Public Relations Writing: Lesson #3 - p. 2

Press Release Checklist

Here are the most common problems in press release assignments. You should review each and every one of your press releases and message planners to be sure you've corrected these problems before you turn in your next draft:

Baskerville Old Face #1

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." As you know, you have been given detailed instructions concerning the press release format. Here's a checklist:

  • Is your contact information aligned in the upper left? Did you remember to supply two phone numbers, one of them a night line?

  • Are the release date and "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" where they belong?
    Is "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" all caps?

  • Is your headline all caps but not bold or italicized or underlined? Is it centered beneath enough white space for editors to write a comment on your release?

  • Are the margins one inch, the indents at least two inches, and the type face a clear 12-point type, like Courier, Times New Roman, Arial or Helvetica?

  • Is the release double-spaced, with no additional spacing between paragraphs?

  • Does the release fit on two pages, no more, no less?

  • Does the first page break at the end of a paragraph?

  • Does the first page have "- more -" at the bottom? Does the second page have a slug line in the upper left and "PAGE TWO" in the upper right? Does the release end with "- end -"?

This is not an impossible list of requirements. It's a short list of essentials for every press release. 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.

Baskerville Old Face #2

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, on your message planner. 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.

Review: Lesson 2, p. 4;

Baskerville Old Face #3

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 "Evita." Your lead -- and your Message Planner -- should highlight the local, timely reasons why your story is news today.

Review: Lesson 2, p. 4

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