When you don’t write on a regular basis, it’s hard to sit down and draft a solid press release for your campaign launch. The good news is that press releases are formulaic and you can write your own launch press release by breaking it down into manageable parts. By tackling each part individually, you’ll have your first full press release in an hour or two.
The Inverted Pyramid
The invention of the telegraph forever changed the speed of news and information. Instead of news traveling by horse and buggy or carrier pigeon, the telegraph allowed news to be transmitted instantly through electric cable. This technological advancement changed the way newspapers reported the events their newsmen covered. Reporters were able to send stories from remote locations via telegraph with news only a few hours—or even minutes—old. But with early telegraph lines less than reliable, stories were sometimes cut off mid transmission.
That’s where the inverted pyramid writing style came in. The inverted pyramid simply means that you start by giving the lead and all the pertinent information. You cover the “Who, What, Where, When, Why and How”. In the next section you write the body of the story and provide backup details and quotes. For the final section you put in the least important details.
This style was widely adopted and is still taught in journalism classes across the country. No matter how bad the connection or unreliable the means of communication, if you can get out the first sentence the reader will have at least a basic understanding of the events as they occurred. The inverted pyramid style meant that the casual newspaper skimmer as well as the voracious reader would have at least a basic handle on the news of the day. It also allowed editors an easy way of trimming stories when they didn’t fit the allotted space—cutting up from the bottom and eliminating the least relevant facts first.
In your campaign press release you want to follow this inverted pyramid formula. If reporters or opinion leaders look at your press release, you’ll want them to internalize the point of your release in less than 10 seconds. If you’ve piqued their interest they’ll read further and perhaps contact you to write a full story. If a weekly newspaper gets your press release and sees that it’s written like a actual news, your release might get published word for word.
Now that we know the history and value of the inverted pyramid and why it’s important for your campaign, let’s look at how to apply it to your own press releases.
The Engaging Headline
For your headline you’ll want to spend some time writing a concise statement of 12 words or less that summarizes the purpose of your press release.
Brevity is always good, but you also need to make sure your headline is long enough to convey the important info. In the bad example we have no idea what office John Smith is running for or anything about his campaign. With a few more short words you can finish a complete thought for a reader.
The Critical Lead Paragraph
In your first paragraph you want to build off your headline by providing more details. Remember if someone reads only your headline and first paragraph they should know all the relevant details. A good way to ensure you’re doing this is to make sure you are answering all of the following questions:
Who is the subject?
What is the news?
When did it happen?
Where did it happen?
Why is this newsworthy?
“MANCHESTER – Advocating for simpler, fairer city taxes, local business owner John Smith announced his candidacy for City Council at an engaging rally of 50 supporters on Friday at the steps of City Hall.”
Your lead paragraph could be as long as three sentences, but the shorter the better. You want to convey your news in as few words as possible quick impact.
The Body is for Details
The body of your release is where you delve into the details of the news, provide quotes and give all the relevant background information. Quotes are especially important in the body. Sometimes a reporter might just take your quote and print it as part of larger story. The more pithy and concise your quote, the greater the chance it will get picked up and printed.
At the start of your press release include the date and the word “For Immediate Release” and include your campaign logo at the top of the page. If you have quotes not attributed to yourself be sure you get signoff by the person being quoted. Finally, double check for spelling and grammar, and most importantly, every fact stated in your release for accuracy.
When possible include a photo with the release and an accompanying caption. The caption can go at the end of the release under “Photo Caption:”
At the end of the press release put your contact info (Name, phone, email) under the word “Contact”.
Sending Your Release
Send out your press release to both your supporters and your press list through your e-mail service. For press releases you can rely on a very simple format that simply looks like the paper version of the release. For the subject line of the email, write the word “RELEASE” followed by the headline. If you can, attach any photos and a PDF version of your press release to the e-mail as well. On the file name make sure it’s clearly labeled (“John Smith launches City Council campaign 12-1-2013.docx”).
Remember, many reporters have 2:00 p.m. deadlines so they send out your release in the morning or early afternoon. Reporters get a lot of press releases e-mailed to them, so if yours comes after deadline there’s a good chance it will be ignored.
For the stations or papers you really want to cover the release you can give the reporter a quick call. If you get them on the line, just say you’re following up on a press release you sent earlier in the day and wanted to know if they had any questions. If you get voice mail leave a similar message. The idea is to give a gentle nudge and reminder to actually read your press release and not hit “Delete”.
One final note… Reporters can be finicky. Even the best press release in the world in not guaranteed to get picked up. Use these tips to maximize your chances of making the news, but prepare for the frustration of being initially ignored. If this happens, keep drafting and sending your releases to the press, but look for other ways to get your name and news out in the community.
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