20 Mar 2008
12 Tools for Transition: No.8. Writing a Good Press Release
Dealing with the media will rapidly become a key element of the work of your Transition Initiative. One of the first skills you will need to perfect is the writing of good press releases. There is no avoiding the writing of press releases, they are key to communicating what you are doing to the outside world.
The first thing to remember is that journalists are extremely busy people. You need to catch their attention in the header and first line of the release, be as concise as you can, and give them what they need in a format that is as easy for them to use as possible.When you write your press release, it is important to consider exactly what it is that you want to say. What do you want people to get from reading it? What is unique about the story you want the press to give their precious column inches to?
You also need to think about timing. When do you want it in the publication in question? Daily papers clearly have a shorter lead-in time than quarterly magazines. Check the deadlines for copy and make a schedule for your releases based on your programme of events. It is also worth bearing in mind that they often start setting out the main features of the publication before their official deadline date, so getting it to them earlier increases the likelihood of a better spot. Make sure you identify the best person to send it to and address it specifically to that person. It is worth following up your email with a hard copy if you have time.
A good formula to use when constructing your release is ‘AIDA’:
A Get the reader’s Attention (with good headline, sub-head and first sentence)
I Give the Information
D Give the Details (when, where, contact info)
A Inspire the reader to Action (with an enticing last sentence)Structuring a press release
I suggest structuring a press release as follows:
“Press Release”, in large, bold letters.
Is this press release ‘For Immediate Release’ or to be ‘Embargoed Until’ a specific date when you want it to appear?
Include the name, address, phone number, email address and website of the body sending the release.
This needs to be the catchy headline that draws them into the piece. You’ll get a hang of the kind of thing by reading through the kinds of publication you are sending your press release to. The likelihood is they’ll change it, but it is your first opportunity to grab their attention.
Encapsulate your release in one or two intriguing short sentences if possible.
This sums up the content of your press release and makes people want to read it. It needs to contain what is newsworthy about the rest of the text, and give the reader a summary of the story. The first 20-30 words are the key to engaging the reader. You will need to give people a short (5-6 word) reminder of what your project is about. Our local paper, the Totnes Times, always describes TTT as “the project exploring the town’s transition to life after oil”.
It is best to try to keep the rest of the text on one side of A4 paper. This saves second pages getting lost and is more concise for busy editors. Illustrate your text with quotes from members of the project. Here is an example from a TTT press release to announce the release of the project’s Autumn 2007 programme, “ ‘We think this is our strongest programme yet and that it is a testament to the energy and dedication the community has put behind this initiative’, said Rob Hopkins of TTT.”
You may want your story to be illustrated by a picture, in which case attach a high resolution jpg file of the image to your email or note at the bottom of your release that you have pictures if wanted. Make sure it is a good quality, well composed picture, and try to imagine it reproduced in black and white in a newspaper; images with high contrasts of light and dark work better. Sending a picture can sometimes make the difference between the paper using your press release and not.
At the end
At the end put any further useful information, such as where tickets for the event can be bought, or contacts for arranging interviews with the visiting speaker if appropriate. In terms of getting your press release out to as many people as possible, it is useful to have a good database of media contacts. Keep this up to date, and where possible, visit the relevant editors so you have a good working relationship with them. It is also useful to follow up your press release with a phone call to see that they have received it and whether they need any more information – your phone call can often make the difference between your story being covered or not, provided you time it right – catching an editor just as he is trying to get his edition to press can be counter-productive. Try to avoid sending your press release as an email attachment, or if you do, also include it in the body of the email.
Here is a sample Press Release.
Press Release – For Immediate Release
From Transition Town Totnes, 43 Fore Street, Totnes, Devon TQ9 5HN. 31st August 2007
Transition Town Totnes Announces New Programme of Events
Transition Town Totnes, the project exploring the town’s transition to life after oil has just unveiled its new programme of Events for the next four months. It all kicks off on Thursday 6th September with TTT’s First Birthday Party at the Seven Stars Hotel, Totnes, celebrating the wonderful successes and achievements of the first TTT year.
n evening of music, reflection, comedy, conversation, poetry, and dancing, it features poet Matt Harvey, Bert Miller and the Animal Folk, Rooh Star, clowns, Breton Dance Band Poisson Rouge, canny competitions, a ravishing raffle, and many more surprises.
TT’s founder Rob Hopkins told the Totnes Times, “Season Two’s programme promises a dazzling array of evening events and Open Space days, looking at the potential futures of transport, education, and agriculture beyond the availability of cheap oil and gas, as well as a day specifically for young people. We think this is our strongest programme yet and that it is a testament to the energy and dedication the community has put behind this initiative.”
ther highlights include talks by Herbert Girardet, David Strahan, author of The Last Oil Shock, Paul Allen, the director of the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, Bernard Lietaer, Richard Douthwaite, Peter Lipman of Sustrans and Craig Sams, founder of Green and Black’s chocolate, along with many more.
here will also be a performance of ‘This Farming Life’, an extraordinary combination of traditional song, storytelling, and archive footage of farming in the area as far back as the 1920s, and an Interfaith event at St Johns Church, as well a programme of Great Reskilling courses and workshops offering the possibility of learning new practical skills. Are you longing to make your own YouTube video? Passionate to preserve your harvest or to learn the fine art of bread-making? From rocket-stove making to learning about local clays and seed saving. . . the new programme of events has everything you could wish for this autumn.
In a birthday greeting to TTT, Andrew Simms, Director of the New Economics Foundation, who spoke in Totnes recently, wrote:
“Whether we like it or not the world faces a major transition away from dependence on fossil fuels. Either we will decide to manage that transition for the maximum benefit of everyone, or we will be managed by it in a way that is likely to be messy, dangerous and potentially lethal for millions. By taking this initiative, Totnes is leading by example. Transition Town Totnes is a pioneer. It is one of the first beats in a drum roll announcing the arrival of a new era in which we will come to understand that good lives do not have to cost the earth.”
The Season Two Programme of Events is widely distributed throughout Totnes, and on information boards in the Library, Willow Cafe, Greenlife Shop, and of course at the new TTT Office, 43 Fore Street, Totnes, which is open 10am-3pm Tuesday-Friday, from September 10th.
The One Year TTT Anniversary Birthday Party will be at the Seven Stars Hotel, Totnes, 8-11.30pm. Advance tickets are available from Greenfibres and Totnes Pet and Garden, £6 (£5 concessions). Raffle tickets can be bought at the Red Wizard Cafe, Riverford Goes To Town, and the Harlequin Bookshop. Totnes pounds will be accepted for all TTT events.
For more information about these events please contact the TTT Office on 01803 867358 or visit the TTT website at www.transitiontowns.org/Totnes. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org