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Writing press releases with pizzazz!

By Susan Passi-Klaus

SUMMARY:  When you pitch your church event to the media, nothing is more important than the press release you send to newspaper editors, news/feature reporters and television producers.

A well-written release increases your exposure, enhances your image and generates good attendance at your event. From the headline and subhead to the lead paragraph and boilerplate ending, your press release demonstrates to the media the newsworthiness of your cause, service or event. 

Here are some tips for writing press releases with pizzazz!

Package your press pitch professionally:

  • Create an information packet or press kit giving background about your church, organization or cause.
  • Include a cover letter, briefly explaining the event, requesting coverage and offering your assistance.
  • Make sure your press release is typed, well composed and thorough. If possible, present it on organizational or event letterhead.
  • Suggest the best time to cover the event – the speaking time for a special guest, when presentations or performances will begin, and so forth
  • Always be aware of reporters’ deadlines.
  • If you have quality photographs of event speakers, special guests and entertainers, attach the pictures to your e-mail or include them with your press release. You also can note in your cover letter or at the bottom of the press release that publicity photos are available upon request.
  • Say it in just two pages. Keeping it to one page is even better.
  • Go online and Google “writing press releases” to find samples of press-release formats.

Your press release should include:

  • Who will be at your event? Who is sponsoring your event? Whom does your event benefit?
  • What can the media expect if they choose to cover your story? Do you have great visuals that television stations won’t want to miss? Do other happenings coincide with this event or personal appearance? What would the media miss if they do not cover it? Make sure they realize what is happening. Specify the best time for coverage.
  • Where is the setting? Be as specific as possible when noting a place of the story. Include a map, if necessary.
  • When is the event? Include details of the time and date.
  • Why is the story so important? What is the purpose? Do you hope to accomplish a goal such as raising funds for a charity or raising awareness of an issue? The “why” part reaches out to the media’s audience. If the reason behind a story has far-reaching effects, chances are the media will cover it. If the “why” affects one person in a unique way, readers, viewers and listeners may be affected.
  • How will you tell your story? Will you post signs around a neighborhood to raise awareness? Will large groups of people participate in a contest? Will the event’s guest of honor arrive in an unusual way? Share the technicalities of your story and let the intricacies of your event shine.

Here are other tips for writing a news release:

  1. Strive to achieve maximum impact in your headline while using the fewest words necessary. The “lead” or first sentence of a news release must grab the reader’s attention so he or she wants to read further. Within the first few sentences, answer these questions: who, what, where, when and why?
  2. Write news releases in an “inverted pyramid” format. Begin with the most important information, followed by other facts in descending importance. Ask yourself if your reader would have the primary information if an editor deleted the last few paragraphs. Keep your news release to one page, if possible.
  3. Add interest and value to your story by including quotes attributed to one or two knowledgeable sources within your organization. Quotes also are a good way to include subjective information such as opinions, thoughts and beliefs. Consider the key ideas you want to get across and include those in your quotes.
  4. While a poorly written news release often is rejected, smaller newspapers often print well-written releases word-for-word. Make sure your news release is free of misspelled words, typographical errors and grammatical mistakes. Strive to use active, not passive, voice. Use language aimed at the reader, not jargon only insiders will understand.
  5. Include contact information at the top of the news release so media can call for more information. Include a name, phone number and alternate phone number. Time the release so your contact will be available for media calls the day of and the day following the release. If your church has a Web site, be sure to include the URL (web address) on your letterhead and news releases.