The Online Press Release
Columbia College Student
Instructor Dictates Two Versions of "Only One Valid Press Release
Students are forced to comply with strict rules for preparing press
releases -- with different rules for hard copy and
CHICAGO, Sept. 18, 1999 /NotRealNews/ -- There is only one correct format for a press release, Columbia College instructor Alton Miller said
today. But which only one correct format you use depends on whether your release is in hard copy or online.
For traditional hard-copy press releases (faxed or mailed to the media), Miller requires that they be double-spaced, with one-inch margins all around, and extra room provided at the headline for
editors notes. Contact phone numbers belong at the top of the page. Other requirements of these releases can be found online at http://www.altonmiller.com/xrelease.htm
For online press releases, the rules are different. Copy is single-spaced, and the headline is at the very beginning, immediately following the wire service or website logo. This turns an internet liability into an asset, Miller says. Editors and readers browse quickly. We need to arrest their attention with a strong boldfaced headline and an intriguing subhead in italics, if we expect them to stay awhile and read our release.
Unlike hard copy releases, online releases should always begin with a dateline -- where and when the information is generated. Follow Associated Press Stylebook guidelines: for example, CHICAGO doesnt need to be identified by state, but CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill., does. Put just the city name in caps.
Also unlike hard copy releases, which are almost always current, online press releases can linger on a website for years. For this reason the date must include the year, as shown above.
For releases posted on this website, the style is to include the folio service, NotRealNews, in slashes, followed by a dash, as shown in the dateline above.
(This is a borrowed bit of style, based on the PRNewswire style.) We are using this name to avoid confusion,
lest anyones Web search should turn up one of our press releases about a fictitious product or event.
You can dispense with another convention of the hard-copy release. Obviously you dont need to include a line, For Immediate
Release, Miller says, because by putting it online you have put it into public circulation -- its already released.
Subheads and Paragraphs
Paragraphing is very important
in a press release -- good paragraphs indicate logical progession
of ideas, and concise expression of your message. But because
online releases are single-spaced with double spacing between
grafs, indentation can be modest -- a half inch or so, instead of
Unlike a hard-copy press release, which must be handled and perceived by the editor as a single compact document, an online press release will be viewed a screen at a time. Subheads can help the reader follow the key points you are making to support your message.
If your press release is not
really intended to be copied and reported by news media -- that
is, if your readership is the Internet audience and not editors
and reporters -- consider dividing the story into shorter Web
pages (go to any newspaper Web site and read their lead story to
see what I mean). But if it really is a release aimed at the
media, do not break it up -- it's easier to copy and edit if you
put it all on one long page (like this one).
Contact information, which
comes at the end of an online release, is no less important than
with a hard-copy release. An editor working late may need to
be able to reach you for that one final detail, Miller says.
It can mean the difference between a story that makes the
papers, and a story that gets killed. Its always a
good idea to also include a website address, if available -- so
that reporters can access background information. This is in
addition to the standard website source information provided for
the wire service, as shown below.
Keep it short
Although online releases are not paginated, you should aim for a length of about 400 words (this sample is way too long). Of course you could say more about your wonderful product or service, says Miller, but the editor is going to be limited by space restrictions, and readers are going to be limited by boredom. If you cant put your message across in 400 words or less, it probably wont get communicated at all. Of course, the publicist can provide web links for additional information, related stories, and photos.
As with his hard-copy release guidelines, Miller explains that he doesnt really believe his is the only right way to prepare a press release. The truth is, there are many valid styles, he says. But because each agency you work for -- or each client you serve -- or each online service
you use -- will require you to conform to their preferred style, its good training to accept the idea that for every release theres only one valid format.
End every press release with the word end, centered and set off by hyphens, as shown below.
- end -
Contact: Alton Miller, 312-280-0884, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: NotRealNews, Columbia College Marketing Communication Department, 600 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60605 - Telephone 312-369-7600