Writing press releases for protests
When doing a protest, you want as much exposure as possible. A press release is a tried and tested way to get a news story in front of your target journalists in the clearest, quickest and most usable way.
How to start
Press releases are written in the third person, like an “announcement.”
They need to be entirely fact-based. Your opinion is not news. You can get opinion, color and fun into your press release through (your own) quotes.
Pick up a newspaper as it is the clearest way to see the structure of news stories visually. See how narrow those columns are? See how few words most stories have? See how short the sentences are? You need to write like that.
The ideal structure of a press release
Date: Always put the date of release on it, in bold, at the top. Some people say “for immediate release.” Don’t. If your press release is not for immediate release, don’t send it until the item is ready for release. It’s a news release, not a forward planner.
Headline: On one line, in bold. Ideally no more than 10 words. This is the hook for your story, and it should make total sense what the story is about from this headline. Think how many times you don’t even click through from a headline online, but still know the news. This is what you want.
First paragraph: What the story is, in no more than two short sentences. It does not need names of people or organizations unless they are crucial to the news. (Guess what? Your organization is unlikely to be crucial to the story). Read some first paragraphs of news stories in that newspaper suggested at the top. This will help you get first paragraphs right. Look! Short aren’t they!
If you’re writing for a small local publication, then writing the name of a town in the first paragraph will really boost uptake of local news. But only if this is the case. For example, the national version would be “a man has been arrested for…” and the local version is “a Bedford man has been arrested for.”
Use universally recognized terms such as man/woman/team. Only use ‘rebel’ in quotes. It is our term, not a universally-recognized descriptor. Second paragraph. Expansion on para one, with some new info. You can put a name in here if important.
Third paragraph: This is a great place for a really juicy quote. Guess what? Ideally no more than two sentences. Don’t use fancy ways of introducing a quote. Put the name, age (if possible) and job title or relevant descriptor, and then, “…said [QUOTE HERE]” Don’t put a quote in the body of another paragraph. Let it stand alone.
Fourth paragraph: Anything else that needs to go in, but which the story could totally read fine without.
Notes to Editors: Put your name and contact details as the first item in notes to editors. Other info such as website addresses can go here.
What to do next
Find out who you want to send it to and send it direct, preferably to a named individual. Do some research at your target media to know who the editor is, who works on the news desk, which email they prefer to get news releases on. Put the headline, or a similar story descriptor in the subject line. The journalist needs to know what the story is without opening the email.
Copy and paste your release into the body text of the email. It is more easily accessible and does not use as much data to send.
Make a follow-up phone call. You would be surprised how many people spend a long time crafting the perfect release, send it and then just leave it here. Call. Start by asking if your release arrived OK? I cannot count the number of times the journalist has not, at that point, opened it yet, and the pens it whilst we are on the phone, prompted by the call. We can then ensure they have all the info they need.
Only send news releases if you’re sure there’s a likelihood the target outlet will think it is a good story. Don’t send weak stories. Don’t send lots of releases. Think of all the emails from “certain people” or organisations that you just don’t open anymore because they kept sending stuff you weren’t actually that interested in. Don’t be that person.
If you have sent two or three news releases to the media outlet you really want to get coverage in, and none of them result in a story, then call to ask why. There may be something simple you could do to get the stories right for that journalist. Don’t keep churning out releases and forgetting about them as soon as you hit send.
A helpful list of press release dos and don’ts
- Send the press release one day before the protest.
- Take pictures and videos and add the best ones to the press release page as part of your press kit.
- Keep to one page ideally, and two maximum.
- Ensure the title tells the reader what the story is.
- Keep your first paragraph to one sentence and two maximum.
- Follow an “inverted pyramid” model, with the most important at the top, and detail after.
- Include short one-sentence quotes.
- Ensure that the people you quote are available for interviews.
- Copy the release into the body text of an email to send it. Avoid attachments and graphics that take time to load/open and clog up inboxes.
- Send clear info about the story in the email subject line.
- Use short sentences.
- Use simple, accessible language.
- Put additional info in ‘Notes to editors.’
- Put the date at the top of the press release.
- Add contact details and ensure they are available!
- Adjust your release for different target outlets. For example, localize it for local press.
- Use plain text in the body of your release, not italics, underlines, or bold.
- Flood journalists and editors with press releases because they will stop reading them. Whoever you are, you do not have that much news. This is a common mistake that leads to drowning out the real news.
- Put the most important stuff further down the release. Most journalists will only scan the first few lines, so think about what the story is and get it up top.
- Try and write a funny/clever “newspaper” headline. Tell the story and leave the sub-editor to write the puns.
- Not be available to pick up your phone and answer inquiries once you’ve sent the release.
- Use jargon. Write for people who know nothing about your subject. - Use fancy language. Keep to simple, clear English. - Use subjective language. Fact-based is best and “a brilliant new project” is not fact. The journalist will decide if it is “brilliant,” “important,” “genius,” “exciting” etcetera. Only use these descriptors when directly quoting somebody.
- Write more than 2 pages. If it is not captured in 2 pages, keep going until it is.