There may come a time when something big happens at your animal sanctuary, be it a new arrival with a harrowing story, a massive event coming up, or your organization’s participation in a dramatic rescue. In scenarios such as these, you may wish to attract media coverage from news organizations to help attract support and publicity for your residents and mission.
Creating a press release is the first step in gaining effective media attention and working to ensure that those covering your story understand your perspective! Well-crafted press releases are also an excellent tool for sharing successes with your supporters. As an added bonus, the creation process of a press release itself can help your organization brainstorm exactly how your sanctuary presents itself, its mission, and its voice to the wider community.
What Might Be Worthy Of A Press Release?
There’s no rule about what kind of story or event might be press-worthy; as long as you believe a journalist would reasonably think that their readers or viewers would find your story compelling, you can develop a press release for it!
Generally, good candidates for press releases (but not necessarily all press releases) include one or more of the following elements:
- Timeliness: People are more inclined to find stories newsworthy if they are happening immediately, just happened, or are taking place soon. Given the fast-paced nature of news, anything that might be considered “stale” wouldn’t be the best candidate.
- Location: Journalists covering a specific region will be more inclined to discuss events happening within their region; it’s much more compelling for local audiences when something happens in areas they recognize!
- Originality: People are more likely to find stories interesting if they’ve never heard them before, or if there’s a fresh angle to a well-worn story. What makes your story a unique occurrence?
- Involvement of Prominent Individuals: Is there someone attached to your story or event that the larger community might know of? If an official, celebrity, or other known personality is involved, news outlets are more likely to give your story airtime.
- Drama: People like to hear compelling stories. Many animal sanctuary rescues can have dramatic moments or details that news organizations may be very interested in publicizing.
- Milestones: Did your sanctuary accomplish a huge goal? Did you greet your 15,000th visitor? Rescue a certain amount of animals? These timely milestones can be compelling to newscasters.
- Good News And Happy Stories: News organizations are always looking for feel-good stories, interesting animal friendships, rehabilitation stories, and people connecting with animals. If this is your angle, make sure to include specific details as to why this story should be told now!
- Importance To Others: A compelling press release should always be relevant, interesting, or actionable to those outside of your organization. How is the larger community impacted, benefitting, or educated by your story or event? If it’s not perceived to be important to the reader or intended audience in any way, a journalist is less likely to find it compelling enough to share.
How To Write An Effective Press Release
First, Study The Structure
Unlike other kinds of publications, press releases all follow a specific style and formatting. Failing to follow this format can lead to your release not getting the attention you may hope for it to receive! Check out press releases from other animal sanctuaries, such as this release from Woodstock Farm Sanctuary or these ones from Farm Sanctuary to see how other organizations handle their releases!
A press release should cover the basic facts of the story, including who the story involves, what happened and how it transpired, where and when the story takes place, and why the story is relevant to the reader (though not necessarily in that order!). The details should be presented in what’s known as the “inverted pyramid” style. That is, the most relevant details to the press release should always be presented first, and the information should become more fleshed out and generalized as the reader moves down the page. This way, a reader can quickly parse out the most critical parts of the story and find supporting information down the line if they so desire.
Writing The Release, Line By Line
A press release generally should be an easily-readable single page document using a legible font such as Times New Roman in 12 pt font. The release should contain the following elements in roughly the following order:
- Headline And Sub-headline: This should be succinct, factual, and attention-grabbing. The headline should get to the heart of the story quickly, and use engaging active language such as “Sanctuary rescues four emaciated While "cows" can be defined to refer exclusively to female cattle, at The Open Sanctuary Project we refer to domesticated cattle of all ages and sexes as "cows."” rather than “Four cows have been saved”. The subheadline can be used to add a bit of extra detail to the headline to create more curiosity without getting too in depth.
- Release Timing Information: When can this story be shared with the public? Typically, a press release includes “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” or “FOR RELEASE ON [DATE] AT [TIME]”
- Story Contact: Who is the point of contact for journalists who want more information? Some sanctuaries may have a dedicated media point person, others may just direct inquiries to the Executive Director or the organization in general. This should also include contact information such as an email address or phone number.
- Sanctuary Information: A press release should include the sanctuary’s name, address, phone number, and website.
Press Release Body
- A Location, Day Of The Week, And Date: A press release body of text should always begin with a dateline in order to create context.
