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Basics

Why Bother?
Why it is worth your time to write a press release, and why beginners have a special advantage.

Where To Send It
Some tips on finding appropriate publications to send your press release to.

Timing
The most frequent and fatal error in writing a press release, and how not to make it.

A Few Points of Style
A few stylistic points, for the press release and yourself.

Three Types
of Press Release

1. Coming Event
Let's start easy. Let the community know about special events at your church.

2. Feature Story
What interesting people are there at your church? This could even land you on the front page - maybe.

3. News Story
What newsworthy event will happen at your church? Last not because it is least, but because it is less frequent that you'll be able to use it. But some day...

Etc.

What to Write About
"But nothing's happening at my church." Bet there is. And if there isn't, there's more wrong with your church than a press release can fix.

Media Bias
"But isn't the media biased against Christianity?" Probably, but here's why it usually doesn't make much difference.

 

A Few Points of Style

I'll try to keep this to a minimum, since I know it's boring.

The Five W's

These are the four journalistic "must-haves" plus one. The plus one is "Why," for which there is not always an answer. Every press release should have the four, and many of them should also have the "why."

Who: Who is doing whatever it is that is happening. First Avenue Church will hold a fundraiser. Bill Hansen will do his moose calls. A group of First Avenue Church seniors just returned from hiking Mt. Shasta.

What: What this person or group is doing. First Avenue Church is holding a fundraiser. Bill Hansen is doing his moose calls. A group of First Avenue Church seniors is hiking Mt. Shasta.

When: When it will happen, or when it happened. The play will be performed at 7 pm, March 11 and 13, 1999. The high school group returned from Bosnia last week. The last trumpet will sound just after the Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1, 2000.

Where: Sam Simmons has just returned from working in Sudan. Grace Lim accepted the award at First Avenue Church. Bill Johnson fits plucked chickens with new feathers at his home in northern Vermont.

Why: Why this took place, (or why it will take place). The event will provide funds for earthquake relief in Turkey. The congregation gave Melissa Jones a six-week trip to Tahiti to recover from 10 years of teaching junior high students. The new class will train students in the art of marble rolling.

Format

Editors are likely to accept your message as long as they can understand it and it fits their needs. However, by adopting some commonly held standards, you can make their busy lives a bit easier. So, here is a fairly standard format with my comments in red.


COMING EVENT - Christmas Musical, Dec. 10, 12
This tag at the very top of the page (I also use this as the subject line of e-mail submissions) makes it easy for the editor to identify what the press release is about so he or she can route it. In addition to "COMING EVENT," you might tag it "STORY IDEA" or "NEWS ITEM," or whatever makes sense.

Nov. 20, 1999
Date of the press release, not of the event.

First Avenue Church
123 N. First Ave.
Hometown, CA 91111

Your church address.

Contact: Ann Lee - (818) 555-1212
A person to contact in case a reporter needs more information. Very, very important!

How the Grouch Found Christmas - A Christmas Musical
The title communicates what the press release is about. Your title will almost never be used as the headline in print, but if it gets your point across, it has done its job. For paper press releases, I make the title bold.

First Avenue Church of Hometown will present two performances of the children's Christmas musical, "How the Grouch Found Christmas." The musical is the story of Marty, who keeps thinking of what he's not getting for Christmas -- until he meets someone who reminds him what the season is all about. Performances, which involve more than 20 community children and adults who have been practicing since September, will be held Dec. 10 and 12 at 7 pm in the church building, located at 123 N. First Ave., in Hometown. Admission is free. Please call the church office at (818) 555-1212 for more information.
The body of the press release. Notice that "who," "what," "when" and "where" are explicitly stated, but the slippery "why" is not. NOTE: Get to the point - fast! Put the main point in the first sentence, then trail off to the less important stuff. Journalists call this the "inverted pyramid," meaning the heavy stuff is on the top, and the lighter stuff on the bottom.

###
This means, "The End." It is important when you are sending paper press releases because it lets the editor know there isn't another page that slipped behind his desk. If you send a paper press release of more than one page (try not to do that), type "- more -" at the bottom of each page but the last.


Some Don'ts

  • Some writers put "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" at the top of press releases. Don't. If it is a secret, send out the press release when it stops being a secret. Perhaps this phrase has validity in some circumstance, but for a church press release I can't imagine what it would be. Besides, to a lot of journalists it sounds pompous.

  • Don't start off with, "First Avenue Church announced today," or any variation of that formula. When the publication receives your press release its capable editors will deduce that you have made an announcement. It just delays getting to your main point.

  • When you've finished writing your press release, go through it and delete the superlatives and empty adjectives. Get rid of "marvelous" and "wonderful" and "heart-warming" and all the rest. They just annoy editors, who will bleep them anyway. If you find the press release sounds a bit hollow after you've removed these, it is because you don't have enough real information.

  • Don't try to butter up journalists. They don't like it. Don't call them "just to get to know them." I'm sure you're a nice person, but they probably don't want to be your pal, and they don't have time in any case. If you must call, make sure it's important. Then if a relationship develops, fine.

  • Don't call to ask when an article will run, or to ask if someone can send you a copy when it does. Journalists frequently consider this rude. Just subscribe or pick up the paper on the street.

  • If you send a picture, figure it is gone. Don't ask the newspaper to send it back. If you must have it back, arrange that beforehand, and only for very special occasions.

    Copyright 1999 Brad Haugaard.