One of the main tools that we use to communicate with journalists is the press release. A press release reads like a news story, with key information at the top and less important information further down – the opposite of a research paper! If a press release is aimed at the national media, it will be more ‘lay friendly’ than if it were targeted at specialised publications.
Press releases may be issued to local media, national, international or specialist media. The closer you work with the Media & PR team on your stories, the better the chances of generating media coverage, given our experience in writing and targeting stories to our existing media contacts. We will also advise on timing, embargoes etc.
Journalists/ editors are swamped with hundreds of press releases every day. Is the story newsworthy? Is the work new or unusual? Is there a strong visual angle, such as images or video, for journalists to use? Would the release coincide with major current news stories or events?
Writing a Press Release
A good press release provides all the information a journalist needs to know. The key elements are:
This sums up the story in one line and gets the reader’s attention.
An embargo is a point in time after which a story may appear in the media.
For academic papers, the journal sets the embargo – for example, Nature is often 18.00 (GMT) on a Wednesday, for example.
Most journalists abide by embargoes. It’s fine to speak to them before the story is released, but do remind them of the embargo, if one exists. Some journals have strict rules about when you may speak to a journalist. If in doubt, check with the journal’s press office.
The first paragraph is crucial to the press release. Journalists claim to spend on average three seconds reading a press release – if the story doesn’t grab them, it may get binned!
This can vary: a press release about the discovery of a gene implicated in type 2 diabetes might also have a short description of the disease, statistics on how many people it affects and information about genes previously discovered. Including historical or cultural details can also help build a stronger case for the importance and relevance of new research.
Quotes give colour to a press release. They need to be short, punchy and tell part of the story.
Usually for UCC’s Media and PR Office as they can prioritise interview requests and manage your schedule, or your mobile number to be contacted out of hours.
Notes for editors
Details of your paper or project and ‘boilerplates’ (standard paragraphs summarising all organisations involved).
What happens after the press release has been issued?
Once the press release has been issued, you should be contactable as journalists will hopefully want to speak to you about your work. Enquiries may come to you via the Media & PR Office or directly via phone or email.
What do they want to know?
Journalists may be looking for more information about your research, clarification on a particular point or a quote to use in their article. Be prepared for them to ask about the implications of your work for the sector, policy or the public, and for them to ask you for your personal or professional opinion.
Do I have to speak to them?
You do not have to respond immediately to any enquiries, whether by phone or email.
If you receive an unscheduled call from a journalist and you do not feel comfortable talking to them straight away, you can take a number and get back to them. Journalists may try to persuade you to give a quick response, especially if they are rushing to meet a deadline, but it is always better to take the time you need, even if only a couple of minutes, to provide a measured response.
If you know you will not be available to speak to journalists, particularly for the couple of days immediately before or after your research is published, it is important that you let the Media and PR Office know. If you won’t be contactable during that period, please try to suggest someone else who could act as a spokesperson in your absence.
Communicating controversial issues
If you work in an area with the potential for controversy, it’s worth getting in touch with UCC’s Media & PR team, who will give you support and advice about how to plan ahead for possible media attention or help you prepare for managing complex situations in the future.
In the most difficult or sensitive situations you will often have many options available to you, some of which you may not have previously considered. These could include preparing a reactive press release in case your work is picked up or putting together a Q&A or briefing document to help you consider different questions a journalist may ask. The Office of Media & PR provides various forms of media training to help you put things into practice, including in-studio mock radio interviews.