people.

9. Test your words with a friend or colleague
Once you’ve got the draft content for your media release done, test it with a friend or colleague who is new to the story. Ask them whether the heading grabbed their attention, whether they can easily relay back to you what the media release is about. Test them on the Five Ws. Get them to point out any bits that are written in a passive voice or don’t make sense.

10. Embargo versus immediate release
Standard practice with media releases is to have a note to journalists that tells them whether the information in your media release can be used immediately, or whether it is to be embargoed until a specific date - for example, the date that an award will be announced, or an event will take place.

Generally most releases will be for immediate release, however if you want to let the media know something in advance, then you can use the embargo. This can come in handy if you want to let specific media prepare for your story in advance. They may wish to interview a person or get more facts to make a story.

Do note however, that embargos can sometimes get ignored, so use with caution.

11. Get consent!
If your media release involves a student, another institution or a business - basically anyone else but you - make sure you get their consent to be involved or mentioned in a release. This is also important for quotes. Make sure the person that you’re quoting is happy for their words to be used. Always get consent from the person to use any images, or from parents if using children.

quick tip: quotes

Generally quotes don’t come out perfectly from people’s mouths. You might want to tweak or paraphrase what someone has said, or make up a quote from scratch. Don’t be afraid to do this, but always check that the person is happy for the quote to be attributed to them.

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Prepare yourself for pick-up

If you’ve got a great story and you’ve developed an effective media release to communicate it, then prepare yourself for the story to get picked up. You may find the story just appears without any warning, so remember to check the media outlets you sent your release to, to see whether the story has been covered.

A journalist may however call you wanting more information, so make sure you are contactable and that you have all the information to hand in case they call. If they want to interview you, or someone else involved in the story, then make sure you get prepared by completing our project on how to give an interview.

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Quick exercise: What do you think makes a good story?

Here’s a handful of links to some press releases, from both New Zealand and overseas. Take a look at them and see which ones do and don’t grab your attention. As yourself why. Was it the headline that drew you in? Could you find the key messages instantly? Was the writing style engaging enough for you to want to read on? Did it try to oversell something to you? Or did you feel like it was directed at an audience (and not just a self-congratulatory marketing ploy)?

Compare these to the articles you read on popular news sites. What’s similar and what’s different in the way they’re written?

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Checklist: Test whether your media release ticks all the boxes

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All done!

To help you summarise your points with your media release, consider completing our project on developing key messages.

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