One vital tool that I use to communicate with the media is the media release. Sometimes known as the "news release," I personally like the term "media release" because many other outlets besides news departments use it. For instance, I e-mail all our media releases to every member of our department and to key city officials including the Mayor, City Manager, City Council, other department heads as well as the city office of communications. This way every member of the organization is on board as to what's going on.
I also learned that media releases make my job easier. Instead of getting numerous calls from the media asking the same questions and myself repeating the same thing over and over again, the media release can be disseminated and cut down on the number of calls, if it is done correctly.
How to compose a successful media release
First of all, it needs to be done on a template in your computer or on paper. You want your release to look professional and "eye catching."
Most releases are sent to the media via the fax machine. Many PIOs don't know that the ringer in the fax machine in most newsrooms are disconnected or shut off. This is because they are constantly bombarded with releases from numerous sources and organizations trying to get their story on the news. Every once in while, someone in the newsroom will pick up a batch of releases from the fax machine and thumb through them to pick out the more interesting ones. This is why it is so important to make yours "eye catching," you want to catch their attention. On my releases, I have the words "FIRE NEWS" in big letters so it really stands out.
Your release should contain the official name of your department, a contact name and telephone number and any other required information of your department or city. Our city requires the name of the fire chief, mayor and city council members on all outgoing releases.
It should also contain the date and time of the release and some sort of tracking number for your files. I track ours by using the year and the number of the release for that year, such as: 03-127, which means it is the 127th release for the year 2003.
I keep my template in my computer in Microsoft Word. This way each time I wish to do a release, it is already in the computer and all I have to do is compose the release information.
Writing the release
Releases should be written in the "inverted" style, that means the more important information is at the beginning of the release and less important and support information is found later in the release.
The first paragraph should only contain two-to-three sentences. It should tell the entire story of the release, and yet it should make you want to read more. It is in this first paragraph where the editor or assignment desk decides whether they want to read the rest of your release and consider it for a story or trash it.
The rest of the release should support that first paragraph and it must answer the following questions:
It is vital that every release contain all of those points. The time of the incidents usually takes care of the when, while the address of the incident takes care of the where. What is the release about, a new rig or a fire response? Who is involved in the release you are writing about, fire victims or members of the department? Why and how are a little more difficult, but answer the question such as what caused the fire or how did it start.
Use layperson, not technical terms. It should be written so a student in a sixth grade class could easily understand it and discuss it with you.
It is absolutely imperative that you make sure all the information in your release is correct. If you are not sure, do not include it.