Writing Effective Press Releases

I pulled this press release to help a friend's organization but wanted to share my knowledge & experience as a news reporter.

The bold, italicized and underlined information are my annotations describing the strategy and rationale behind each paragraph.

The language isn't academic or corporate but conversational and from the perspective of actual reporters.

Press Release:

WHO: City Colleges of Chicago and partnering organizations

WHAT: Creating jobs, preventing foreclosures and boosting Chicago’s economy

WHEN: Today

WHERE: Chicago metropolitan area

WHY: opportunity to cover both a hard news story (economic impact) and a soft news story (community coming together to help each other) wrapped into one piece

Above: What reporters quickly look for (5Ws...sometimes 1H). This is key to getting us to dive deeper into your release--as a result this often comes first.

Below: Write a "story"...not just facts or allegations... that's crisp, concise and clear (3Cs). This makes a reporter's job easier and they'll think of you favorably as a result, which helps on your next pitch.

Chicago—City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) continues to demonstrate its commitment to making a big splash in Chicago’s economy.

Above: Quick hook/aka the article’s “lead” or “central issue.” Too often my PR & comms friends & colleagues lead with something like “Today ABC Person, 56,CEO, of XYZ company, is happy to donate $40m to LMN organization.” This comes across as bragging and/or self-interested. Big turn off to reporters. Do your bragging. But do it more strategically. The story isn't about you/your company's brand, per se. The story is about the people so aim for the heart of the story. ie: How does the donation affect its recipients? Think of journalists' constituents--the people.

Through CCC’s efforts, one business owner was able to keep her doors open without cutting staff, wages or reducing benefits.

Economic impact: Notice the angle is not how the story affects this organization, CCC-- or how happy CCC is to donate, but how the donation affects the community… The above sentence sets up a quote with a real person who does CCC's bragging for it.

“Winning the contract from City Colleges of Chicago provided a much needed lifeline to keep operations running smoothly and without losing critical talent,” said Mary Jacobs, President of Jacobs Engineering, the firm in charge of renovating CCC’s historic Malcolm X Campus.

Above: your org's plug…but from a third party… not from your org. or its spokesperson. It’s the difference between someone saying “I’m like really really smart; I have a high IQ” versus you hearing from a third party that “Johnny is really really smart; he has a high IQ.”

The contract not only assisted Jacobs but also allowed one of her employees to keep their operations going. “Had City Colleges of Chicago not awarded my employer with a contract, I would’ve remained unemployed in a very difficult economy,” said Brad Pitt, a construction worker at Jacobs’ firm.

Above: Conflict, which is a key element within many stories. Here the conflict was averted because of CCC's actions (we also found an economic impact storyline within, something reporters seek) …Here, we dug deeper by talking to not only the "officials/executives" at CCC but those who are affected, the “real people” on the ground.

Over the past six years, City Colleges of Chicago awarded more than 42 million dollars to local businesses. Women and minority-owned businesses represent half of CCC’s total monetary awards.

Above: CCC has its plug… in a less obnoxious and more informational manner. The responses will develop from the questions you would have already asked and the vetting you would’ve already done-- before pitching to reporters.

Minority hiring is attributed to City College's Board of Trustees’ Minority & Women Business Participation Plan, which they adopted back in 1993.

Above: Your org’s plug

“We decided to make a commitment to ensure that groups who were historically left out of contracts had a level playing field to compete for various opportunities at City Colleges," said Dr. Reagan Romali, president of City Colleges of Chicago.

Above: Now your “official” gets their plug…but it looks like part of the story rather than a plea to cover this story.

So far the investment seems to be paying off. City Colleges saw a 275 percent increase in the number of its women-owned businesses between 2017 and the first quarter of 2020. During that same time period, City Colleges saw a 124 percent increase in the number of its minority-owned business participation.

Above: Org plug… include quick facts.

