The Oxygen of Free Publicity

Time to turn up the volume and press record. Let's communicate. Getting your message out may not be as difficult as you think. When we started our community film festival in Northampton we had few difficulties gaining the attention of local, regional and national media. The BBC spent a whole day with us; we had several radio appearances and multiple pages of coverage in the newspapers.
If we had paid for our publicity as advertisement we would have needed tens of thousands of dollars. As a small non-profit venture our project needed the oxygen of free publicity to make it a success.

In these cash-strapped times a well-crafted press release is an excellent source of free publicity and not as difficult as you may think. In our rush to digital we often forget the reach, coverage and the value of the existing traditional media.

In fact, local media are hungry for news items to fill their columns. National media and regional TV, however, tend to cover larger events of ‘national’ and topical significance. But they will lend and open ear, as we found, to worth causes and innovative projects.

(If you want to copy this item into your own newsletter please credit my name and blog
Community Media - Interactive World 

Here are some tips and golden rules for writing effective press releases:

Stick to one page of A4.

Less than 200 words is good and 50 words is even better.

Use short sentences and paragraphs. You are not writing an academic thesis.

Provide ALL the information that the editor may need.

A useful reminder is to interrogate your story or event with the SIX Ws:

“Who, What, When, Where, Why, hoW”

Who and What should be covered in the first paragraph; the other four Ws must be covered elsewhere in the story.

The first paragraph should catch the journalist’s attention.

After the six Ws, consider the ‘So What’ factor. What makes your event special or unique? have you invited a local celebrity to appear, or to endorse your event? Local politicians or celebrities will often send a message of support underlining the importance of your work to the community.

It’s advantageous to provide short quotations from people: staff, volunteers, and service users.

Local media are often more interested in the personal or individual angle of a story rather than an abstract issue or concept.

To write your own headline make it pithy, witty and short. Think of a keyword that sums up what you are trying to do; use less than 6 words.

Ideally you should ask someone else to read your press release - community is an activity.

Always use a spell check before submitting your work.

Your press release begins with a publication date or


and uses


and ---ENDS---

before and after the text that you want published.

Also include


additional information about your group. The Editor may use the notes supplied if they have more space available on the day.

Finally include a section called

--- CONTACT ---

and supply all contact details an editor to follow up.

Ensure that the contact person will be available. Many stories do not appear because the journalist was unable to contact anyone after 5pm.

If you have a Communications Strategy you may be writing a Press Release once a month or more.

Sadly, many Press Releases are just sent out at the end of a project. Aim for a least three news stories for any projects. It’s more effective to build your local media relationships by involving the public in your story as it develops. Just think - all projects have a beginning, a middle and an end point - as well as challenges and setbacks that you can use to your advantage.

Use local surveys and face to face interviews to increase dialogue and interactivity. If you are using digital social media these functions will be easy and inexpensive to build into your work.

Announce successes but also appeal for help when you face challenges. Look out for milestones such as volunteering targets met, funding awarded, service user achievements, awards and endorsements.

After sending your news follow up with a phone call - voices build media relationships.

Dr Ian McCormick is Director of The International Community Film Forum and Festival, and works as a social media activist.


  1. Some helpful comments from Beth Whittaker, who is the Director of Third Sector /VCS communications specialist Viva Communications Limited:

    "Would not recommend sending press releases as attachments as journalists receive hundreds each day – suggest putting text (six/seven pars, one/two sentences per par) in the body of the email with the subject line and headline the same. Think about headline in terms of how it might 'tick the box' for the journalist (re-inforce his/her patch, specialism etc) but spend more time on the first two paras as that's all you have to get them to read on… focus on outcomes rather than the organisation. Include strong quotes and third party endorsement quote wherever possible (how the service/org/business is making a difference). If emailing photos they need to be high res, really sharp and have captions."


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