Build a better press release

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Now we turn to writing a more detailed press release. Here are my top tips for producing press releases the media will use:

1. Hire someone who knows what they’re doing. OK, grammatically speaking, hire someone who knows what he or she is doing. Heck, just hire me.

Still want to do it yourself? Read on.

2. Send your press release by email; see my previous news-release how-to about finding email addresses and putting them in the bcc field. You can put your message in the body of the email, but if you send the press release in an attached file, Word is the most usable format. A .doc (rather than .docx) file is safer since not everyone has upgraded to the latest version of Word.

Name the file according to your organization, the subject, and, if applicable, the date. For example, if you work for Company B and are sending out a press release about the company’s annual Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Festival coming up on April 21, your filename (or slug, as we used to call it) could be CompanyB-BoogieFest-04.21.15.

This way, when the recipient downloads that and every other file she’s received that day, she can identify and sort it at a glance. A file named “Press Release” is much more likely to get lost in the shuffle.

3. Keep your formatting simple. Fancy email stationery, fancy fonts, or intricate coding to work around a logo or info box — fuhgeddaboudit. Impress me with the efficiency of your words.

4. Keep it short, simple, and businesslike. Answer the four W’s and the H — who, what, when, where, why, and how — in the first paragraph. Do not put the organization’s mission statement or any conversational fluff in the first paragraph. Just the facts, plus the name, phone number, and email of at least one person to contact with questions about the release.

Here’s an example of a press release that came to us in good shape “as is” from the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. Let’s look at it paragraph by paragraph.

Sept. 10, 2012 FORT WAYNE, Ind. – The University of Saint Francis will expand its downtown Fort Wayne presence with the purchase of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce building at 826 Ewing St. as a home for its Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership. A fall closing date is anticipated.

This is the most important part of the press release: The lead. This succinctly tells you who is doing what, where, and approximately when. Granted, it does not address why USF is expanding its downtown presence or how it’s going to be funded.

The purchase locates the business school near the USF Performing Arts Center at 431 W. Berry St. The university purchased the former Scottish Rite Center in January as a performance hall and as a location for its Media Entrepreneurship Training in the Arts (META) program.

But see, here’s more information and a little more background in the very next paragraph.

“Locating the school of business near the USF Performing Arts Center supports the META program’s downtown momentum,” said Sister M. Elise Kriss, university president. “Since META intersects with business courses, locating the study centers near one another creates convenience for our students while partnering with the city to draw visitors to an enhanced downtown. The move also provides more space for the business school’s other programs and opens up main campus space for the School of Arts and Sciences.”

Ah, the obligatory quote from the president, leader, or spokesperson. This one would actually be worth printing since, to the credit of Sister Elise and the press release writer, it gives more of the logistics and the “why.” However, it could also be cut without leaving any gaping factual holes.

The chamber building has been for sale since 2010. The chamber is expected to remain in the building through the spring of 2013 while a search is undertaken for new office space in the downtown area.

Here we have a bit more background and timeframe for what is going to happen.

“We certainly appreciate the historical significance of the Chamber building in so many of Fort Wayne’s business dealings over the past 84 years,” said Chamber President and CEO Mike Landram. “Selling the building to the University of Saint Francis is the best and highest use of the building in service to the business community. We couldn’t be happier with this arrangement. We’ve been preparing for this day for quite some time. It’s now time to evaluate available spaces within the downtown area that will allow us best serve chamber members.” Questions regarding the sale of the building can be directed to Landram at 260.424.1435 or mlandram@fwchamber.org.

There is nothing at all wrong with this quote; it’s full of goodwill and forward thinking. If the editor or whoever has space to fill, it can legitimately be included. If not, it can legitimately be cut. The last sentence about where to direct questions about the sale of the building might be left in if the editor feels it is relevant (say, in a business or real estate publication). I would have made it a separate paragraph since it’s not part of the quote.

The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit organization with a membership of 1,700 northeast Indiana businesses. It supports economic growth through member business resources and facilitating strategic connections across business, education and government.

The University of Saint Francis, founded in 1890 as a comprehensive university in the Catholic Franciscan tradition, offers more than 60 undergraduate and 14 graduate programs in five schools: The School of Health Sciences, School of Arts and Sciences, Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership, School of Professional Studies and School of Creative Arts. It enrolls more than 2,300 students from a broad geographic region. The university has a regional campus in Crown Point, Ind.

These are the official descriptions that go at the bottom of every press release and rarely, if ever, make it into print. But if you have to include them at your end, you have to include them. We get that.

As I said earlier, good photos are welcome — either attached or available on request.

Keep it simple, get to the point, and get it right. You’ll create a much more abundant flow of information between your organization and the people you want to reach.

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