Basic PR for the Amateur

If you have public relations or journalism experience, this list is not meant for you. This list is meant for the mom in charge of the PTA public relations committee or the poor guy who volunteered at the animal shelter hoping to walk a dog and got stuck behind a computer. It’s always a great list for the small business owner hoping to generate media interest in their operations without paying for it…

  • A press release should be about 400 words long. It should never be longer than one page.
  • A press release should end with three number signs (###) centered on the bottom of the copy. (Copy is the lingo for “the words.”)
  • If writing from a business, non-profit or some other not immediately recognizable entity, the paragraph about the ### should say, in about 75 words, the history of the entity. This paragraph should be on every press release you send out and it should always say exactly the same thing. Update it yearly, or when there’s a big change.
  • When you email a press release: the subject line of the email should say PRESS RELEASE: and then state the most basic facts: what’s happening, why they care, and the date. All in the subject line. This information will be similar to the headline you put on the press release and similar to the file name of your press release.
  • Copy the entire press release into the body of the email, so they don’t have to download the attachment to read it to judge how important it is.
  • Attach a .doc, .rtf or .txt file of the press release to the email, so if they want to copy your press release without retyping they can without having the hard returns and goofy formatting that comes with email.
  • For an event, send a press release about two weeks in advance. You may send a reminder a few days before the event, and clearly state REMINDER in the subject line with the same title as the original message.
  • Now, the writing. Always write your first paragraph as if it’s the only paragraph the editor will read. Keep it under 100 words. Cover who, what, when, where, why and most importantly: convey any specific info that would resonate with the readers/public.
  • The second paragraph can provide more info as to why it’s an important event. Provide the details that will convince the editor to do the story.
  • Paragraph three is a nice place to provide a quote from someone involved, with the quote marks and everything, just like they do in the newspapers. This will relate directly to what was said in paragraph 1 & 2.
  • You can single space your press release, but provide a space between paragraphs so it’s easy to read.
  • Always provide a “For more information, contact:” line. I put mine at the very top. Include the person’s name, their title, their email, business phone, and, if possible, an “after five p.m.” number so a reporter on deadline can find you.
  • Use active verbs. This means avoiding as much “to be” as possible, avoid “is,” “been,” “was,” “being” etc.
  • Use spell check and grammar check
  • Have a friend read it before you send it out
Photo by Tracy Chafin

Photo by Tracy Chafin

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