Do you know the difference between a press release, a media alert and a pitch letter? If not, don’t try sending any of these to the media until you do. Here is a quick primer on what is what:
Press Release: This is an official news announcement, with the key words being “news worthy.” So don’t send out a press release unless you actually have something to say. A press release generally has a few key elements, including a headline that is used to grab the attention of the reader and a dateline that contains the release date and typically the city involved.
The first paragraph should be the introduction that gives everything you’ll cover in the release. This should essentially provide the who, what, where, when and why. The body of the press release will fill in the details with background, pricing, statistics and include other key facts. A press release should end with a boilerplate, which is essentially the “about” section covering the person, company or organization. Finally, the press release generally ends with a close, which are the symbols “###” to note that’s all folks. And of course don’t forget to include media contact information including name, title, phone number and e-mail address.
If the press release has an embargo this should be clearly established at the beginning of the release!
Media Alert: This is like a press release, but is just the boiled down facts. However, a media alert or advisory is not a fact sheet. A media alert essentially is just the most basic facts: who, what, where and when. Instead of providing the information in paragraph form, it uses short sentences, beginning with the headline, followed by a sub-headline. There is no body, but rather bullet points beginning with the most important points that need to be made.
Media alerts are generally sent out for timely events, for example to note that an individual is speaking at a conference. Media alerts are for those times when the news might not warrant a full press release but still has some urgency. An example of a media alert can be seen at the UNAUSA.org site.
Pitch Letters: Sometimes the media gets press releases, sometimes the media gets pitch letters. Over the years I’ve seen plenty of pitch press releases. These are confusing because they aren’t quite press releases and they aren’t quite pitch letters.
A pitch letter shouldn’t be mass distributed like a press release, because it should be a personally addressed letter to a specific writer. That’s really the biggest key difference. Additionally however, a pitch letter can be used for something that isn’t quite newsworthy, such as a product release that you’d want a journalist to cover. A pitch letter should also be shorter than a press release and it should tell the reader immediately why they’d want to listen to the pitch. It should also be tailored to the specific magazine/Web site/news outlet. While a press release would never ask a journalist if he/she were interested in reviewing a product, the pitch letter would serve that purpose. Here are some decent sample pitch letters.