Writing and Formatting a Press Release for E-mail Distribution.

The definitive style guide to the correct format for e-mail news releases based on feedback from journalists and reporters.

A conventional 'hard copy' press release is a brief document generally one to three double-spaced type written pages announcing news about your company, product or service to media professionals.

E-mail press releases are usually shorter in length than their print counterparts. The majority of electronic news releases sent are 500 words of text organised into five, short two to three sentence paragraphs.

E-mail software allows the user to set limits on the size of messages it will download. Since many individuals do not change the default limit on their e-mail software, long messages can be truncated. For this reason we would discourage you from sending extremely lengthy electronic news releases.

Information such as photographs, biographies of company executives, white papers and other supporting documents usually included in a printed media kit may be published online where reporters may access them easily at their convenience.

If your company, for example, has completed an online survey of Internet shoppers, include a brief overview of the results in the electronic press release then follow that paragraph with the URL or home page address where complete survey results are published. The URLs for screen shots of your Web site and products may also be included in the news release.

Some reporters have limited online access. As a courtesy, always include a contact method for reporters who prefer to have materials mailed to them by conventional means.

Sending photographs and supplemental information files through e-mail attachments is not acceptable when contacting a reporter.

Information to Include in a News Release

A compelling e-mail subject header and headline.

A first paragraph that covers the five W's: who, what, where, when and why.

Electronic contact information including an e-mail address for the press contact and Web site address of the company. Reporters working on deadline will often choose to call a company representative rather than wait for a reply by e-mail. Be sure that in addition to e-mail contact information a phone number for the press contact is listed.

The mention of key clients or endorsement from a 'non-biased' source like university professor or software reviewer. You should have permission from those sources to use their remarks in your press release.

A short paragraph at the end of the release containing background information about the company. This might include a synopsis of the activities of the company, how long they have been in business, and any area of expertise. If the press release is about a book or entertainer then cover career high-points.

Story Tips

Electronic PR does not differ from conventional PR in that one's ability to write and organise information well is rewarded with press coverage. However, the one-two punch of a creative subject header for your message and a clever "spin" to your news rings extra loud in a crowded inbox.

Many journalists respond to clever writing and news releases that describe how a new product or service is a solution to a business or consumer problem.

Pointing to a new business, consumer or health trend is another way to position a story.

Another popular method for obtaining press coverage is to ride piggy-back on a breaking news story by alerting the media to your client's expertise on that particular subject.

Like the Rolling Stones say, "Time is on your side." Be prepared to act fast if you sense a PR opportunity. Time the sending of your news release right and you can receive a windfall of publicity.

In 1998, a company had the good fortune to be the only company delivering the Starr Report by e-mail using a proprietary technology for which the recipient paid to read the document. Many may remember the Starr Report was first published online. While individuals jammed Web sites attempting to read the document, this company offered the only alternative to the congestion. Following the distribution of a press release the company received thousands of requests for delivery and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase their product. Electronic press release delivery is an excellent tool when a story has a limited shelf-life and or when a news window will be open only for a limited time.

How to Format a Release

The first line of the e-mail message should read: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE in all caps. This lets the reporter know the news is authorised for publication on the date they receive it.

Allow one spacer line then write a headline using a combination of lower case and capital letters. Keep your headline to ten words or less. Do not write the headline in all capital letters because it is harder to read using e-mail software.

Allow another empty line for spacing, then begin the text of the release as we show with the city and state followed by a dash. All releases must include a date since reporters do not always use releases immediately.

There are a number of conventions for line length of electronic press releases. Xpress Press formats press release to the style most universal among e-mail readers.

Include press contact information below the text of the news release. A reporter reading your release should be able to make a decision about your story in the first screen of the e-mail message. Don't waste that space with contact information. They will scroll down to find out who to contact if they want to follow-up with you.

Finally, close the document with the characters -30- or ### which are style conventions that let the reporter know they have reached the end of the story.

REMINDERS

Don't trust your word processing program to catch errors in grammar and spelling. Have a few individuals read the release before sending it to a reporter or news agency. Although an Xpress Press staffer reads through each release, a number of stories each day contain obvious errors like the omission of an e-mail address for the press contact.

Additionally, remember that press releases are sent by e-mail and not everyone uses the same software. For that reason do not use HTML tags, bold type or colour text which may not transmit consistently across all computer platforms.

When to Send Your News

Daily Newspapers

Business and general assignment reporters working for newspapers and online dailies turn around stories within 24 and 48 hours. However, feature writers are working on stories weeks in advance of publication date. Press Releases about special events or with holiday tie-ins should be sent a minimum of three weeks in advance so the reporter has ample time to research and write the story. The same is true for promoting online webcasts and events. Three weeks is often needed to obtain coverage in Internet newsletters and online calendars.

Monthly Magazines

Monthly publications close editorial content two months in advance of the issue date. It is not unusual for writers to be deciding on story content for a December issue in September. Stories with a holiday theme should be sent to allow the reporter ample time for research and coverage.

Radio and Television

Radio or television stations may plug your Web site or product and perhaps be interested in having a representative from your company appear on one of their programs. Because interviews can be held over the telephone you might receive a call in the afternoon for a show airing that evening. Be prepared. Designate someone from your company as the spokesperson and have them prep for the show. In some cases you can ask the show's producer for a list of questions you will be asked. Plan how you will reply to the questions. Also plan how you will respond to the interviewer if they ask questions you do not wish to answer.