Step-by-step plan writing a press release
A press release draws the attention of newspapers, magazines or websites to your work of art or event. When writing a press release you should not only think about what you want to say, but also about what the media you address will think of as newsworthy.
1. Determine the newsworthiness
Think carefully about what you want to say. Why should a newspaper, magazine, radio, television or online medium pay attention to your project? Think about the theme of your work and which organisations may be interested in it. Also see if you can make a link with current events. The newsworthiness may vary from one newspaper or magazine to another.
2. Make an address list
Approach newspapers, magazines and websites beforehand to find out to whom to send your press release. Be as specific as possible, so that you know exactly to whom, from which department, you are sending something. You can then also offer to supply illustrative material or a curriculum vitae. Make sure this is also available online.
3. Determine the content: who, what, where, when, why and how
Make it clear that it is a press release by starting with the words ‘PRESS RELEASE’ at the top. Include the place of writing and date. Write a concise headline that sums up the essence of the press release. Make the headline active by choosing a verb in the present tense. For example: Jazz talent competes for Keep an Eye Jazz Award (not Keep an Eye Jazz Award 2024).
In general, press releases are read like an upside-down pyramid: everyone reads the headline, less readers move on to the first paragraph, and almost nobody reads the whole text. The further down the text you go, the less readers are left. The first and most important paragraph (the lead) must contain all the relevant information in fifty words. This is where you tell the readers who, what, when and why so that they immediately know what it is about. It is the combination of the headline and the lead that succeeds or fails to get the reader to continue.
The rest of the text is background information. This is where you can say more about how and why and make explanatory comments on the work. If the press release is also the announcement of an event, do not forget to indicate practical information at the end such as date, starting and finishing time, location. Append to the bottom of the text a ‘note to the editor’ with the name of the contact, telephone number where he or she can be reached, e-mail address and the website for more information or illustrative material.
4. Write a clear press release
Some tips for writing the press release:
- Bear in mind the target group of the press release and the knowledge of the subject on the part of the target group. For instance, be wary of using an abbreviation that is obvious to you but not to the outside world. Make sure you write names of study programmes, organisations and persons correctly and completely.
- Do not use abbreviations such as etc., e.g., and so on; write the terms in full.
- Write in a neutral, down-to-earth and informative tone, avoiding value judgements and superlatives. Avoid words like dazzling, mesmerising, fantastic, and so forth.
- As far as possible use verbs in the active mode and in the present tense. Keep sentences short, alternating with a longer one occasionally to keep up the pace and dynamism of the text. Do not cram too much information into phrases.
- Avoid complicated words or office jargon. Keep it simple and straight.
- Do not make the press release too long; max. one A4.
- If the press release is longer than one page, use subheadings to guide the reader along.
- Check the spelling and always get someone else to read your text afterwards.
5. Send your press release
If the text is completely finished and you decided to include your illustrative material, do not forget to include the name of the work of art, artist, photographer and copyright where applicable along with the illustrative material. Bear in mind the various deadlines of magazines, newspapers and lists of what’s on. Call the editor a couple of days later to see if the press release has been received and to ask if anything is being done with it.
6. Contact with the media
Think carefully about what you want to say when a reporter contacts you. Talk in advance with the journalist to know the context of the publication. Be honest, professional and try to think about what the reader or viewer wants to know about you. Good starting points are often personal motives or ambitions. Also ask to check the publication on inaccuracies before it is published, and ask for the date of publication. Please note that the media operates under great time pressure: direct and punctual response is important. If you send images, make sure there is no copyright on it and use the right name of the maker or photographer.
7. Monitor and save
Keep a list of all press you're mentioned in on radio, television, the internet and in all newspapers. You can use professional media monitoring agencies or let services like Google Alerts help you. Write down the contacts or writers so you can directly contact them next time. Keep all expressions in the written media. You can use good reviews or quotes when selling or applying for subsidies for a next project.