Press Release Checklist
Here are the most common problems
Format problems: something's out of whack -- Remember that format is the all-important first impression that editors receive. When they handle hundreds of releases every day, they learn that they can discount releases that don't look professional -- chances are they are unprofessional in other ways as well. You can expect that your release won't even get read if the format is shoddy. Besides that, your boss will put you in the private category of "screw-up" if you need to be told more than once "how things are done around here." Each agency will have its own style. For the "agency" that you work for when you're in this class, these are the rules:
This is not an impossible list of requirements. It's a short list of essentials for every press release you write in this course. When you get to your job or internship and you learn other rules, forget these rules and follow your boss's instructions. I have a reason for each of these rules, but you need to follow the format even when you don't understand the reasons. PR Writing is formal writing -- that is, it must follow a certain form -- and this is a significant lesson for you to learn, which is why format is so important to your grade.
Your "Who" and your "What" are off the mark -- This is where you make the first decision about what's important in your news story. Who is the story about? What are they doing that calls for a news story? You have not made a good choice if you picked "The homeless of Turtle Bay" for the "Who" in your "From the Heart" release... remember, when you pick your "Who" you are "casting" your production. What the editor wants to know -- and what you need to know -- is "Who" is at the center of this story. "Who" is doing something that is newsworthy? Your release will be greatly aided by a good choice at this early stage of development. And of course, I immediately know you've missed the point if your "Who" and your "What" don't fit together as a single sentence. You must be bored hearing me say this by now, but about half the Message Planners I look at are still missing this point.
Your "Where" and your "When" are not "Here" and "Now" -- As you know, "Proximity" and "Timeliness" are the two most important considerations for newspaper editors. If your Jan. 14 food drive press release leads off with information about a Feb. 14 program of free meals, the editor's instinct will be to file your release not with story ideas for this week, but in the "February file." You'll get a story in February, maybe, but you could have had a story in January and a story in February.) The same principle applies to a March press release which focuses on an April opening of a play. Your lead -- and your Message Planner -- should highlight the local, timely reasons why your story is news today.