For Immediate release; writing for the press

press release pic

It’s day 10 of my work placement for an international Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO). I’m finding that working in the press team is a great opportunity to sharpen up my writing skills. I was delighted to discover that the press release I wrote last week was covered in a local news paper this week. The Portsmouth News covered the story on page 15. I’ve asked them to send me a copy so that I can start a portfolio. There are two more stories I’ve been working on this week and hope to send the press releases out next week to a list of (hopefully very interested) journalists that I’ve been compiling. It would be fantastic if I can have a few stories published in a range of media platforms. This weeks publication was in regional news, but it would be amazing to gain coverage for Sightsavers in national news like the Independent, development specific news like the Guardian Development Network online and trade media like PR week or Third Sector.

University has high standards for writing, I’ve had to devote hours and hours to improving my essays in order to get a good grade. Results for the assessments we took in term one of second year were released on Friday. Unlike first year, these results count toward my final degree. I was delighted to get a first in both economics and social change, culture and development. To earn a first it took a lot of reading, writing and editing, it wasn’t easy. Its so nice to be rewarded!

Obviously writing a press release is different in style to writing an essay but there are some transferable skills. Firstly, as it says in a Guardian article that I’ve found useful for guidance; it’s essential you use proper punctuation throughout. Journalists want to be provided with ‘ready to publish’ copy. “By supplying first-class copy, it will also gain you a solid reputation as someone who is reliable and provides quality press releases at all times – someone they’ll want to publish stories for again in the future (The Guardian 2012)”.

news picAlso, you need to research each publication and journalist that you are pitching this story to and find out exactly what they want (Cowan 2013). This isn’t too dissimilar to having a set title, a word limit and a certain tone and style that you have to adapt to when writing for your professors at university. It requires a strong argument and reading the key publications, with the key debates on that particular topic. For university essays, like press releases your essay must contain all the facts, show you have a deep understanding of what you are writing about and all the information must be condensed within a word limit.

The press releases I have been writing this week have been challenging because they’re targeting audiences I am unfamiliar with. One press release is detailing an online social media asset, or widget that is being used to engage supporters for the  campaign Put Us in the picture. The story is aimed at journalists who report on social media for charity and so I have been reading articles on charitydigitalnews.co.uk and the technology pages of the Telegraph and Guardian to be better informed on the terminology and style. The second press release is aiming for coverage in trade media such as Third Sector and PR Week. This too is a little daunting as I need to quickly understand and employ the jargon from the voluntary sector Communications and PR industry!

The media trust newswire website has taught me a lot. Three of their key tips on securing press coverage:

– Has to be new/ different/ interesting

– Has to have human interest

– Topical. Add your story to an existing topical story or debate in the media

More guidance on press release writing here 

I’ve been working very closely with one of the other girls within the press team. She did an undergraduate degree in PR at Bournemouth University. She has always worked in communications but always for charities. She is the senior media and (celebrity) ambassador liaison officer. Its interesting to see how deep her international development knowledge is despite studying PR for three years rather than development. In order to work for NGOs and write to journalists who report on or in issues in developing countries she is extremely aware of development studies academics and practitioners. Her interest in celebrity seems actually not that great, she is passionate about inspiring them to use their fame to make a difference and increase awareness of inequality overseas.

We have been following the Scarlett Johansson leaving her ambassador role at Oxfam controversy every day. As the story unfolds there is more and more research going into whether celebrity ambassadors are good for NGOs. This is something I would like to look into for my report. I’ll write more on this next week as it relates to some of the research I have been doing.

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