Almost 80% of the stories in our newspapers are generated by media (press) releases, and your objective is to get your message to appear in the media unchanged. For this to happen, the media release must read the same way as a news story. It might seem obvious, but it is a skill that has to be mastered.
Mediacontact.ie is Ireland’s leading media solutions company and they have given us their tips to improve your media releases. Mediacontact.ie is run by Jack Murray, one of Ireland’s principle communications experts. He is the Managing Director of Mediacontact.ie, publisher of the Irish Media Contacts Directory, and founder of the public relations firm JMedia. Jack has over 12 years experience in marketing, journalism, and media relations. A former spokesperson for Irish political party the Progressive Democrats (1999 to 2002), Murray also worked as a government advisor.
Jack Murray formed the public relations consultancy Jmedia (www.jmedia.ie) in 2003 to specialise in media relations, media training and public affairs. JMedia lists many well-known clients. In 2005 JMedia won the Public Relations Institute of Ireland’s award for Best Corporate Communications, for a campaign for Kingspan Century. He knows his business!
So what are the key components of a media release that will get your message noticed?
A Good Media Release Has a Good Headline
A good headline helps to attract attention. Today, journalists are bombarded with media messages and you only get one chance to make a first impression. This is an example of a poor headline:
BMW REGION CAPITAL ALLOWANCE OF £1 MILLION WILL ENABLE IMPROVEMENTS IN INFRASTRUCTURE FOR PHERIPHAL AREAS
- It is too long. Great headlines can be spoken in one breath. Use simple language. Headlines need to be succinct, short and snappy.
- It is passive, there are no ‘active’ verbs suggesting movement or action. The headline should provide a basic image of the content of the article.
Here is a good headline:
€10 MILLION GOOGLE INVESTMENT CREATES 100 JOBS FOR BALLINASLOE
- It’s short – tells the story in seven words.
- It’s in vivid simple and active language.
- It’s in the present tense so it’s newsy. (The future tense would work equally well.)
When you are writing a headline, remember the obligation is on YOU to attract the reader.
A Good Media Release Answers the Key Questions in the First Paragraph
Why? In many cases all the journalist will read is the headline and the first paragraph. If you don’t make an impression with them then your release is doomed to fail. If your story makes it to print, and a bigger story comes along before it goes to print, the journalist will edit your story. This is usually done from the bottom up.
Readers are busy and distracted. They may not have time to read every story to the end.
So you need to deliver the key information early:
- What (is happening)?
- Who (is involved)?
- Where (is it happening)?
A Good Media Release uses Active Verbs
This sentence uses the passive form of the verb:
A general election was called by Brian Cowen.
This sentence uses the active form of the verb:
Brain Cowen called a general election.
Remember if it’s a headline, don’t just go for an active verb go for a present or future tense verb:
A Good Media Release Keeps the Fog Index in Mind
The Gunning Fog Index is about sentence length. Based on an observation of the pattern of attention given by readers to printed material, it suggests that the longer a sentence, the thicker the fog which the reader has to get through to get to the message.
8-10 word sentences are clear and easy to understand.
10-15 word sentences are slightly less clear and easy to understand.
15-25 word sentences can mean the fog is thickening.
25+ can mean the sentence is impenetrable
Keep sentences short and concise. Break up longer sentences to maintain clarity.
The News Test
It is a good idea to apply this simple test to check the newsworthiness of all your potential stories. Here is the news test:
- Timing: Make sure your story is fresh enough for the media in which you want to place it.
- Angles: Have you looked behind the facts and come up with the most interesting and newsworthy angles for journalists to pursue?
- Reader Interest: Will your story prompt action or comment among readers?
- News Diary: Ensure it will not be fighting For space with other similar news on the day you release it.
- Topicality: Watch for other news stories or events which might add value to your story. They might make you rethink your news angles and add a crucial hook to your own story that will push it onto the front page.
- Always use 1.5 line spacing for media releases.
- Type ‘Media Release’ in 36 point Times New Roman or other well used font.
- Type headline in 14 point Times New Roman.
- Type sub heads in 14 point Italics Times New Roman.
- Type main text in 12 point Times New Roman.
- Always type the headline of the media release in the subject line of the email.
- Always type the main text of the media release in the body of the email
- NEVER attach a media release to an email – it won’t be read.
At the top of your release, put an indicator to the recipient as to when it may be used. If it will only apply if somebody is saying something at a meeting, and you want to release it in advance of the meeting add the word Embargo and the date and time that it is embargoed until.
The journalists reading it will understand that it cannot go out until a particular time – so, for instance, it might be embargoed until after a meeting or event – you need to state when it can be released – ‘embargoed until’ so journalists know when to release it.
Your media release should not look too crowded. Make sure you have margins of at least 2 centimetres on either side. Remember that a sub-editor may need to pencil notes or sub-headings into your text, so leave room for this purpose.
Broken up text is much easier to read than text which is presented in long, uninterrupted blocks. Use one paragraph for each new idea and for quotations. If you find a paragraph running to more than three sentences, think about breaking it into two.
Always include the date on the top of the release in at least 12-point bold text.
When we see quotation marks in a story, we know that there is a human being, a voice in the story. Quotation marks, properly used, pull the eye of the reader. They can make the reader continue to read a media release.
Putting some of the data in the mouth of the speaker gives greater variety to what otherwise may be just a presentation of details. Keep the attribution simple, for instance: Jack Murray said, Jack Murray replies, Jack Murray states.
A short paragraph about your organisation is known as a boiler plate and should always be included just before the end of the release. This gives a context to the reader about what you are saying.
It is important that the recipient of the release knows where it finishes. Putting ENDS in the middle of the line after you have finished, but before you put in the source. This means your biographical detail/the background to your organisation won’t creep into the release.
No newspaper or radio station will give a moments consideration to a media release that does not come on a letter-headed sheet indicating the organisations name and address. In addition, at the end of the release the news editor needs to know who sent this particular release and where they can be reached if anything needs to be clarified. Ensure the contact details are correct, that the email address is one you use regularly, that the telephone number will be answered!
Don’ts for Media Releases
- Don’t type your media release in capital letters.
- Don’t type your media release in italics.
- Don’t fail to proofread your release, (better still have it proofed by someone else).
- Don’t use clichés.
- Don’t use padding.
- Don’t send it late.
- Don’t send it to the wrong person.
- Don’t use bold points to emphasise your point.
- Don’t open quotation marks and forget to close them.
Time the news
There is no point in writing a groundbreaking media release if it misses every news deadline.
- Between 10.30 and 11.00 on a week day is a good time to send out a national release. Never after 1pm unless it is big or breaking news
- Sunday or Monday is a good time to release to national newspapers.
- Saturday is the worst time in the week to send out a media release.
- Establish local newspaper and radio deadlines; ensure that copy is finalised well in advance of the deadline. Important radio times are; early weekday evenings (3pm and 4pm) and Saturdays and Sundays.
- Establish which local radio programmes involve discussion of arts/current affairs/subject areas that your book touches on. Target media releases at these as well as at the news bulletins.
- Always send your piece to a particular person. Ensure it has been received by following up each submission with a call to them.
- Always ring the local radio station and offer the candidate for (or yourself) for interview. Don’t wait for them to come to you.