Designing your main message

Often it’s not the quality of the science, but the way you ‘package’ your story that gains media coverage.

Ask yourself these 3 questions and use your answers to formulate your main message:

What are the main points you want to get across?

Think about your aims before you start. Why are you issuing this media release?

This is particularly important for sensitive issues.

What do the media want to know about this work?

Why should they care?

They are much less interested in clever science than they are in the impact the science might have on the person in the street.

What could the media get wrong?

List the most likely things they could misunderstand or get wrong if you don’t stress the correct information and explain any potential misunderstanding.

The inverted pyramid

Media releases are written in the inverted-pyramid style – the most important information is at the top, followed by supporting information in descending order of importance.

The headline needs to be catchy. Think of it as a red flag for waving down a train. Often, all a journalist reads is the headline and the first sentence.

The ‘lead’ sentence needs to grab the journalist’s attention and also cover the main message. The entire release should be bright, direct and simple, but especially so in your first sentence.

Journalists are trained to cover the 6 basic questions: who, what, when, where, why and how.

You should answer all these questions in the first 2 sentences.

For a science story, What and Why are key (not so much the How).

  • Who said it? Who is this about? Who will this affect?
  • What happened? What does this mean for people? What is so important?
  • Where did it happen? Where will this be applicable?
  • When will it happen? When did it happen? When will it be available?
  • Why is this important? Why is this research being done?
  • How was the research done? Is there anything unusual/quirky about this? And how does it make you feel?

At the bottom of the release, include contact details for everyone who is quoted and for media assistants. If possible, include mobile phone and home phone numbers – the media may want to contact you outside of normal working hours.