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How to Write a Press Release

Press releases are really hard because they're really easy--that is, the information you need to include in them is painfully simple. Figuring out how to get all that in while still writing a catchy, engaging document that will bring in reporters and TV crews and Cokie Roberts and David Letterman is hard--but here, at least, are some guidelines on what you need to include. How to make it cool I still haven't perfected.

  1. At the top, write "Press Release" or "News Release." This seems stupid and obvious; do it anyway. Newspapers get a lot of random pieces of paper. You should also provide the name, and contact person (if you have one) of the media outlet to which this release is going.
  2. Also write the date and "For Immediate Release," unless for some reason you're writing a press release weeks in advance, which generally you don't want to do, since news, as we all know, has got to be new.
  3. Next comes a catchy headline. This sounds like the fun part, but usually it's the most agonizing, because its so hard to be creative on short notice. The headline is just like the headline for a newspaper story--it should tell you something about the content of the story and it should make you want to read more.
  4. Then comes the actual press release part, which, also like a newspaper story, starts with the location you're writing from--in this case, probably "Iowa City, IA--". Then the paragraph breakdown works something like this:
    First Paragraph--Who/What/Where/When. What's the event? Who will be there, and who's putting it on? Where and when is it? This is all really crucial information, and you want to make it sound appealing. Think of this as the party invitation paragraph.
    Second Paragraph--Why. What is the significance of this event? Why is it being held? What will it accomplish (or what do you hope it will accomplish?) You may want to throw in a quotation or two from a group member here, just to kick it up a notch.
    Remaining Paragraphs--Deep background. Here's where you might go into the history of this event or of your group, or the biography/credentials of the speaker(s), if this event has any. Any information that seems like it might be interesting or important as background also belongs here. Basically, the rule of thumb is that the less important or interesting a piece of information, the later it should come in the press release. You may also want to bring in more quotations from group members or experts on your issue (the former you can make up; the latter should be authentic).
  5. Contacts. Now you want to list 2-3 names and numbers of people that the media can call for further information about the event. These should be people who will actually be near telephones and who are willing to speak to the press.
  6. Last, type either ### or -30-. I don't know the significance of these marks, but they are how press releases end--that's just the way it is.

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by Laura Crossett, 1998-2010