Friday, February 14, 2014

Promote Your Project or Program with the Perfect Press Release

When Oregon State University’s Gwendolyn Ellen was preparing a one-day course titled “Habitat and Conservation Practices for Beneficial Insects on Idaho Farms,” she wrote and distributed a short press release to publicize the event.

The release got printed and not only did the class completely fill up, Public News Service, a member-supported radio news service, picked up on it and produced a minute-and-a-half-long feature on the topic of on-farm conservation practices to support beneficial insects. The story was played by dozens of stations throughout the Northwest.

“A well-written press release distributed to the right outlets can really successfully promote a project and help educate the public,” said Steve Elliott, the Western IPM Center’s writer and former newspaper journalist. “Unfortunately, a poorly written press release is more likely to end up in the trash.”  

So here’s how to do it right.

Press Release Essentials
A key thing to remember, Elliott said, is that newsroom staffs across the country are shrinking and the easier you make it for the journalists who are left, the more likely they are to use your release. Here are some tips:
  • Include all the information a news outlet needs to write a story – the who, what, where, when and why – or more specifically the dates, times, places, cost, web address, contact information and anything else a reader would need to know.
  • Include a quote. News stories have quotes, so your release should as well.
  • Explain the bigger picture and its importance to the public. 
  • Include a local angle or connection, which can be anything from a class being held in a particular community to the value of a certain crop in the state. 
  • If you have pictures, include one, with complete caption information.
  • Avoid acronyms and jargon. In the real world, nobody knows what NIFA or NORS-DUC or WERA means.
  • Deliver your release electronically, not by fax or mail. Also, post it on your own website.

Target Appropriate Outlets (and Time it Right)
A key to getting your press release used is submitting it to the right places, and at the right time. Ask yourself who you want to see the release, and then target the publications, websites, news services and other outlets they read. 

“If your target audience gets a morning ag alert emailed every day, that’s the place to send your release,” Elliott said. “The community newspaper may not be.”

If you’re writing about an event or anything else with a deadline, make sure to submit your release well in advance.  Another thing to consider with timing is when your story will make the most impact or do the most good.

“Let’s say you got a Western IPM Center grant to produce a field guide for integrated pest management for an important crop in your state,” Elliott said. “You could send out a release when the grant is announced, but that’s really only important to you and your department chair. If you wait until the guide is published and available, the story will get wider play and will help you with the distribution of the guide.”

Radio and Public News Service
For Ellen and her course on on-farm conservation practices, radio coverage was an eye-opener.

“I am really impressed with the local radio coverage I achieved and will definitely consider Public News Service from now on,” said Ellen, who leads the Farmscaping for Beneficials Project at Oregon State. “Radio is a media I rarely use for PR, but Idaho and Washington farmers listen to local stations a lot, and the stations generally run the audio clip more than once.”

You can find email addresses for local radio stations online. Submit stories to Public News Service by following the link on the lower right on its homepage.