Strategy: Writing and Sharing Press Releases

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Person reading a newspaper

Press releases remain an excellent way to get your story to the media. But journalists typically receive dozens of press releases daily. Crafting your story for a particular media outlet is crucial to getting it picked up. 

Ideally, a press release will encourage a journalist to follow up with you to develop an even more thorough story, but don’t count on it. You need to be brief, but complete. A press release should provide all the information a journalist needs to write a story. Include the basics­—who, what, when, where, and why—but also include a few quotes and a colorful example or story. 

Tip Sheet: Press Releases & Pitches

Before you start

If you are at a university or sizable institution or agency, check with your public relations office and see what resources they can offer to help you connect with the media.

How to write a good press release

  • Choose your topic carefully. Journalists are looking for stories with the following characteristics:
    • Exclusive research (39%)
    • Breaking news (27%)
    • Emotional stories (15%)
    • Other (19%). Often, “content relevant to my audience”
  • Grab attention with a strong headline
  • Get straight to the point
  • Be brief: no more than 400 words
  • Add quotes to bring your story to life
  • Add numbers to support your point if possible
  • Proofread: even a single grammatical error can send your press release to the trash bin
  • Include links: your press release needs to be brief. So include links to additional information like your organization’s homepage
  • If you need to include photos, attach them, never embed them in the message. 
  • Include your contact information

Information derived from the following sources

How to distribute a press release

  • Specifically target relevant publications and journalists. How do you find them?
    • Go to Google and use search terms related to your topic and click the “News” tab at the top to narrow your results. 
    • Look for recent stories related to your topic and write down the outlet, the journalist’s name, and their contact info (ideally an email). If the contact info isn’t there, try a Google search for the writer or search Linked-In. You can also search Twitter. 
  • Develop a relationship with the media
    • Once you have found relevant media outlets, take the time to get to know reporters who cover stories related to your work. 
    • 30% of journalists say it is very important or important to have a personal connection with the writer before pitching content. An additional 33% say it is moderately important. Only a third of journalists say it is of little or no importance. 
    • Problem: Most journalists also say they don’t want to be called about a story, they just want the pitch. So consider email as a way to introduce yourself to a journalist before you want to pitch a story. An email that highlights the overlap between their beat and your work that doesn’t require them to respond (though you should certainly invite them to) is a good way to start. Then, when it’s time to pitch, you can reference your earlier email. 
  • Reach out through email: 92% of journalists prefer email for story pitches. Only 2% prefer the phone, 1% public pitch on social media, 1% private pitch on social media, and 4% “other.” 

Information derived from the following sources

How to pitch your story

  • Pitch your story: Don’t just send a press release. Pitch it with a brief, compelling intro tailored to journalist and their publication. 
  • Write a good subject line: 85% of journalists decide whether or not to open an email based on the subject line. Make sure it is descriptive and fits their publication. 
  • Get to the point: Your pitch should get straight to the point with a single sentence that captures your news and ask if they would like to cover it. Examples:
    • “I just published a book that explains how stories can help subvert stereotypes about the poor in the U.S.—would you be interested in covering this?
    •  “My organization is hosting a state-wide folk festival that I believe your readers will want to attend.”
    • “For the first time ever, folk weavers from Ghana will be in our town sharing their art and culture—it’s an event your readers won’t want to miss.”
  • Significance: Follow up with a few sentences to clarify exactly what is new and significant about your work, but keep it short. 88% of journalists want to be pitched in 200 words or less (45% of those journalists prefer 100 words or less). 
  • The Press Release: Then add a line spacer and cut and paste your press release into the body of the email message. Do not send the press release as an attachment. Journalists do not like opening attachments for fear of viruses and malware. 
  • Send your pitch in the morning on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday: Mornings ensure your message is at the top of their inbox. Tuesday is often when folks are putting together special interest stories for weekend publications, where stories related to folklore are likely to appear. Friday is often too late for anything but breaking news. 

For additional tips: Includes 300 responses from the top media outlets in the US and UK responding to the Q: “If you could give 1-3 points of feedback to people who pitch you, what would you say?” 

Resources for Press Releases

Writing press releases about research

Writing press releases about events and organizations

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