Chapter Four: Creating Effective Media Releases

In this chapter, we focus on writing effective media releases.  We use the term "media release" because it is becoming the preferred term for what has been traditionally called a press release or news release.  The terms are interchangeable.  Media releases can be an extremely valuable tool for getting an announcement out to the media about your special events and activities, at no cost. 
 

What Is A Media Release?

A media release is an announcement which informs the media about upcoming special events, activities, or functions offered or engaged in by your organization.  The purpose of a media release is to get information about a specific event or activity out to the media, newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations, and into the public's eye.  A media release gives the newspaper/radio/TV station information for it to process and distribute to the public.
 
In the case of your affiliate or chapter, this could include events like dining in the dark, a chili supper, an audio-described movie night, an accessible technology exhibit, etc.  If your affiliate holds a state convention, you should be using media releases to get out the announcement about your convention.  If your affiliate creates a new scholarship program, you should use media releases to get the announcement out about this new program to the public and your targeted audience. 
 

Creating and Distributing Your Media Release

In order to be effective, the media must consider your media release to be newsworthy and of interest to a large number of its readers, listeners, or viewers.  Above all, the media must recognize both the release and your organization as being a credible information source. That credibility will only come through the nurturing of your media contacts, along with consistent distribution of media releases which are concise and accurate.
 
Media representatives will often call upon the contact person(s) included in the media release for additional information.  When this occurs, your organization has scored a media victory.  Answer as many of their questions as possible, and offer to help them find any answers which you may not have. Most importantly, obtain and keep the contact information for the person who has called you. The ability to contact a reporter or editor directly is a priceless tool.
 
However, never use a media release in place of an advertisement for your product, service, or organization.  A media release must be newsworthy in the eyes of the media source to which you are sending it.  If an editor or news director perceives your document as a glorified ad dressed up to look like a media release, it will instantly land in file 13.
 
A media release should focus on a single message; that is, one event or activity or topic.  For instance, a media release announcing your state convention should focus on the general convention information: the name of the convention, where it is being held, when it is being held, the basics of when, where, why, etc.  Then, separate media releases can be created for key convention events, important people making presentations, special exhibits, etc. 
 
While short media releases are preferred, each media release must be long enough to clearly convey the message.  Thus, some media releases can be written sufficiently in two or three paragraphs, while others may take two or three pages.  Regardless of length, the headline and first paragraph of any media release must entice the reporter or editor to continue reading for more information.  These individuals receive many media releases each day, and their time, like yours, is limited.
 
Write in simple, short sentences and paragraphs. A common mistake is to use too many adjectives or descriptive words.  Do not use organizational jargon that the readers will not be familiar with.  Also, the first time you refer to your organization, put it in words; do not just use the abbreviation.  For example, if your organization is the California Council of the Blind, spell it out the first time you use it, immediately followed with its abbreviation in parentheses, like this: The California Council of the Blind (CCB) will be holding its state convention this year in …
 
It is crucial that your media release have significant news value.  The editor or news director must recognize your message as being interesting or of significant importance to a fairly large portion of their audience.  No matter how well-written your media release might be, editors and reporters often rewrite and condense information from your media release to better fit into the calendar or upcoming events section of a newspaper or of a radio station's public affairs program.
 
The words "For Immediate Release" often appear at the top of the first page of a media release.  However, if the release date is not immediate, be sure to replace that phrase with the desired release date.  (Example: “For Release on or after July 11, 2011.”)
 
Always include a contact name and telephone number for someone who is very familiar with the central message of your media release in case the reader wants more information.
 
The most important part of your media release is the headline and first paragraph.  The headline must grab the editor’s attention, causing him/her to read the first paragraph.  At this point, you will either have them wanting to read more or tossing your media release in the trash.  The first paragraph must give the key facts in a very succinct, direct format, and it must be kept short, preferably 50 to 75 words maximum.
 
Subsequent paragraphs should focus on important benefits of your event or activity, and they must also be kept short, working in a few quotes from key people, like your affiliate’s president, the convention or exhibit or event chairperson, etc.  
 
Then, wrap up your media release with a paragraph describing your affiliate or chapter. This description is one paragraph, not the complete history of the organization.  Follow this concluding paragraph by once again listing the full contact information.  The end of the media release should be indicated with three number signs (###), centered at the bottom of the last page. 
 
When printing out your hard copy, print only on one side of the sheet.  If the release requires more than one page, the word “continued” should be placed at the bottom right of each sheet, unless it is the last page.  The last page should be indicated by a series of three number signs as described above. 
 
