Our first press release is yet to be issued so please watch this space…
But now that you are here, here’s a little history about the press release and how the first one landed in the public domain.
The very first press release was issued following a train crash on October 28th, 1906 in Atlantic City in the USA. The tragedy left more than 50 people dead as a result of the train derailing off the Atlantic City Bridge.
It was common practice back then to hide such misfortunes from the public but Ivy Lee who represented the Pennsylvania Railroad decided to invite the press down to cover the incident. And to ensure that they had all of the facts, Lee drafted up a statement about the event which became the forerunner of the modern day ‘press release’. Lee who was once himself a Times reporter gave the statement to The New York Times who ran the report. The newspaper were apparently so impressed by Lee’s report that they printed it word for word or as some would refer, ‘verbatim’.
Fast forward to present day and the general consensus is that press releases should contain 4 to 5 paragraphs with a word count from 400 to 500. However, it is generally accepted that press releases can be anywhere from 300 to 800 words.
A press release should be structured as follows:
Headline – used to grab the attention of journalists and briefly summarise the news. Be sure to include some of the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ elements.
Date – positioned above the title and should contain the release date.
Introduction – first paragraph in a press release that generally gives basic answers to the questions of who, what, when, where and why.
Body copy – further explanation, statistics, background or other details relevant to the news.
Quote – featuring a quote from the person at the centre of the story, an eyewitness or professional spokesperson will give the story credibility.
Boilerplate – generally a short ‘about’ section, providing independent background on the issuing company, organisation or individual.
Closing – be sure to add ‘Ends’ at the bottom of the release to signal to the journalist that they have all of the information.
Media information – normally full name of the person who wrote the release if they are representing their own company or the name of the public relations consultant. A phone number, email address and any other relevant contact information should also be added.
The son of a Methodist Minister, Ivy Lee established the Association of Railroad Executives which included providing public relations services to the industry. He also became an advisor to major industrial corporations such as the steel sector, car industry, tobacco, meatpacking and rubber as well as public utilities, banks and even foreign governments. Lee pioneered the use of internal magazines to maintain employee morale, as well as newsletters, stockholder reports and news releases to the media. He did a great deal of work during World War I and he became the Publicity Director for the American Red Cross. Sadly Lee died of a brain tumor at the age of 57.
Ivy Lee, pictured below is now referred to as ‘the founder of public relations’.