Writing The Press Release From the Point of View of the User

By Paul Moffett

Many really awful releases arrive at the Louisville Music News office each day, written with much earnestness and enthusiasm and often printed on oddly colored paper with peculiar typefaces and are nearly useless as sources of information.

Press releases are the standard method for relating the who, what, where, when and why of your story to people who, you hope, will give you publicity about your band or record or event. Well-written ones do their job and are more likely to get the attention you seek.

Poorly written ones, with flowery leads instead of important information right up front, misspellings and inaccurate or vague data generally end up in a file, often the round one, instead of in the paper. By keeping yours clean (without typos and incoherent sentences) and clear (free from personal opinion and excessive hype), you are already one step ahead of the rest.

Here are some suggestions for making press release work for your act rather than against it.

1. Keep it short, punchy and to the point. Limit it to one page, front and back and lay it out double spaced, which improves the readability.

2. Put the most important details near the top. Think of an "inverted pyramid": important first, less important in the paragraphs to follow. Several local organizations in Louisville send press releases with such things as performance dates buried completely at the end, where they can be easily overlooked. This is not effective.

3 Assume your reader knows little about you or your band. A succinct description is best, even though most musicians try hard not to be "labeled."

4. Go easy on quotes and reprints. Do not assume that the reader is going to read all of your deathless prose or, worse, some other publication's. Assume the contrary: most of it will not get read.

5. Grab attention with a strong headline and catchy lead paragraph. Use conversational language and action verbs. Read it out loud before mailing. If it sounds awkward when read this way, then rewrite it.

6 Write short sentences, not long ones.

7. Give the editor a time frame. By writing "For Immediate Release" on top, you are saying the information is relevant now. If it is embargoed information (meaning information that can be released only after a certain date has passed), put "Embargoed Until [date]" and get the release out a day or two before hand. Try not to send an embargoed release too far in advance.

8. Have someone else proofread for typos and bonehead statements. This one goes wittout syaing.

9. Put a contact phone number on the release. Make it easy for the editor to reach you for confirmation or (better yet) for additional information, perhaps leading to a story!

10. Cut the "push and pump." Media people in general and editors in particular are maxed-out skeptics and won't believe you anyway. They are likely to be irritated having to read all those brags just trying to get useful information. Remember Jack Webb's most famous quote: "Just the facts, Ma'am, just the facts."

Knowing when to use press releases and when to call on the phone is also important. Send press releases only when you have real news, such as a gig date, a CD release or a special award. Your releases will lose impact if you send them out too often.

Also, find out from your print media contacts when their print deadlines are. If you're sending last minute press releases for an event to be held in a week or less, it probably will end up in the trash.

Press releases are not always the way to go. They work best for real news and announcements about upcoming gigs and events; but if you have some useful information to share that is more background than news, pick up the phone and call your media contacts instead.