Announcement release: you control the timing
PR Writers -- working with journalists -- use press releases to create news. The most common type of press release is the announcement release -- used for just about every purpose -- the opening of a new facility, new company policies, personnel appointments, hirings, layoffs, promotions, mergers, awards, honors, price changes, introducing a new product, announcing financial results**, etc. If you can control the timing, it's an announcement release. Keep in mind that every one of the following categories has its counterpart in the broadcast world -- your news release, in any of these cases, includes broadcast and social media as well as the print media.
The Product Release is a special kind of announcement release. It requires careful crafting to prevent an editor from rejecting it out of hand -- the editor wants news, not your product placement -- but the Product Release it is still in the category of an announcement release, primarily because, as with other announcement releases, you control the timing. For detailed information on the Product Release, click on that link.
This is technically news, but "soft" news, not necessarily "NOW!" news... Different publications have different styles or standards for this. After your announcement release about rehearsals for "Evita" (or "tickets now on sale") you may want to do a feature release on the contrasts between Harold and Laura, the co-stars.
Column notes, letters, guest columns
Some news items not suitable for a two-page release, but they're still of interest to editors and their readers, and they will help you generate "buzz" for your client or cause. For example, special columns or entertainment sections of the newspaper, for unusual items... Letters to the editor... items to columnists... recipes...
You might write a press release in the form of a FAQ, or Q&A, or just "Did you know?" followed by bullets of information. It may be free form, but it can still convey the 5 W's, plus key ideas, arranged in creative ways. Angle and message can be featured just as in a press release. Some reporters and editors actually prefer this approach.
Up above I referred to "announcing financial results"... but be careful: There are also legally required financial releases, written by lawyers, required to comply with SEC and other regulations. They are different from announcement releases where you crow about business performance, and their timing is regulated by law. Don't get in trouble; when in doubt, consult your client or lawyer before writing that release.
Response Release: you do not control the timing
Sometimes you will be called upon to respond with a release that helps you and your client get control of 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, or your journalistic reputation.
Note: the following discussion of Response Releases is for your interest but will not be a factor in assignments during this summer semester.
Spot News release
This is a situation where you become a journalist on an emergency basis. You become aware of something that has a compelling news value, and you immediately go to work to deliver the news, knowing that all your regular press contacts will be grateful you helped them stay on top of breaking developments. This can be good news or bad news, but the fact that you're on the scene -- and you have journalistic instincts and skills -- and you have good relationships with every reporter who covers your "beat" -- makes you the indispensable person in that news moment.
Sometimes you have the unpleasant responsibility to break bad news. You may be calling the shots yourself, or you may be in a position to advise, rather than take the lead. In any case, you or your leadership should make sure you break the news first, before someone else does. You can set the tone for all subsequent coverage, to your advantage. In such a situation, don't mince words -- tell it like it is -- but include explanations, context, and follow-up actions that show how you and your client are taking responsibility. Your professional reputation, as well as your sense of ethics, make it very important that what you say is truthful, and can't be accused of "spin" -- dissemblilng by leaving out certain important facts. Don't bury the bed news: put it in the lead. And be careful of your tone. But don't hesitate to supply the mitigating facts that you're aware of, and as always -- but especially in this situation -- make yourself available to answer the media's questions.
This is when adverse news requires you to respond. It may be an attack by an opponent or competitor (for example, during a political campaign). In such a situation, the most crucial element is rapid response. Make sure your reaction to the charge is included in the initial reports. There's a current myth that with 24-hour, always-on news, there are no longer any news cycles. The truth is, there are still news cycles but they overlap each other and are of almsot randomly varying frequency. The trick is to determine which channels are involved and do your best to sync with them. Reputations can be damaged in the time between a front page attack and a page 35 reaction the next day. Most of what I've written about the Bad News Release applies here.
You know the phrase, "Don't be a stranger?" Cull the newspapers, especially trade publications, and online media, as well as the holiday calendar and trending events in pop culture, and when you see an opportunity to piggy-back on a developing news topic, add to the story with your own release. The reporters and editors who are especially important to you? -- get in the habit of sending them a private note, or a public letter to the editor, or a social media ping, acknowledging and perhaps further contributing to their work. Over time you will solidify relationships with those journalists and bloggers, and when the time comes to contact them with a news item, they will be more likely to welcome your input than if you were a stranger.
Those are the principal types of press release. They are varied types, but they all have in common the essential elements: the 5 W's, the News Angle, the Message -- and the need to tell a story.