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How to write a Press Release

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Photographer

Thanks to the internet more and more designers and theatre artists are communicating about their work. And writing a press release is something that a lot of us may have to do. However get it wrong and journalists will just ignore it. Fortunately writing a good press release isn’t too hard and relies on both writing good “copy” (text) and following a number of conventions.

What is a Press Release?

A press release is a document that is sent by companies, governments, organisations or individuals that announces newsworthy details about events, incidents or products.

What should a theatrical press release be used for?

Generally : Announcing a new production, a new theatre building, casting information (Only use for notable figures), new appointments (Only use for notable figures), exhibitions and other events and other newsworthy items.

What a theatrical press release should not be used for?

General publicity, hype and sales pitches.

Our experiences

At the Sceno:graphy site we get plenty of press releases – and some I’m sorry to say we just ignore, not out of malice, but simply because they are not supplied to us in a format that is usable. Last summer we received a number of press releases informing us of Theatre Design Degree Exhibitions, Shows and Productions. One of which we disregarded. Why? The release was sent to us an a jpeg image, with all the informative “copy” dates, locations and details as part of that image. So simply because we couldn’t copy and paste the text we didn’t publish full details of the exhibition. Harsh, maybe – but our time is both limited and valuable. If you want journalists to publish your story you should supply it to them in the most easy to use and accessible format possible.

Good press releases are written in such a way that a journalist may even copy and paste the entire text without a single bit of editing, while others may use the press release as a springboard to a more detailed article.

So what you need to do is learn how to provide them with “copy” that is instantly usable. You also need to learn “when” to write a press release.

You have to figure out whether your news is going to be of genuine interest to others. So for example thinking in terms of the theatre and arts press the building of a new theatre is newsworthy, news of an exhibition is too, show openings are also newsworthy to some sites (Please note we don’t publish show openings!). Ultimately you have to detach yourself from your publicity machine and decide what the public are going to find interesting. Press releases should not be used to “hype” otherwise editors and journalists will ignore it and you’ll lose credibility.

Who, What, Where, When and Why?

These are the key constructs of a press release, if what you want to communicate doesn’t answer the above you may not have anything worth telling the press about

Format

There is no set format for a press release though a number of conventions have emerged:

Here’s what it should generally look like:

For immediate release.

Contact: Martin Paling

Telephone: 123456789

Email: myemailaddress

My Press Release Title in Bold Text and *Lowercase*

A summary of what the release is about, also in bold.

Now the body of the press release. Be concise and factual. Try and step into the journalist’s shoes – write as if you were writing a news piece about your event/news, that way the publication could just copy and paste! (seems like its cheating but if you write in a neutral enough tone that’s what will happen!) Try to remain independent from your publicity and avoid hype and spiel, and don’t over use exclamation marks!!!!.

If your news warrants it feel free to expand into one or more paragraphs. Keep your word count low… 250 is good, don’t go beyond two pages. Don’t use hyperbole and nonsensical or technical language… try to keep things feeling informal and genial.

Try and find a “Hook”. You could look at how your news affects the wider world, current affairs, politics, the arts or maybe you could concentrate on a single individual in your organisation or news, the press often like to hear about a person as opposed to a larger organisation.

–Ends–

Editors Notes: This section (if needed) usually supplies the editor with some background information, no matter how famous you are they may not know you – so it helps to provide some back story – generally this won’t get printed.

Also use this section to re-enforce any restrictions or other legal information

Technicalities & Conventions

There are a number of conventions associated with press release forms… I’ve covered some above but their are a few more you might want to take note of:

Release:

Immediate Release

If the press release is for immediate release make sure you say so!

Not for release until: 30/12/2010

If it’s a timed release put a date in their… remember different countries write numerical dates differently!

An ending:

In the UK it’s common to see

–Ends–

(Or similar) at the bottom of a press release to signify the end. In the US you will usually see:

###

Don’ts!

  • Send images separately – don’t embed them into your press release!
  • Don’t send you press release as a .pdf or any image file. Make it a plain text document or a word document.
  • DON’T WRITE IN UPPERCASE, ITS REALLY ANNOYING AND MOST PUBLICATIONS WILL HAVE TO EDIT it back to something less “shouty” and easy on the eye!

Key Points

  • Stay focused
  • Keep it concise
  • Find a “Hook”
  • Put yourself into the editors/journalist’s shoes
  • Make it easy for them!

Writing a press release is your “way in” following some of the points above might just improve your chances of getting your news published. Maintaining good relations with the press is essential and just that little bit of extra work on your behalf can really pay off, happy publicising!!

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