Free Public Relations for Your School

By Michelle Rai , Marketing Communications and Public Relations Professor at Pacific Union College in Napa Valley California

Limited resources and increasing needs are inherent in most schools and nonprofits. The marketplace is saturated with worthy organizations and causes. So how do you get yours to stand out? Two words: Press release.

A press release is a journalistic article written in “inverted pyramid” format using Associated Press (AP) Style. This means the most important information is present first (who, what, when, where, why) with additional information in descending order of importance. AP Style is the standard guidebook for all newspapers and can be purchased at

The goal of a press release is to obtain free publicity for your organization. When an article is featured in a news publication, it creates trust between your organization and your audience. These stories are perceived as more credible than an article on your school’s website.

Now we know what to do…. “where do we send it?”


The most common place to send a press release is to your local newspaper. You can also send press releases to a larger regional newspaper, a relevant magazine in your area, or your local Chamber of Commerce.

It is relatively easy to find contact information online for these media outlets. Aim to send information to specific people rather than a general information line. For example, if I would like to feature a student athlete who received an award, I would find the name of the sports editor of the local paper. If a teacher started a much-needed homeless ministry, I would send information to the newspaper’s feature editor.


That depends. Several key elements are needed to earn free publicity. Your story must be:

  1. Newsworthy: Did you host a community event? Start an innovative program? Hire a new director? These are all newsworthy items.
  2. Timely: Press releases can be sent to media outlets before or after the event. If you would like a media reporter to cover your event, send the information at least 3-4 weeks in advance to secure coverage. If you desire the media to run a story about your event after it happened, prepare a press release that requires little editing. The less work it takes to edit, the greater chance your story will be published. 
  3. Localized: How interesting is this information to your audience? Find a local angle and be sure to answer the question, “Why should your reader care about this?”


A press release is an article that is ready to print. There are two types of press releases: one sent before an event and one sent after an event. Here’s how they work.


If you would like people to attend an event, such as a concert, lecture or workshop, you would send a press release to the media to increase your reach. Here is an example of a story my students pitched to our local newspaper about a speaker of interest. The press release was newsworthy because the speaker previously worked at a well-known magazine. As an added bonus, the speaker also grew up in the area so there was a hometown angle in addition to his employment. 


You might want to submit a story to your local newspaper after the event happens. If possible, give the section editor advance notice to secure space for your story.

Timeliness is key when submitting a story after the event occurred—ideally, within 24 hours after the event. Here is an example of a story with photos that was published after the event occurred:

The fundraising event for PUC Elementary was newsworthy because it featured elements of novelty (e.g. cute kids racing derby cars) and localization (hometown kids). We submitted this story with several photos and complete captions. Be sure to include full names and titles, if applicable, in your captions.

In the “Before” and “After” examples, both press releases garnered free publicity for their respective schools and allowed participants to share links on their social media platforms. This led to increased story views, greater event awareness, and a feeling of goodwill toward both organizations.

Once your story is published, double your efforts by actively promoting that link on all social media and internal communication channels. Encourage the story to be shared, liked and retweeted. Tag participants to increase visibility and multiply your views.

It takes only a little effort to write a press release and the rewards are great. Here is a simple press release template to get you started.

Do you feel empowered to get FREE PRESS yet? We do!


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         

Today’s Date

Contact person’s name

Contact person’s phone/email

Headline (Summary of story)

Byline (who authored the story)

First (lead) paragraph: Who, what, when, where. This summarizes what the press release is about. You want to quickly reach the audience with the gist of your story.

Second paragraph (or more): More details and background about the first paragraph. This could be a series of several short paragraphs.

Third paragraph (or more): Supplemental information such as quotes from relevant sources. Be sure to include the person’s title and full name.

Ending paragraph: Call to action, if applicable, such as where to get more information. Ending with a memorable quote is another good option.

# # # (Three hashtags signal the end of the story)

Your company information goes here in italics. This becomes a quick reference for the media outlet to understand who the press release is coming from. For example,:

Pacific Union College is a four-year liberal arts Christian college located in California’s Napa Valley. The college has been featured in U.S. News and World Report and was crowned Newsweek magazine’s Most Beautiful College in the Nation in 2012.

# # #

Michelle Rai is a marketing communications and public relations professor at Pacific Union College in California’s beautiful Napa Valley. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter at @napavalleyeats.