Press releases, media advisories, and statements are formal communication tools that your group can use to get its messages out to media. Think of them as the type of communication you have with reporters that goes out on your organization’s nice letterhead stationery.
Ideally, they’re just one way that you’re in touch with your media contacts. Pitching stories in more conversational emails and staying in touch in other ways are key to building relationships. (See: Tips From Journalists: How To Build Great Connections with Media.)
Reporters and media professionals have different feelings about these conventions. Some reporters kind of dislike them. Their inboxes are already swamped with so many press releases, they prefer a quick personal note more than anything. Some reporters really appreciate them; the press release puts all the information they need in one place, so they can grab quotes and background from them quickly for their story on a busy day. As you build your relationship with reporters, you can get a sense from them what they prefer.
Either way, these are great tools to have your toolbox.
Here are the tools we’re going to cover in this training:
- Press releases
- Media advisories
- “Available For Comment” emails
- Using social media to communicate with the press
- Important tips to make your releases and statements go far
Examples: We’ve included real-life examples throughout from the Indivisible Project and from Indivisible groups, because these things rarely end up following a neat template in real life, and we wanted to reflect that.
A press release is a communication, no longer than one page, that gives a reporter some of the basics they’d need to write a story about something: background about what’s happening, quotes from relevant people, and contact information they can use to find out more.
Here are a few times where a longer traditional one-page press release is the right choice:
- Announcing an ongoing series of events or unveiling something;
- Reporting back about the highlights of something that’s already happened;
- Announcing a new program or partnership;
- If your goal is to invite media to attend an event, you’ll want to send a media advisory. (See below.)
If your goal is to be quoted in a story about breaking news, you’ll want to send a statement or an “available for comment” email, or both. (See below.)
Here’s the most basic structure of a press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date that the release was sent out
Contact: Name / Email / Phone
CITY WHERE AN ARTICLE THIS ABOUT THIS WOULD BE TAKING PLACE - Summarizing sentence about what’s happening.
Paragraph of 1-2 sentences of background.
“First sentence of a quote,” said Person. “Second sentence of a quote.”
Paragraph of 1-2 sentence of more background, making the argument more that the topic is important.
[OPTIONAL] “First sentence of a quote,” said Person #2 (or Person #1 again.) “Second sentence of a quote.”
Paragraph of bigger-picture context about the topic, including your organization’s history of involvement on this issue.
ABOUT Group: 1-2 sentence boilerplate description
Here are some real examples from us at the Indivisible Project and from Indivisible groups:
A media advisory is an invitation to media to attend something. Just like an invitation to a party, it might have a few sentences of text about what’s going on and what will make the event exciting to attend, and then it spells out very clearly the details. The convention is to literally write “WHO: WHAT: WHEN: WHERE: ”
Media advisories are especially useful for broadcast TV and radio newsrooms, who get heaps of them every day and need to be able to sort through them fast to decide where to send people to cover what.
Here’s a real-life example:
A statement is typically just a quote, without the additional background information a press release provides. The purpose is to give people something they can cut and paste into an article quickly. These are the right choice when you are reacting to breaking news, and you don’t need to present a lot of extra context about what’s going on.
Available For Comment / Available For Interview
This is typically used when news breaks and you want to be part of the story fast. It’s often a great way of saying “We’re available!” without taking the time to write out a statement.
This is a good choice if you have a handful of key reporters in your that you’ve worked with before on a specific issue, and are confident they’d be interested in getting your take. This is also a good way to get the attention of a new reporter who covers this issue but that you haven’t worked with in the past -- by sending a personalized note as opposed to BCCing them on a statement.
Send these emails ASAP after a breaking news event. Let reporters know why they should want to talk to the person you’re making available, what their hook is to the breaking news, and provide the spokesperson’s availability with as much detail as possible, as well as a reliable point of contact to arrange an interview. Link to a bio or previous coverage of the person.
Some reporters may prefer to talk with you over quoting from a press release or statement because they’re more likely to get unique content from your conversation, while multiple reporters could get the same quote if they just use your press release. Even keeping this in mind, note that it’s OK to read something over the phone if you’re not comfortable giving an in-depth interview. It’s OK to say that you are ready to share a comment about this situation, but aren’t prepared to talk about other topics right now.
USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO MAKE STATEMENTS FOR MEDIA
As we said, all these communications are just conventions. The fact is, today, statements made on Twitter and Facebook are starting to often serve a similar function as a way for getting information out to the press. (See: our current president.)
This is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand: reporters will often happily cover statements that you post on Twitter and Facebook. That can be a good approach when you have something longer or more casual to say, and it has the advantage that there’s no need to reformat and reinvent the wheel. If your group’s going to run with this strategy, just make sure you’re reaching people on your press list who aren’t big social media users. (For example, you can send an email saying “FYI, we just posted this reaction to the President’s DACA announcement on our Facebook page.”)
On the other hand: as a reminder, reporters may be checking your social media accounts, whether you’d like them to or not. Periodically, in addition to whatever policies and privacy settings your accounts have, it’s a good idea to scroll through your account and think about what a reporter would see, checking for any distracting or negative material--including the comments section. Definitely do a check like this before directing reporters’ attention to an announcement you’ve made on your social media accounts.
TIPS TO MAKE YOUR RELEASES AND STATEMENTS GO FAR
Here are some important things to keep in mind:
- Timing matters: When will reporters need to have this information in order to be able to use it? A beautifully crafted press release that comes in too late doesn’t do much good.
- Before you start writing, give yourself and your teammates a deadline for hitting “send,” and stick to it. Build in time for teammates to look at it, as needed.
- If you’re getting the word out about upcoming an event, check out the example timeline in this training on pitching events.
- If you’re reacting to breaking news, a reporter may be working on publishing a story online within the hour, so getting a statement to them quickly could mean the difference between being included or not. Consider sending a quick email to specific reporters you’re in touch with to let them know “FYI, we’ll have a statement coming shortly.”
- Make your press releases user-friendly:
- Paste the text of your release into the body of an email so that reporters can easily cut-and-paste the text into their stories. If you’d like to attach a PDF version also, that’s fine: PDFs often look nicer and more consistently formatted. But make sure a reporter can grab what they need easily.
- Be careful of sending big attachments. A few photos are OK. To send a whole album’s worth, send a link instead. To send a video, upload it to Facebook, YouTube or another site and send a link. You can mention in your email that the full original file is available on request.
- Consider adding a press releases section to your website. It can be handy for reporters to have as a reference.
- Have a friend do a last editing check for typos.
- It’s OK to add other content that’s essential to telling the story: While it’s nice to be able to know how to put together a simple press release in a traditional format, it’s OK to add attachments, links and other additions to your release if they’re relevant. (Keeping the main body of it to one page is a good goal.)
- Will you be holding a vigil in an especially beautiful spot, with significance to your story? Include a photo.
- The moderator of your candidate forum isn’t a famous name, but runs a really great podcast? Include a link to a cool recent interview.
- Let’s say your group is visiting your MoC’s office to talk about health care, and a couple parents will be bringing their kids along. Is that too small a detail? Not at all! -- think about including that in the “WHO” section of your media advisory.
- Let’s say your group is issuing a statement reacting to a naive thing your MoC said about North Korea. The group leader who is being quoted in the statement has a family member who’s serving overseas in the military? Definitely, mention that in there. (If they’re OK with it.)
Before you hit send on a press release, think about how you’d explain the events going on to a friend, and the details you’d highlight to them. Is there something missing? Don’t let the formality of the format get in the way of telling an interesting story.