Never distribute a media release without first checking it thoroughly for correct sentence structure, spelling, and clear meaning of what you are trying to say.  Once you have performed this check, pass it to someone who has never before seen it, in order to get a second opinion.  Poorly written, confusing or unclear media releases that the editor perceives to be of no interest to his/her reading, listening or viewing audience is certain to be tossed in the trash!
 
Whenever possible, it is a good idea to contact the person who handles media releases for each media outlet you plan to send your release to and ask his/her preferred delivery method and format, and then use that format.  For instance, some editors today prefer email submissions, but then, some will accept submissions as attachments to an email message, while others prefer your sending your media release in the actual body of the message.  Then, some still prefer receiving hard copies or a fax.  When sending hard copies, they should be double-spaced, and printed on a good quality printer. 
 

The General Format for Writing a Media Release

Here is the general formula for a media release.  However, this example may vary slightly depending upon the situation, the nature of the information, etc.
 
For Immediate Release
 
Contact person
Name of affiliate or chapter
Address
Telephone numbers
E-mail address
Web site URL
 
Headline
 
CITY, State, Date -- Summary of what the release is about, two to three lines long.
 
Photo Here (optional)
 
Lead paragraph - Answer who, what, when, where, why, and how
 
Subsequent paragraphs: text -The main body where your message should fully develop with most important facts first.
 
Affiliate or chapter summary - Information about your organization, e.g. services and information to help establish your knowledge and credibility.
 
Contact:
Contact person
Affiliate or chapter name
Telephone numbers
E-mail address
Web site URL
 
###
 

Example 1

For Immediate Release
 
Contact:
Eric Bridges, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs
American Council of the Blind 
(202) 467-5081
ebridges@acb.org
 

Critical Pedestrian Safety Legislation Moves to White House for President’s Signature

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2010 -- Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed S. 841, The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, legislation that will provide blind, visually impaired, and other pedestrians greater security when traveling in close proximity to hybrid or electric vehicles.  
 
“The passage of this legislation is momentous and marks over two years of vigorous advocacy by ACB membership that has resulted in consensus by the blind community, auto industry, and Congress,” stated Mitch Pomerantz, President of the American Council of the Blind.
 
“The silent nature of hybrid and electric vehicles, coupled with their growing popularity, presents a dilemma. How do we protect individuals dependent on sound for their safety, such as unsuspecting pedestrians and the blind?” said Representative Edolphus Towns, the sponsor of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, who spent many years teaching travel with a white cane to the blind. “The solution lies in the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. I am proud to have supported this important piece of legislation.”
 
“The visually impaired rely on audio cues to detect nearby traffic and these quiet vehicles pose a special risk to them and to other pedestrians,” stated Rep. Cliff Stearns, who joined in offering the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act.  “This measure enjoys the support of all of the interested parties and it is budget neutral, and I look forward to the President quickly signing this bill.”
 
The legislation will require the U.S. Department of Transportation to begin writing standards that would set requirements for an alert sound that allows blind and other pedestrians to reasonably detect a nearby electric or hybrid vehicle.  It also requires that those rules be finalized within three years.
 
ACB wishes to express its sincere appreciation to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) along with Reps. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) for their staunch leadership over the past two years regarding this very important safety issue. The National Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of International Automobile Manufacturers have also worked collaboratively with the blind community to insure that the legislation could effectively resolve the current and growing unintended safety problems that hybrid and electric vehicles present to the public when traveling at low speeds.      
 

About the American Council of the Blind 

The American Council of the Blind is the largest consumer-based organization of blind and visually impaired Americans advocating for the rights of blind Americans. Comprised of more than 70 affiliates across the United States, the organization is dedicated to making it possible for blind and visually impaired Americans to participate fully in all aspects of American society.  For more information, visit www.acb.org; write to American Council of the Blind, 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 650, Arlington, VA 22201; phone (202) 467-5081; or fax (703) 465-5085.
 
###
 

Example 2

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
American Council of the Blind (ACB) Contact:
Pamela Shaw, Project Liaison, ACB International Relations Committee
(215) 753-1527
pam@newvistapro.com
 
Elderhostel/Road Scholar Contact:
            Despina Gakopoulos              
(617) 457-5502
newsmedia@roadscholar.org
 

New International Educational Travel Program Designed for Blind Participants

BOSTON (January 17, 2011) — Elderhostel/Road Scholar and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) are teaming up to offer unique international educational learning opportunities for those who are legally blind or visually impaired. 
 
