Publishing Digital (Electronic) Press Releases

Eight Key Elements of an Effective Press Release

Maximize Your Use of Free Publicity  Preparing a press release (a.k.a. media release or news release) — whether mailed or emailed — is one of the most effective ways to promote a website launch, and other newsworthy programs and events, while keeping the name of your company, church, or organization in front of the public. Most media outlets publicize church events, but surprisingly, few churches take advantage of that free publicity.

Tell Your Own Story  A good press release is written more as a story than as a promotional piece. Write something that persuades the reader to take an interest in the new website, program, or event; but use a journalistic style that avoids superlatives and marketing language. Phrases such as "our site offers the most useful features" or "you'll definitely get a lot out of our best sermon series ever" will likely be edited out or possibly get your press release deleted or tossed in the can.

Press releases conform to an established format. Take a look at the key elements that will help you prepare an effective press release.

1. Media Outlets  First prepare a list of all media outlets to which you'll send your press releases. Include newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. If you haven't already done so, contact each media outlet and ask if it accepts press releases — not all do. If it does, ask if it has submission guidelines, which may vary slightly from one outlet to another; follow them to the letter. If it doesn't have guidelines, format your releases as described in the points below.

2. News That's Fit to Print  Because people aren't interested in ho-hum announcements of standard events or programs, your press releases must highlight newsworthy items. The more newsworthy you make your press releases, the better the chances that they'll be selected by a journalist for reporting.

When you promote a new, popular, or valuable feature, you're likely to attract readers to it. Adding a new video to your site's home page or announcing a musical performance at your church will get a lot more attention than simply describing color changes to your site or listing upcoming sermon topics.

3. Announcement Line  All press releases must be on the company or organization's letterhead. Start them with "RELEASE" or "PRESS RELEASE" — in uppercase bold type — in the announcement line, making it the first item to be read. Use "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" to advise your recipients that your news should be published immediately.

4. Headline or Title  Use a brief, clear, interesting, to-the-point headline; keep it under 50 characters, and make it an ultra-compact version of the press release’s key point. Add a subtitle to cover additional points. Capitalize the first and last words and all major words and lowercase the articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. If you aren't sure about a word's grammatical function, try reading the headline or subtitle aloud: If you stress the word, capitalize it; if not, lowercase it.

Tip: Write your headline (and subtitle) last; come back to it when you're done writing the release's content. It's important to determine the main elements of your press release, then choose the most compelling headline.

5. First Paragraph  Because the first sentence will either engage readers or kill their interest, how it's written is critical. Simple facts are the most effective.

Beginning with your first sentence, communicate the who, what, when, where, why, and how (as shown in this press release). Read your paragraph aloud and consider whether the audience will find it interesting and, if so, know how to participate.

6. Subsequent Paragraphs  Although all essential facts should be included in the first paragraph, an editor may or may not use subsequent paragraphs. Use additional paragraphs to group special-interest news items, giving a brief descriptive headline to each.

If appropriate, a one- or two-sentence quotation can be included in a subsequent paragraph.

7. Contact Information  Editors usually look at the bottom of press releases for contact details. With truly newsworthy press releases, journalists will want more information or would like to interview key people. Provide details about your media/PR department in this section. If you don't already have someone to fill this need, appoint someone to be a link between your organization and the media.

At the end of the release, be sure to repeat the steps necessary to participate or get more information.

8. Completion  To alert editors to the conclusion of your press releases, use three "#" symbols centered directly beneath the last line. This is a journalistic standard that must be met.

The Key to Success

When you follow these eight industry-accepted practices, your press releases will stand a very good chance of being read. Target your press releases to editors and writers who regularly write about the subject of your release. Write releases with the media's audience in mind. When you comply with the key elements of writing successful press releases, you're more likely to get the free publicity you seek.

Four Tips for Emailing Press Releases

Tip 1. The two most important things in an email news release are (1) the address of the sender and (2) the subject line of the email. These are the only two pieces of information most people see in their email inbox. Make your subject line short and to the point.

Tip 2. When you address email to members of your entire media list, put all the addresses in one group or distribution list, allowing you to conceal the individual addresses. Alternatively, send the press release with your email address in the To field and all media recipients in the BCC (blind carbon copy) field.

Tip 3. Don't include your press release as an attachment to your email message. Attachments require extra handling and storing, which editors strive to avoid. And many editors won't risk opening attachments because they might carry viruses, password sniffers, and so on.

Tip 4. Test your online press releases. After completing each press release, paste it into your new message, then send it to yourself — and only yourself. When you open it, look closely for any problems: maybe you typed your signature as well as embedding it; maybe you forgot the signature altogether; perhaps you forgot to remove one or more line breaks that make the email look jagged and hard to read; perhaps you neglected to check the spelling. Testing is a simple, important safety precaution that can save you from sending releases that have embarrassing errors.

here Warren Camp has extensive experience creating high-quality digital greeting cards, invitations, real-estate listings, Bible-study announcements, website launches, prayer requests, newsletters, and more. He enjoys designing and executing digital advertising and marketing pieces. See many of Warren's recent digital design productions in the left column. Or see a number of his print design creations.