What most interests me about releases is the fact that it's a hybrid piece of communication that draws from both marketing and journalism – both types of writing that I specialize in. Releases pull from journalism in that they are fact-based and contain some of the same elements in a news story, including a headline and opening summary paragraph. They are marketing pieces, however, in that they are not objective like a piece of journalistic writing. Releases are written in a positive, promotional tone about whatever it is you're trying to draw attention.
One of my previous blog posts detailed a release I recently wrote for the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit to promote its program “They Risked Their Lives: Poles Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust.” The release helped generate publicity in various media in Southeast Michigan, including the
Detroit Jewish News and Daily Detroit.
- Release Length: the synagogue release is a page and a half and you want to limit yours to no more than two pages. Having worked in newsrooms, I know they are often busy places and editors and reporters only require the most essential information initially. A staffer will follow up if he/she needs additional details.
- Opening Paragraph: as you would with a typical news story, summarize the event
and include journalism's classic “5 Ws” in the opening paragraph – who, what, when, where, why. In this case, that would be: the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (who), Holocaust program (what), Wednesday, August 24 at 5:30 p.m. (when), where (the synagogue), why (background on the program). This may be all the information a publication will be able to print if they're pressed for space, so it’s important the vital details are included early on.
- Art Is A Must: always include a visual element with the release, such as a photo, a graph, or an illustration. Art enhances a story, so providing it will increase the changes your release is picked up. You’ll notice many articles have one or more visuals to go along with the copy.
With the synagogue release, I either included headshots of the three program speakers or a promotional flyer the synagogue had posted to its Facebook page and website. Typically, art should be provided in JPEG format and kept to about 1 MB in size, but the media outlet may have specific requirements. Be sure to check with them.
This is the release I wrote for the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. Click the image to view
the document and see some of the publicity it generated.
- Publication Contacts: before sending a release, make sure you’re getting it to the right person. Go to the publication’s website and/or print edition and see if a reporter or editor has covered similar stories in the past. Some publications have a religion writer, but that's a narrow category and a staffer who would write about a synagogue event is more likely to fall under something news related, such as a local editor or a community reporter. Those are the folks to whom I passed along the release.
- Sending Your Release: I deliver releases and art to the media via email. Most editors or reporters will have their address listed in their publication’s print and/or online edition. Send a personalized message to the reporter or editor - address them by their name, rather than “Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Include a short paragraph explaining the event and attach the release and art. Typically, I provide the release in PDF format.
On a final note, keep in the mind that the relationship between the media and the public is reciprocal. You shouldn't feel as though you are imposing on staffers – they need the content just as you need the publicity. In our 24-hour news cycle, I think of media outlets, be they online, print or broadcast, as fires that constantly need to be feed.
If you’ve approached the media in the past and have not received exposure, then it’s possible that you may need to change your approach. I’m confident you'll be more successful if you follow my method for writing and distributing releases.