A series of new programs will kick off with a “pioneer” Road Scholar adventure in April 2011 developed in association with ONCE, ACB’s sister organization The Spanish National Organization for the Blind. ACB members will journey to Madrid on a week-long program to discover the famed Spanish capital’s culture and history. The program experience sets a precedent for international educational travel opportunities for ACB members.   Special highlights will include hands-on workshops, sampling of local culinary and cultural flavors, visits to the ONCE School for the Blind and opportunities to explore Museo Tiflologico de la ONCE, which is home to scale models of national and international monuments, rooms devoted to artistic works made by blind people, and instruments used by the blind for the past 200 years.
 
“We are excited to begin this relationship with ACB and extend our learning adventures to its members,” says Elderhostel/Road Scholar President James Moses.  “As part of our commitment to serving the lifelong learning needs of all adults, our collaboration with ACB emphasizes the goal of both organizations to empower adults to explore the world.”
 
ACB President Mitch Pomerantz says: “As someone who enjoys the chance to travel, I am especially pleased to enter into partnership with Elderhostel/Road Scholar.  I look forward to taking advantage of this new and exciting relationship." 
 
“Road Scholar adventures are designed for those who share a desire for ongoing stimulation, challenge and experience and — most importantly — a love of learning,” Moses says.  “We look forward to welcoming ACB members on our programs.”
 

About American Council of the Blind

The American Council of the Blind is the nation’s leading membership organization for people who are blind and those with low vision. Founded in 1961, ACB is a national organization of people who are blind, those with low vision and sighted individuals whose purpose is to work toward independence, security, equality of opportunity, and improved quality of life for all people who are blind and those with low vision.  
 

About Road Scholar and Elderhostel

Road Scholar is the name for the programs developed and offered by Elderhostel, Inc., the not-for-profit world leader in lifelong learning since 1975. Our mission is to empower adults to explore the world’s places, peoples, cultures and ideas, and in so doing to discover more about themselves. A fellowship of learning and the joy of discovery are the hallmarks of the Road Scholar experience.
 
Elderhostel’s mission includes making Road Scholar learning adventures accessible to all adults and accommodating individuals who face physical challenges such as vision, hearing and mobility issues.
 
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Example 3

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
For more information, contact:
Dr. Ronald E. Milliman, President, South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind
Phone: (270) 782-9325
E-mail: rmilliman@sckcb.org
 

Grant Program Helps Blind & Low-Vision People!

February 21, 2011 (Bowling Green, KY) – The South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind (SCKCB) recently established a matching grant program available to all blind and low-vision people (legally blind) who are citizens of the United States and reside in the counties comprising the Barron River Area Development District in the state of Kentucky.  The SCKCB will match up to a maximum of 50% of the total purchase price for any assistive service or device needed to help with a qualified person’s daily living. 
 
Some examples of the kinds of devices for which a matching grant might be applied for include, but is not limited to:
 
            • Assistive travel devices like white canes, accessible GPS units, etc.
            • Vision enhancing devices like special eye glasses, magnifiers, etc.
            • Assistive technology like Braille or talking watches, screen reading programs for
            computers, blood pressure and blood glucose monitoring devices, talking scales,
            clocks, thermostats, etc. 
 
SCKCB President, Dr. Ron Milliman, says: "Most people have no idea the huge number of devices that are available to assist people who are blind or who have low vision.  We have talking computers, talking watches, talking calculators, talking scales, talking microwaves, home thermostats that allow us to control the heating and air conditioning units in our houses, devices that tell us what color our clothes are, and thousands more."  Milliman jokingly adds, "Everything in my house talks, except my talking scale lies to me and says, 'Just one at a time, please.'"
 
If you want to apply for a grant or if you have any questions about blindness, or if you are losing your eyesight, or know anyone who has lost, or is losing, their eyesight, or if you are a parent of a blind or sight impaired child, contact the South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind.  We are here to answer your questions and help any way we can.  We have numerous resources available to us that we can share with you.  Contact:
 
Dr. Ronald E. Milliman, South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind
Phone: (270) 782-9325
E-mail: rmilliman@sckcb.org
http://www.sckcb.org
 
###
 
 
If you want or need more in-depth coverage of media releases, we recommend that you read "The Press Release Handbook for ACB Affiliates and Chapters," which is available in various accessible formats from our Arlington office.  Alternatively, you can access it on the ACB web site; go to http://www.acb.org/resources/index.html.