As an advocate for feral cat policy reform, it’s up to you to be the voice for your community cats. Every time an article appears in the paper about feral cats, or even cats in general, you have an opportunity to have a letter to the editor printed. You can respond to positive and to negative articles. This is your opportunity to educate the public—on the truth about animal shelter high kill rates, Trap-Neuter-Return, local programs and Trap-Neuter-Return groups, or simply familiarize people with outdoor cats in general. There are others like you that will discover there is a public movement on behalf of cats.
- Check your local newspaper to find out who should receive the letter. You can also find that information online or by calling the newsroom.
- Make the letter short and to the point. Most publications have a word limit for letters to the editor. Ask what it is and stick to it. They will edit (without your input) or just not print a letter that is too long.
- Don’t preach or rant. Don’t get personal. Stick to the issue and offer a solution or at least a course of action.
- Sign your letter and include your address and phone number. They may call you to verify that you submitted the letter, but will not print your contact information.
- Send the letter via e-mail or fax, depending on the newspaper’s preference.
When, How, and Why to Send Out a Press Release
A well-written press release can increase your public exposure and ability to fundraise and even help you gain supporters and volunteers. The press release is your vehicle for telling the public, via the media, the basic “who, what, when, where, and why” of your story. You should consider writing a press release when your organization :
- Takes action or a stand on an issue
- Gives or receives an award
- Evaluates lawmakers or other public officials (as in a report card) for good work or bad
- Launches or completes a new study, book, videotape, or survey of public opinion
- Starts or finishes a fund drive
- Appoints a new leader and/or takes a new direction
- Holds an event
- Calls for the passage or defeat of legislation
Feral cat groups may also have reason for a press release to garner volunteers, to announce a spay and neuter day, to rally the public behind their cause, to respond to misguided policies about feral cat caregivers or licensing laws, or to raise awareness about local shelter practices.
Your press release should raise the readers’ curiosity and entice them to ask more questions about what you are doing and why you are doing it. The release should be a jumping-off point for the reporter to write an article or report on your exciting news.
While it is important to know when to send out a release, it is also important to know when not to send a release. Bombarding reporters with information that is not newsworthy can sometimes lead to “information overload” and may backfire. The key to success is developing relationships with your local media by keeping track of what they cover and what kind of information they will find useful.
Before you write that next release, answer these questions :
- What do you hope to accomplish by getting out a press release?
- Who outside your organization really cares?
- Is it truly newsworthy?
- Will the resulting press coverage (if any) help your organization?
- Can you accomplish the purpose better in another way?
Essential Elements of an Effective Press Release
Make your headline sing to readers and draw their attention. A headline should be creative and eye-catching—but not sensational. Most reporters receive hundreds of press releases seeking to gain their attention. It’s your job to craft a short, punchy, well-crafted headline that encapsulates the major news angle and entices reporters to write about your issue or event.
Introduction. Start with a strong headline to grab the reader’s attention. The headline along with your opening sentence (the lead) should tell a gripping story. This is essential to keeping reader interest through the detail section of the release that follows.
Get to the point. Read local newspapers to get a good feel for the kind of information that belongs up front. The lead should provide a brief overview of the “who, what, where, when, and why” of your story. And remember—news is what’s new and different.
Include just the facts. Make it interesting and exciting, but avoid embellishments. Narrow down the details you give in your press release to just the essentials. You have control over how you and your organization are viewed in the media and by the public. Maintaining a sound, reasonable voice backed by facts and examples will help you sustain credibility. A well-crafted press release is rarely more than one page in length.
Choose your angle. Choose your approach carefully and try to make it relevant to the audience that will read the story you are trying to get the reporter to write. Further, think about what is hot in the news or events coming up or recently passed—these are called “news hooks.” Editors like to see continuity in their publications, so finding a way to tie into holidays or other opportunities that are already in the news is a great way to get attention.
Another great way to develop the hook is to find a way to tie your event or accomplishment into a larger news story. For example, if you want to publicize a spay and neuter clinic, think about pitching it to the reporter by talking about how you do these clinics monthly, the beneficial impact on the community, and positive feedback you have received from the residents who have been helped. Incorporate anecdotes.
You may need to think about your work in a different way. For instance, you are helping people help cats or even helping people who would not have received help otherwise. In some cases this may lead you to focus more on the people than the cats.
Check it once and check it again. Be concise and grammatically correct. Adding fluff will only distract from the true meaning of your press release. Don’t include clichés and jargon that may not be understood by the general reader. For example, always briefly explain Trap-Neuter-Return upon the first mention. Always ask for permission before attributing a quote to anyone, and make sure it is factually correct. Be sure to check your release for punctuation and grammatical errors.
Always include a quote. Press releases should be documents of fact. They are not a place to editorialize. For a chance to tell your side of the story and add interest to the press release, include a quote from the designated spokesperson of your organization or partner group.
Eight Tips for Writing an Effective Press Release
- Make sure what you are writing about is newsworthy.
- Write for the readers of the newspaper, not the reporters and editors. Many times newspapers will print a story almost exclusively from a press release.
- Start with a brief description of the news, and then distinguish who announced it, and not the other way around. Make sure to give the reader a reason to keep on reading.
- Ask yourself, “Is the message I am sending positive and understandable?”
- Make sure the first ten words of your release are effective and get your point across succinctly—these are the most important words you write.
- Deal in facts, not hyperbole. Don’t use exclamation points. Avoid excessive use of adjectives and fancy language.
- Make it as easy as possible for media representatives to do their jobs. Provide contact information at the top and bottom of the release including: individual to contact, address, phone, fax, e-mail, and website address.
- Make sure you wait until you have a story with enough substance—and all the information you need, including contact information and permission for using your quotes—before issuing a release.