How to write a Fedora press release

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Fedora HOWTO create a Press Release is a general guiding page that targets novices as well as experienced PR volunteers. It is not yet another "Holy Book" or a strict standard (althought you should respect the procedures described here) but rather a quick guide and a check list for all of us.

So read, think, comment and suggest changes (if you feel that we missed something), and then make the rules that fit your case.

As a PR person, member of the Marketing Team, you should feel the responsibility a Marketeer *MUST* feel for all the other persons involved.

Remember : Persons from all over the world have spend their personal free time to create / edit / test / release the software / documentation / translations / Classes and a lot of other supporting activities and YOU are the one that talks or writes to promote their work. At least it is unfair to everyone else to do a "moderate" job.

As a member of PR you must test your content as fast and as wide you can (ask your friends to comment on your press release even before uploading it to this site), do not limit your testing to "computer geeks". If you can ask someone older (even your grand mother if possible) to read and answer a single question : "Is it understandable?". It may sound naive but on the other hand it's the ultimate test for a PR announcement.

So let's go for it. And remember Community is here to support your efforts.

Contents

Definition

A press release is a “written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something claimed as having news value. Typically, they are mailed, faxed, or e-mailed to assignment editors at newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television stations, and/or television networks... the aim of which is to attract favorable media attention… A news release provides reporters with the basics they need to develop a news story.” In other words, it’s one way professional PR folks Spread The Word.

Explanation

Written or Recorded communication : you can use Wiki, html pages or any other form of electronic or printed material in order to communicate with the press. You can use video content such as canned presentation, webcast, podcast or even some dual scope presentation. If you do use video and motion, you are limiting the target audience to TV / Internet and maybe Radio stations. That leaves out the printed press that usually is a more effective communication media (just think how many times you re-read a published article over the internet versus the times that you did the same with a magazine).

Directed at members of news media : please keep in mind that the target audience are not always technical, so keep your content as reasonably understandable as possible. In fact it requires a combination of technical knowledge and communication skill to create a press release that will be "attractive" and at the same time "functional". Since your actual target is to reach the reader (i.e. end-user or decision maker) you have to respect the needs of the media it self. Provide some clever slogans or motto that the marketing department of a commercial company can use (remember that more than 60% of internet hosting is based on Linux). This will enable the media to attract more readers and sell more advertisement space. In turn this fact will lead media to seek out you press releases instead of you trying to get some space in the next issue.

...for the purpose of announcing something claimed as having news value : if you are to write a Press Release then you should have something to say and you *MUST* make that obvious to the world. If you abuse press then the press most probably will forget about you and all that you represent. So go and write a press release if you feel that there is something that all the world should know about. Again the target audience of your press release are both news media and the end user. If you miss to satisfy one or the other you definitely will fail in your mission.

A news release provides reporters with the basics they need to develop a news story: Yes YOUR press release - if successful- will turn into THEIR stories! Don't be offended, it is exactly what is supposed to happen. The reporters are attracted by your press release (yeaaaaaa) and they will spend their time to find out more about what you said. They are already "under your spell" or they try to break your claims, but in any of the cases you have done well. The world will know and the press will start re-generating your point. Now you have to monitor both sites (negative and too positive ones) to keep them aligned with the real scope of the community. This may call for an interview, a speech, a presentation, an article or - in extreme cases - a new press release as a correcting action.

In other words, it’s one way professional PR folks Spread The Word: in other words that is WHY you would like to write a press release.

Illustration

I’m going to illustrate this by example. Ian Weller created a first draft of the "we’re CC-BY-SA licensed!" press release. To see what’s happened to it since, compare the edits in the history of that page, and then read on; here’s how I explained my edits on the mailing list.

I added:

  • The standard “this is a press release!” headers (”FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE”, location/date before the body text)
  • A headline (Fedora Project re-licenses content to CC-BY-SA)
  • A boilerplate snip of org info at the bottom, yanked from http://fedoraproject.org/
  • A shiny quote from Ian (this just in from IRC)
  • A contact info section
  • ### at the bottom, which is PRspeak for “end of press release”

Other things you'd need:

  • filling in of contact information at the bottom. This is like the situation when you talk to the answering machine and you forget to tell who you are and what is your phone number.
  • nice quotes (for this particular example, quotes would be things like "This re-licensing effort will enable us to $list_of_awesomeness, we’d like to thank $these_people," said $name, $impressive-sounding-title. “$shiny_media_soundbite!").
  • < li> All quotes *MUST* contain a reference to the site / magazine or any other source you use. Please do not use copyrighted material unless you have a permission.
  • copyediting

Hopefully this helps explain things a bit. For an example of a beautifully finished press release, check out the Fedora 11 press release, which is professionally done, and you’ll see all these elements in there. It’s not magic – it’s just PR. ;-)

F1 F1 F1 - Help needed

<shameless plug>Do you want press release help for your project? Send the Marketing team a ticket! (FAS login required) Do you want to help with press releases? (We can teach you!) Join the Marketing team! </shameless plug>

I am a lone wolf

Should you want to go it alone: In addition to the items above, you should make sure that

  • The release has contact information of folks who are available. If there is more than one person, all the better.
  • Press contacts (those on the release): Be available, by phone, cell, e-mail, smoke signals (please have available a fire department permit), whatever. If you are contacted and have a message left for you (by phone or e-mail), follow up as quickly as possible. At least this way press will know you are committed to what you promise.
  • Write clearly and use proper spelling and grammar. Have another person (or more) read it over to make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors. Yes, typos are the most annoying errors that sometime create a *MESS*.
  • Feel free to follow up with the person to whom you sent the release with either a phone call (if you have their number) or an e-mail, just to confirm they received it. The oldest trick in the book to get through to a very preoccupied person : call the secretary! He / She will have to check to verify since they are not authorized to decide about the importance of a communication.
  • With the state of the news industry being what it is today, some well-written press releases are sometimes used verbatim or close-to-verbatim. Rather than this being "doing the press' job for them," what's happening here is you are successfully doing YOUR "job" in promoting Fedora.
  • Having said this, if you do have a release run in an outlet (newspaper, magazine, etc.) and it is close to verbatim (if not completely), then chances are you have earned a spot of trust with the reporter/editor and he/she appreciates your efforts. On the other hand consult the rest of the Marketing team, there can be room for improvement.
  • Broadcast Public Service Announcements (PSAs): 30- and 60-second spots should be timed by reading the texts aloud, clearly but not necessarily slower than normal, for timing purposes. Generally, 29 and 59 seconds are good times to shoot for.
  • Remember your target audience: if the press release is to be released to technical press or to general public will dictate the details of your press release. If you use TV spots or Radio spots you have to adjust: 15-20 seconds TV spot will translate to 20-35 seconds Radio spot.