- Paragraph 1: This is where you briefly sum up what this story is about in one to two sentences. The very first sentence must hook readers and entice them to read on!
- Paragraph 2: This paragraph should succinctly explain why a story should be important to a reader.
- Paragraph 3: This is where you can start to broaden your story, adding in details such as who is involved and how the story happened.
- Paragraph 4: This is where you can add supplemental details to add credibility and further contextualizing information for your story, such as relevant quotes with appropriate attributions, truthful and well-sourced statistics or graphs, or supplemental media such as photographs (or audiovisual resources if being released digitally).
- Paragraph 5: Where can a reader find further information about this story or get involved?
Post-Press Release Body Elements
- Boilerplate Information: This is where you add a short description of your sanctuary, its history, mission, and 501(c)(3) status if relevant.
- ###: These hash marks under the boilerplate are an accepted shorthand meaning “this is the end of the official press release”
- Notes To The Editor: If there’s supplemental information that you want a news organization to be aware of, or additional information that your sanctuary could provide (such as interview opportunities, additional photos or video that could be provided, or additional supporting data), this space is good for that!
What To Consider When Crafting
- Always Proofread: Spelling and grammar mistakes should never make their way into your press release. Make sure to go over all content with a fine-toothed a fleshy crest on the head of the domestic chicken and other domesticated birds! If you aren’t already familiar with it, consider researching the Associated Press Stylebook as following AP style will increase the chances of news organizations picking up your story.
- Ensure Accuracy: You must be very careful to make all content as accurate and truthful as possible. Being deemed intentionally untruthful would be highly damaging to your organization. In press releases, it’s better to include less information than questionable information!
- Limit Hyperbole: Avoid using any hyperbolic language such as “amazing”, “incredible”, “Earth-shattering”, or any other drama-heightening words in the body of your press release, unless they happen to be in relevant quotes from individuals. Your story’s excitement or importance should be able to speak for itself without using flashy words, and overuse of hyperbole will generally be deemed questionable or unprofessional.
- Think About Your Reader: The people you probably want to read your press release likely have a minimal background in animal rights or animal welfare (and likely have different feelings about those subjects than you do!). Make sure that your press release is accessible to those who know less than you do, and that it’s compelling to them. If unsure, send a draft of your press release to someone you trust who is outside of your organization and ask for feedback. You may need to adapt certain language for more general audiences. If necessary, you can always add contextualizing resources further into your press release if you’re unsure whether someone outside of the sanctuary movement will fully understand the story’s context.
- Keep It Legal: If you are writing a press release about a current event that involves or may involve litigation, be very careful about the information you publicly release. Certain details (or photos or video) may compromise a legal case or even cause your organization legal difficulties. Always err on the side of caution when writing press releases or have an attorney review what you plan on publishing!
Releasing The Release
Now that you’ve written, re-written, and have finalized your press release, it’s time to turn your one page document into news attention! It’s important that you begin by sending your release to news organizations, websites, and journalists who you believe would be most likely to cover your story. Think about why the story would be compelling to their target audience (Have they covered similar subjects? Is it topical to their region? Are they a national organization that specifically covers animal stories?) and individualize a pitch to each journalist or organization.
A personalized quick summary of your story sent along with the press release pasted into the body of the email (because sending press releases as attachments can be blocked by automatic spam filters) is much more likely to get attention than sending out the release en-masse. This pitch should focus solely on the immediate story and how it impacts an organization’s readers or viewers. After all, you’re asking for a journalist’s limited time and attention!
Once you’ve sent them the release, consider following up with a phone call, asking to speak with the relevant member of the news organization. This personalized touch will be much more likely to get a positive response. Even if a news organization doesn’t pick up your story, always maintain positive communication channels with as many organizations as possible; any kind of negativity will not result in the news coverage you may be hoping for.
If a specific journalist has covered one of your stories before, consider reaching out to them again; hopefully a positive past experience will lead to another one!
Consider Putting Press Releases On Your Website
Since you’ve taken the time to craft your press release, you could also consider releasing it on a special page on your sanctuary’s website. On your website, you can include additional information and resources that aren’t as critical for the published press release, but that may be interesting to readers. Additionally, you can include the official press release in PDF format on your site for easy shareability. Publishing press releases on your website is also a great way to show supporters and potential new donors the impact of your sanctuary and what is provides for your residents and community at large!