Writing a press release

The most usual way of disseminating information about a campaign or reaction to an event is through a press release. In a news release you can marshal the facts, gather together the people involved in a story, and make sure everyone is saying roughly the same thing.

Writing a release

Your press release should be clear and simple. It should contain all the relevant facts, names, times and so on, and include the name and number of at least one contact (someone who is going to be at the end of the phone when they are needed).

Make an impact at the start

Your headline should spell out very briefly the gist of the story. Headlines that appear in newspapers are written by sub-editors. Your news release headline is merely to attract the journalist's attention.

The first couple of sentences should tell a journalist everything they really need to know about a story. Use the opening paragraph to answer the five 'Ws' - who, what, when, where, why. Further paragraphs gradually expand the story with relevant facts.

A quote should be included in the name of someone important: secretary, chair/president etc, and, if appropriate, a person involved in the story.

Remember that you are writing for people who may know nothing of UCU, education, government policy etc. Start from where your audience is, not from where you are. Spell everything out briefly but clearly. Any acronyms should be spelled out in full when they are first used. Try to avoid jargon, but if you have to use technical expressions, explain what they mean.

Photo opportunities

A picture is worth a thousand words. Think creatively about photo opportunities – the presentation of your petition to the vice-chancellor of principal, that stunt to show the impact of a particular course being cut.

Embargoes

Occasionally you may want to tell the media about something before it has actually happened, for example a letter you are sending to a politician, or a speech someone is going to make at an event. In this case put 'Not for publication until' or 'Embargo': 00.01 hours (or relevant time) on the day it is happening. Reporters will usually respect an embargo.

Contents of a good release

  • UCU logo and organisation name (X university/college UCU LA/branch)
  • The words News Release
  • Date
  • For immediate release or Embargoed until/date
  • 24-hour contact details
  • Headline
  • First paragraph with guts of story
  • Two or three more paragraphs
  • A quote: 'more follows' if it goes on to a second page
  • The words 'ends' at the end
  • 24-hour contact details again
  • Notes to editors
  • Note to photo editors (if there's a photo opportunity)

Where to send your news release

News releases should be emailed or faxed to local newspapers or radio stations marked for the attention of the news desk or education desk.

Follow up your release

You could try phoning round your media contacts to ask if they have received the press release and inquiring whether they might use it But remember, journalists have a job to do, so don't pester them or demand that they cover your story. It is probably up to someone else anyway. If your story is not used, it may be because you have not made it sound interesting, or because you have made it hard work for the journalist. Or it may simply have been squeezed out on a very busy news day.

The best policy is to keep up a steady flow of well-written press releases and develop good relations with your media contacts. That way, you raise the chances that anything worth covering gets the coverage it deserves.
 

Last updated: 30 January 2007