Press releases are fundamental tools of public relations practice. They are used to generate news media interest in a topic. Although their use and distribution have changed markedly over the years, they remain a useful way to structure a story by emphasizing the need to identify its most newsworthy elements, then presenting them in a clear, straightforward and succinct manner.
Effective press releases are based on two fundamentals: news judgment (your ability to identify stories that will be of interest to news media), and a well written summary lead (one that emphasizes a story’s newsworthiness and clearly summarizes the entire story.
Publicity isn’t news until a media “gatekeeper,” the person who makes the decision about its news value, decides it merits coverage. Because newsrooms are always busy and flooded with all kinds of information competing for coverage, it is imperative the news elements of a story are conveyed quickly and clearly.
There are many ways to start a story, many kinds of feature story leads, but the only type that should be used on a press release is a summary lead. A summary lead grabs the gatekeeper’s interest, tells the story in a nutshell and begins with the most important aspect of the story. A good publicist is able to summarize the entire press release in a one-sentence lead of between 25 and 40 words. A media gatekeeper, pressed for time and the need to handle a huge amount of information, is going to make a decision on a story’s news value based almost solely on the lead.
The summary lead is the key to the “inverted pyramid” style of writing, in which the information is presented in descending order of importance. That is how you must structure the remainder of your press release.
In addition to reaching media gatekeepers, the press release now reaches the university’s audiences through the university’s social media channels. Because we are distributing content directly through our own channels, it is even more important that we clearly, effectively and succinctly tell our audiences the most important and interesting facts up front.