Samiksha Pattanaik, journalist and Findacure’s digital communications intern, shares her knowledge to help you and your patient group write great press releases.
Whether you’re hosting a fundraising event, launching a new campaign, organising training workshops, promoting the findings of a new study or engaging in crucial partnerships/research programmes, the right publicity can create awareness among your key target audiences and facilitate collaborative efforts towards a common goal. But the question is how to grab the attention of the media? This is where the art of effective communication comes into play.
A press release is an essential communication tool to get your message across to the media in one fell swoop. Journalists are bombarded with hundreds of emails on a daily basis, and unless your press release manages to capture the gist of the story in a striking and engaging manner, it is less likely to be picked up.
Before you start to write a press release, ask yourself if your story has the newsworthy value that will generate a strong interest. If not, then try to put a press-worthy spin on your existing story. For instance, if you’re announcing a forthcoming event such as a charity ball or a marathon, highlight the most important thing(s) that makes your initiative stand out from the crowd – it can be an interesting fact or statistic, for example, “Record breaking number of locals set to take part in charity run for rare disease research”, or a major achievement like, “Fund raisers aim to conquer unique triathlon to raise $6000 million for rare disease research”. You can also add an element of human interest to the press release – the impact on people, real life case stories, or any popular face (celebrity or local leader) supporting your cause. Stories that involve elements of conflict can get good media coverage. For example, if the government announces any plans that are not in line with the cause you support, you could use a press release to present your counter argument, for example, “Patient groups concerned over government’s plans to cut funding for research”.
Once you have zeroed down on your story, start thinking about an attention-grabbing headline to go with it. The headline should be catchy, brief and to the point. Avoid professional jargons, acronyms, high sounding words and excessive use of adjectives – your aim is to communicate as effectively as possible and not to display your linguistic prowess.
A press release follows the standard structure of a news story, which is constructed in an inverted pyramid pattern. This means the most important facts are presented at the beginning followed by additional information in the subsequent paragraphs. Make sure your opening paragraph answers the 5 W’s and 1 H: who, what, when, where, why, and how. It is important that you get all the information in no more than two sentences, better if kept to about 25 words or fewer. Use key words or key phrases that are relevant to your target audience.
The main body can be broken down into two to three paragraphs, and ideally the press release should not exceed one page. Use the subsequent paragraphs to provide evidence in support of the claims made in the introduction, and follow this with a comment from someone who is in a position to interpret and discuss the potential impact of the project/ initiative on people, or explain why an issue is particularly important and demands action – perhaps from an industry expert/researcher/organizer of the event to add personality and credibility to the story. Don’t forget to attribute your quotes appropriately.
Expand further on the quote with relevant background information, figures or statistics. Always try to provide concrete facts wherever possible.
In the concluding paragraph, you can include response(s) from the people involved, for example a participant in the charity run or a volunteer, to know what he/she feels about the event/project. You can also quote a patient group or research organisation to provide a broader perspective on the outcomes of the project.
End the press release with contact information and a boilerplate paragraph. It is essential to provide some background information about your organisation or group, including what your group does, its mission and past accomplishments. This section can be included in the “Notes to Editor” section along with relevant links to your website and social media channels. Pictures speak a thousand words so do attach any relevant and engaging images to illustrate your story (remember to include a caption).
When emailing your press release, use the headline as the subject line to hook the attention of the journalist –make it compelling or else they may not read any further. And finally, remember to proofread your press release thoroughly before sending it out.