[This post is adapted from materials provided by Kathi Landon at SuccessPoint Marketing, Inc. It is available to CEDAM members, along with the new media list, at members.cedamichigan.org]

A press release, news release, or press statement is a written communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something claimed as having news value. For any organization that has a message or mission, a press release is one of the most effective and vital means of communication. But remember: it becomes news only when an editor, producer or reporter decides it’s news!

So what makes something newsworthy? Editors, producers and reporters may consider a story newsworthy if it:

Affects or interests their readers Is new
Has flexible timeliness Is uplifting or inspirational
Shows how national or state issues
are affecting a local community
Is unusual or unique

Every organization formats their press release a little bit different, so rather than explain how to set up a press release, we will review techniques to write a good one. For press release formatting please look at the samples below. CEDAM members can use the Press Release Template in the Media and Press Toolkit on the members section of the website.

Here is an example of a CEDAM press release (PDF).
Here is an example of a Center for Community Progress press release (PDF).

Technique #1: The Inverted Pyramid
This is a metaphor used to illustrate how information should be presented within the text. The broad base at the top represents the most substantial, interesting and important information. The tapered lower portion represents other information that follows in order of diminishing importance. This format is valued because the reader can leave the story at any point and understand it. It also allows news editors to easily remove less important information when articles need to fit a fixed size.

Technique #2: The Anecdotal Lead
Instead of introducing the text with the central facts, this technique opens the text with an eye-catching story to interest readers. This technique works well in a press release when the headline clearly indicates what the story will be about. For instance, “Foreclosure Prevention Helps Lansing Family Keep their Home” could open with a story paragraph about the family and then follow up with facts about foreclosure prevention.

How to Get the Press on Your Side
Establish a personal relationship with key media people in your area. When you are sending something you consider especially important, call your contacts to make sure they got your press release. Always make a follow up call when you send a media advisory about a press conference or event you are hosting that you want the media to attend.

  • Do not put out a press release if it does not contain information the media considers newsworthy! This is the quickest way to ruin your credibility with the media and have your future releases disregarded.
  • On a phone call, don’t pitch your story right away. Start by saying something like “Hi, my name is Tamika Smith and I have a story suggestion you might find interesting. Is this a good time for you?” If the reply is “yes,” pitch your story. If it is “no,” you might reply “When would be a good time to call you back?” Your courtesy will be appreciated by the journalist.
  • Pitch to the voice mail. Keep your pitch very short and end with your phone number. If you do not hear back, try again until you get the actual person.
  • Avoid reading a script. You probably know what it sounds like to be called by a telemarketer who does this. Practice your pitch so that it seems natural and spontaneous.
  • Pitch a story, not an advertisement. The media wants to give their audience interesting stories. Make your pitch newsy, exciting and relevant.
  • Although it is always good to develop a rapport with your local press, you need to walk a fine line between building and maintaining a relationship with an editor/reporter and being a pest.

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