Media Outreach Series: Writing and Distributing a Press Release

Categories: Blog

Author: Tim Kauffman

Press releases are nothing more than news stories that are told from your perspective. They are a great tool for publicizing an issue that’s important to your members or sharing AFGE’s position on newsworthy topics.

Some newspapers and websites will post the text of your press release verbatim. More often, reporters will take a quote or comment from your release and incorporate it into their own coverage of the issue. They may also see your release and contact you for additional comment or information.

Like a news story, press releases must be factual. It’s OK to include opinions in a press release, but they should be attributed to you or another official who is speaking on behalf of the organization.

Deciding what to write about

Any topic covered in the news could be the subject for a potential press release. To make a compelling release, you should have something relevant or important to say about a particular issue that a reporter may find unique or interesting.

Here are two examples:

  • Responding to bad news: Say you’re a local president at a military base that the Department of Defense is threatening to close. You could write a great press release discussing how important the base is to the local economy and detailing all the jobs that would be lost if the base is shut down. The more facts and figures you can include in your release, the more likely it will get picked up by news outlets.
  • Sharing positive news: Press releases don’t always have to be about negative topics. For example, what if one of your members receives an award or citation for something they have done on the job? You can write a press release touting the member’s accomplishment, making sure to mention that the employee is a dedicated union member. You might think of including a photograph of the member with the award or citation as well.

Crafting a compelling release

Like most newspaper articles, press releases follow a standard format. Include the most important information in the first two or three paragraphs of the release to grab the reader’s attention. Secondary information can be included in the remaining paragraphs.

One key to attracting attention for your release is to write a compelling headline. Headlines should be in the active tense and summarize the point of your press release in a few words.

Take the first example, about the military base that’s in danger of closing. An effective headline could read: “Union Leader Says Base Closure Would Devastate Local Economy.” Also consider writing a secondary headline, or subhead, which expands on the primary headline. A good subhead for this release could be: “Closing base would put 7,000 employees out of work.”

Formatting the release

Each release should contain the name, phone number, and email address for a person that a news organization can call if they have any questions about your release. This contact information should go at the top of the page, beside or under the date.

It’s also standard practice to include the city and state from which the press release is originating. This is called the dateline. Most press releases issued by AFGE’s communications department contain the dateline city Washington, but you should typically use your city as the dateline.

You can find many examples of properly formatted press releases on AFGE’s website.

Distributing your release

After drafting your press release, make sure to read it over to check for any spelling mistakes or other errors.

Once your release has been proofread, it’s time to distribute it. Review your local news coverage and see who covers the types of stories that are relevant to your members and to the issues you are trying to discuss. Compile a list of your contacts so you can easily email them your press releases.

If you have any questions, contact the Communications Department by sending an email to [email protected]. We’ll be happy to help you identify reporters and distribute your release.

REMINDER: Always be very clear to identify yourself in your union role, be it an officer or member. Do not ever claim to be speaking as a federal employee or agency employee, or ever speak using your job title unless authorized to do so by your agency. As long as you identify yourself as speaking only as a union activist/officer, the agency cannot prevent your ability to speak to the press over issues of labor relations. 

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