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The Nine Components of a Press Release

This news item is the sixth in a 10-part series on public health communication. This installment focuses on how to create effective press releases.

This news item is the sixth in a 10-part series on public health communication. This installment focuses on how to create effective press releases.

July 5, 2013

A press release is an announcement or summary of news to the press. A press release is similar to a news article, but it is not written by journalists. Instead, organizations or agencies representing organizations write and send press releases to news outlets. Journalists or editors may publish the press release as is, or they may use parts of it within a larger news story.

Press releases should be straightforward, written in the active voice, and follow any guidelines recommended by your target media outlet. Most publications use AP Style, and if you are new to journalistic writing, it might be helpful to peruse the fundamental concepts. Press releases should also include the following key components:

1. Letterhead/Logo

It’s a good idea to place your organization’s logo or letterhead at the top of your press release. This makes it easy for press staff to identify where the press release is coming from and it lends credibility to your news. Press release format is something you should consider when developing your brand standards. You will need to decide where and how big your logo should be placed, what size and type of font to use, margin widths, and line spacing to avoid variation in the way your press releases look.

2. Contact Information

Once the press staff read your release, they may want to reach out to you or your organization for further information. Include contact information of the person on your team who can most effectively field media calls and emails.

3. “For Immediate Release”

Most of the time, you’ll want your news to go public as soon as possible. In this case, you should include “For immediate release” toward the top of your document. This indicates to the press that there is no holding period for publication. If you decide to embargo, or request a stay of publication until a specific date, you must also indicate that as well.

4. Headline and sub-headline

A headline is the opportunity to grab the reader’s attention. It should summarize what your news is about and encourage the reader keep reading. The sub-headline should describe the headline in more detail. Both are typically written in the subject-verb-object format and should be around 70 characters at most. For example:

Headline: County Health Department Launches Childhood Obesity Program

Subhead: Community grant keeps kids on playgrounds, off couches

5. Dateline

The dateline includes the date as well as the city and state (see AP Style guide) where the press release is being issued, and it precedes the first paragraph of the release.

6. Body

The body is where the news story is written. The first paragraph should succinctly summarize the entire story, clearly articulating who, what, when, where, why, and how the story happened (or will happen). Subsequent paragraphs describe those same elements in further detail. Though there are ways to frame these details to provide a certain angle to the story, it is important to write facts only. The body is not a place for inserting opinions on an issue—this portion should be easy for media to publish directly.

7. Quote

Press releases should be fact-driven, but you will often want to include some formal opinion about the issues from your organization. A quote from an organizational representative (usually a director or lead on a project) is a good way to achieve this editorial edge. You may also consider including a quote from a third party who can add credibility to your story. This may be a content expert, a community leader, or a constituent affected by your story. Make sure your titles are formatted properly, and don’t let quotes overshadow the facts—instead use them to highlight and support the narrative you’ve written.

8. Boilerplate

The boilerplate is a few sentences at the end of your press release that describes your organization. This should be used consistently on press materials and written strategically, to properly reflect your organization.

9. ###

This indicates the end of the press release so that the journalist or editor doesn’t miss any information. If your release is longer than one page, insert “--more--” at the bottom of each page preceding the last.

To better understand what the pieces of a press release look like altogether, check out these examples from the CDC, Public Health - Seattle & King County, and Whatcom County Health Department.

It’s a good idea to have an approval process in place for media relations and press release distribution. All quotes need to be approved by the person being quoted, and all facts should be checked. You may also consider preparing your release for ethnic media, which may require translation. This involves extra work on the front-end, but can be essential to spreading a message within specific communities. For more detail, check out these great toolkits.

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