Top tips

Answer the five Ws

It is important to include the key information in a press release to grab the journalist's attention. This is achieved by answering the following five 'W' questions:

  • Who has done something?
    Name of academic/s involved including funding body and collaborator/s
  • What have they done?
    Overview of research/news/event
  • Where did they do it?
    University of Leicester, Department of...
  • When did they do it?
    To make it topical, timeliness is important, unless it is old news and then avoid mentioning the time frame! 
  • Why is it important?
    So What? Why should the reader care? How does it benefit society?

Follow the 'inverted pyramid' structure

Introduce all of the vital information at the beginning of the release and use subsequent paragraphs to elaborate and provide evidence to support your hook. This structures a release in order of declining importance and ensures a journalist receives the most important information first. According to space issues, stories can be cut short at any time and therefore it is important that the vital information is still included.

Make sure it is newsworthy

In order to attract a journalist's interest, a press release needs to be newsworthy with a new angle and human interest that grabs their attention. The most successful releases convey the benefits the research will have for the public/audience of the news story.

Choose a catchy headline

The headline acts as a teaser to the content of the release and serves to catch the eye of the journalist. Headlines need to be catchy, intriguing and ambiguous in order to encourage people to read the rest of the release. 

Avoid jargon 

It is important to keep your terminology simple and easy to understand as most people will lack the specialist knowledge of complex jargon which you are used to using on a daily basis in your academic writing. Therefore, stick to a simple, jargon-free explanation of your news, as if you are talking to a friend outside of your discipline. If the use of technical terms, acronyms or abbreviations is unavoidable, please explain what they mean.

Include quotations

Journalists like soundbites which are in the form of a quotation by an expert (usually the academic involved in the research). This provides the news with credibility and evidence and often acts as interview content if they lack the resources to follow-up the release with an additional interview.

Shorter is sweeter

The media do not need an abundance of information about the news story. Instead, they are after the key points, facts and figures which can easily be presented in approximately 300-500 words. If the release leaves them wanting to know more, they will contact you to ask for more details.

Check the accuracy

Once the first draft is finished, make sure you proofread to check for accuracy (in terms of content as well as spelling and grammar). It is also important to check the accuracy of the content, as once a press release has been released, it is in the public domain and can (and will) be reported without any contact between you and the journalist so it is important everything you say is correct.

Seek approval

You need to seek approval from anyone else involved in the research/news/event you are publicising before distributing the information to the media, providing them with the opportunity to check accuracy and make any amendments.

This includes your funding body and any collaborators. And if the press release reports a published paper, the academic journal needs to approve the content and are likely to inform you of an appropriate release date which will tie-in with publication of the journal.

Be available

All press releases end with a 'Notes to Editors' section which will only be seen by journalists. Make sure you include your contact details here (name, email, office phone number and/or mobile phone number) so that the media can get in touch with you if they would like more information or an interview following receipt of the press release which generally acts as an introduction to you and your news. Therefore it is important that the press release is sent out when you are available to take media enquiries so that you don't miss out on any opportunities to publicise your work.

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