Scientell prepared this summary for members of the Ecological Society of Australia, who have employed us to provide communication support and advice.
Despite the rise of social media, writing and distributing a media release is still a very effective way of communicating your research to the media and hence to a variety of audiences including the public.
Preparing a media release has lots of benefits. It will help you think through the essential elements of your story, and order your findings in a way that highlights the important points first. It ensures that your colleagues, manager, funders, supporters and employer will be aware of your work. It will represent an agreed, accurate and enduring record of your findings.
So, here is a step-by-step guide on how to write a media release.
First, please seek the assistance of a professional communicator or an experienced colleague to write your release. You may be too close to your work to find the news angle. Moreover, an experienced person can help write a release that grabs journalists’ attention. They will also have media contacts to increase the likelihood of your work receiving coverage. They also might suggest that a release is not going to be the most effective way of telling your story and might have some other communication options for you (e.g. pitching directly to online discussion sites such as The Conversation).
- Summarise the main points of your story, with ideally one main take home message. These are probably going to be the three or four points you make at a barbecue or party, when someone with little or no knowledge of your field asks you what you’re working on and why. Order your points from most important to least important.
- Identify what is the newsworthy angle or ‘hook’. Why is this relevant to everyday people now? Do your findings shed interesting new light on a topic? Does your work overturn current thinking? Is it new evidence of things getting worse or better? Will people talk about your insights at the pub?
- The first paragraph of the release is critically important. It should contain the who, what, when, where, why (who cares), and how of your story. Here’s an example with the above elements identified:
Birds’ wings growing to help escape the heat?
The wing length [what & how] of Ringneck Parrots [who] in the south-west of Western Australia [where] has been increasing since the 1970s [when], coinciding with that region becoming hotter and drier. This is a possible rapid evolutionary response to changing climate [why/who cares].
- Write in the ‘inverted pyramid style’. After the lead paragraph, each subsequent paragraph should be less important. The release should make complete sense if it is cut from the bottom up. That is, it needs to work if just the first paragraph is used, or pars 1 and 2, or pars 1, 2 and 3, etc.
- Write in short sentences and short paragraphs, with simple language (no scientific jargon).
- Keep it simple. You need to interest a journalist who is not a science or environment correspondent, writing for people who know nothing about your science.
- Include quotations, attributed to a named person with their position and affiliation stated (most likely you, and possibly a senior person in your agency).
- Add a punchy headline. Most journalists will read only the headline and first sentence of your release.
- Check to ensure that the release contains no typographical or grammatical errors and then have it approved by your manager, and ensure your communicator, agency, funders, colleagues and anyone else involved are aware of the release before it is made public.
- Restrict the release length to one page, add ‘Media Release’ to the top, agency logo, the date (clearly noting any embargo), and contact details including mobile number at the end.
- Good photos or videos will help ‘sell’ a release. State their availability.
- Look for networks and linkages with other agencies such as universities, partner organisations and sponsors to help promote the release.
If you’d like advice or assistance in preparing a media release, please contact Scientell (www.scientell.com.au)