Public Relations Writing: Lesson #3 - p. 7

You also need to know about
different types of press releases.

  • The Announcement Release

    • The most common type of press release is the announcement release -- used for just about every purpose -- the opening of a new facility, the launching of a food drive, the beginning of rehearsals for a new play in production, new company policies, personnel appointments, hirings, layoffs, promotions, mergers, awards, honors, price changes, introducing a new product, announcing financial results, etc.

      The key criteria for an announcement release: you control the timing. Generally speaking, that's the hallmark of an announcement release. A key executive can't fly in for the press conference until next week? No big problem – you'll do the press conference next Tuesday instead of this Thursday. Final product photos won't be ready till Wednesday morning? You control the timing of the announcement, and you can plan your product release for the next day.

      A product release is a special kind of announcement release. It requires careful crafting to prevent an editor from rejecting it out of hand, so it has some special characteristics -- but it is still an announcement release. We'll talk more about product releases in the next lesson.

      There are also legally required financial releases, written by lawyers, to comply with SEC and other regulations. They are different from announcement releases to publicize financial results, mentioned in the first paragraph above. You may be called upon to improve the lawyers' efforts, but the final draft will probably go back to the lawyers before being distributed, since these financial releases are really management instruments, not pure publicity tools.

    But not every release is an announcement release -- timed to suit your schedule, according to a planned PR campaign.

    Sometimes events will not be under your control. You may be called upon to write a release so that you and your client can help influence the spin on a breaking story, or a story that you know will soon break. In these situations you are not simply creating news, you are anticipating news and trying to be the first to frame the news in terms favorable to you and your client.

    Here are some of the different types of press releases for situations that might arise:

  • Spot News release

    • Your company has won a national award for its environmental efforts. The award will be announced in Washington on Thursday. You must respect the award committee's wishes to hold the news till Thursday, but you should write your own press release right now, ready for release on Thursday. You know reporters will be covering this story, but your release can help shape those stories so that they emphasize your key points, and perhaps add other stuff you've been trying to publicize along these same lines.

  • Response (or Reaction) release

    • A competitor (or, for lawyers and politicians and government officials, an adversary) has leveled an attack on you... or a critic has blasted you. Your response should be made in the same news cycle -- as soon as you know about the problem, and as soon as you can mobilize your executives to decide on the desired response. In this way, your attacker will not get a "clean shot" at you -- when the story is reported, it will include not only the attack but also your mitigating response.

  • Bad-News release

    • Sometimes bad things happen. For example, the south wing of your chemical plant blew up earlier this morning. Or maybe it's a company executive who embezzled last year's profits and is merrily on his way to Brazil. Before long, reporters will be on the story. A bad news release is always forthcoming and truthful -- stonewalling can be disastrous and lying is worse -- and don't bury the news: put it in the lead. But still, you can couch even bad news in a positive context -- for example, making clear that you had disaster procedures in place and the damage was contained to only the south wing, and contamination of the groundwater was limited to only two acres.

  • Column notes, letters, guest columns

    • Some news not suitable for a release; but still usable. Consider special columns or sections for unusual items: Letter to the editor... guest column... notes to columnists... reader exchanges... recipes... sports sections, etc.

  • Fact sheet

    • Free form, but provides essentials -- 5 W's, plus key ideas, arranged in creative ways. Angle and message can be featured just as in a press release. Can be used instead of a press release. Preferred by some reporters/editors.

  • Media Alert

    • This is such an important element that it will require a whole page just to spell out the differences between a Media Alert and a Press Release...

  • Feature release

    • Sometimes news is news but not "NOW!" news... once you've done the release announcing the casting for "Evita" and the fact that tickets are now on sale... and before you write the next announcment release just before the play opens in April (you'll think of something to announce)... you may want to write a feature release on the co-stars, Laura Jennsen and Harold Stein... it's quite a story, after all -- a classically-trained singer and a heavy metal rocker, paired in a "rock opera"... each of them brings something different and yet, like fire and ice, they have to work as a pair... feature releases are fun to write.

    A good thing, since that's this lesson assignment!

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    Types of Press Release from Writing in Public Relations Practice: Form & Style, Newsom/Siegfried; and Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques, Wilcox/Nolte