In PR, we often draft, edit, and distribute press releases to announce news about our companies or clients. In ad tech PR, we might write releases that detail new hires, acquisitions, partnerships, or product launches. There’s no real limit to what we can write a release about, as long as it’s newsworthy.
Yet, a press release isn’t the only way to share news, and it’s not always the best way. Sometimes we turn to media alerts instead.
What’s the difference? And when do you draft a press release vs. a media alert? The short answer is: it depends.
Press releases and media alerts follow the same basic structure. Each includes the “five Ws” of news (who, what, when, where, and why) and often the “H” of the news, which is the “how.” Where they differ is in the amount of detail, timeliness, and formatting.
A media alert is far more abbreviated than a press release. Media alerts are used for announcing an event or briefing – to invite media to attend, and they include only the most important details. Media alerts are a good tool to generate buzz around the event and encourage media and journalists to cover it.
They’re typically one page and have bullet points and headers to break out the “who, what and where” of the announcement. Media alerts are clean and precise and quickly call attention to the facts.
Instead of long, detailed paragraphs about the news, media alerts include bullet points with short sentences. It’s easy for reporters to quickly scan the alert and know exactly what the announcement is about, why it is important and determine if they are interested.
Whereas media alerts are short and bulleted, press releases are more descriptive and flexible. In B2B PR, we draft press releases for new products, new hires, acquisitions or partnerships, or funding, for example. Press releases go into more depth than an alert and are usually written in an “inverted-pyramid” format, – the most important information is at the top, with details and quotes following.
Another difference between releases and alerts is that media alerts don’t typically include quotes, but press releases often feature a quote or two from representatives of the organizations involved. The quotes in a release should offer valuable information that adds to the story. In general, press releases are more informational and descriptive than media alerts.
The importance of the announcement and its news value should be considered when deciding on a media alert or press release. If a company just announced a significant partnership, it may want to consider a press release. If an organization is holding a press conference, doing a product demonstration, or sponsoring a charity event, it may want to issue a media alert.
Before distributing a media alert or press release, determine media and journalist targets. Since an alert is essentially an invitation to cover an announcement or event, you will consider how exclusive it is. Or, it may well be a local announcement, or a highly visual one, so plan accordingly. For example, a media alert can be sent to the local broadcast outlets, weekly magazines and daily newspapers.
Press releases are typically distributed to a much wider audience because there is nothing to attend – you’re simply sharing news in hopes of gaining coverage. You’ll have a better chance of a West Coast journalist writing about the announcement based on a press release than if you send a media alert for a local New York City briefing, naturally.
Timing is also important when deciding between a media alert and press release. Press releases aren’t typically tied to an event so the timing of the distribution is more flexible, though still tied to news. As a PR person, you determine the best day and time to send out the release, and sometimes the timing may change by a day or two. Media alerts, however, are very time-sensitive. Given that they are tied to events, they’re often distributed a few days before the event, and then again at the last minute as a reminder.
Media alerts aren’t used as often as press releases but they can be just as effective for coverage results. It all hinges on the nature of your news and the desired audience for the story.