I’ve always enjoyed writing media releases.
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.
I'm going to use that piece as a guide to explain my process for writing and sending releases. Please note:
- 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.
- Media Distribution: determining where to send the release depends on what you happen to be promoting. In this instance, I wanted to garner exposure for a program that was to be held only one time at a shul in the City of Detroit, and the subject matter was of a historic nature. I, therefore, opted to send it to more mainstream Detroit-based publications, including The Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, and Daily Detroit. Also, I sent it to Jewish publications in Southeast Michigan, including the Detroit Jewish News and My Jewish Detroit.
- 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.
In addition, include the release in the body of the email. Editors/reporters have different ways of working – some prefer to cut and paste a release from the copy of the email, others would rather download the document. Some media outlets have online security where an attachment might be removed, so including the release in the body of the message will help ensure your information still makes it to the recipient.
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.
I'm Eli Natinsky and I'm a communication professional. This blog explores my work and professional interests. I also delve into other topics, including media, marketing, pop culture, and technology.