"I appreciate the work that City Colleges is doing to make sure that if you work hard enough and deliver quality services, you can be recognized for your skills," said Jacobs. CCC awarded Jacobs’ firm $9.6 million dollars to build the new Malcolm X College on campus.

Above: Third party plug for your org.

Barack Obama and George W. Bush were previously unemployed when Susan Muller, president of Muller Muller Architects, gave them a call.

“I was unemployed and looking for a job. Work just wasn’t coming even though I acquired the skills as a bricklayer,” Obama said. According to Bush, “I’m glad Susan landed the contract because without it, I just don’t know what I would’ve done.”

Above: Third party plug for your org.

The contract CCC awarded Muller allowed her firm to create 10 new jobs. “We’re so thankful that CCC recognizes the hard work and talent right here in Chicago,” Muller said.

Above: Economic impact angle integrated into experiences from the community… ties into CCC's donation...

City Colleges received Chicago United's "Preferred Contractor" award. The Preferred Contractor is an award given to less than 1 percent of businesses operating in the Chicago metropolitan area that, among other qualities, demonstrate a good faith commitment to improving diversity and inclusion within their communities.

Above: Third party plug for your org.

"City Colleges is thankful that Chicago United recognizes the work we do within Chicago. But ultimately we operate in the way we do not to win awards but because it's the right thing to do for our community," Dr. Romali said.

Above: Your org's official humbly accepting their award.

When it's clear the reporter is going to cover the story, I'd include some fact/stats that makes it easy for them to reference. Note the reporter will not necessarily cover the story in the same way we've written above. But we've helped the reporter flesh out a solid angle. What we've written above can go on our organization's "recent news" page.

Facts/Stats:

Including Facts/stats enables reporters to insert something factual into their story—perhaps for an on camera piece to bridge their story from one part to another…also great for when we’re in a crunch and need to find info while under a tight deadline.

-Total contracts awarded between 2017- 2020: $42.2M

-Targeted goal of Minority Business Enterprise contracts: 25

-Number of awarded MBE contracts: 37

-Targeted goal of Women Business Enterprise contracts: 5

-Number of awarded WBE contracts: 6

Architecture & Engineering awards

-MBE and WBE combine for 53 percent of total number of A/E awards and 60 percent of total dollar amount of A/E awards between 2013 and 2020.

Send a tailored/personal email message to increases your odds of getting the reporter's attention. This likely

Pitch to Karen Jordan, ABC 7:

Hi, Karen,

I enjoyed speaking with you at the NABJ meeting last week.

You told me that your station is interested business development.

I’d like to introduce you to a few local business owners City Colleges contracts with and their employees. Because of a contract we awarded, one business owner was able to keep her doors open during a difficult economy and her employees were able to avoid foreclosing on their home. They’ve agreed to be filmed/interviewed in: in their homes, on the business site or where it’s convenient for you. The work location has great visuals for B-roll!

Below you’ll find their contact information:

Mary Jacobs, founder of Jacobs Engineering (312) 123-4567

Halle Berry, engineer, Jacobs Engineering (312) 321-7654

Brad Pitt, construction worker, Jacobs Engineering (312) 911-0098

Susan Muller, CEO Muller& Muller Architects, (312)823-2000

Barack Obama, employee 1, Muller& Muller Architects, (312)823-2001

George W. Bush, employee 2, Muller& Muller Architects, (312)823-2002

Above: This pitch let’s the reporter know you’ve done your homework and are thinking about their needs-- making their job easier. This not only helps you out on this pitch…but even if it doesn’t get covered, it’ll help establish rapport with the reporter…always think strategically.

Pitch to Susan Smith Richardson, Chicago Reporter (tailored email message)

Susan,

I noticed your recent article "In Chicago's black community, a broken ladder to opportunity." I thought it was a great piece about schools, jobs and education within minority communities. I wanted to suggest a follow up piece about what City Colleges is doing to bridge the opportunity gap between minorities, woman and business contracts. Below you'll find a press release.

Tweet: City Colleges Injects $42MM Into Chicago's Economy

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