Nigerian communications expert Chima Nwankwo has written a handy article highlighting characteristics of effective press releases. Among other things, he talks about the importance of targeting releases, so that you send each release to specific news outlets rather than peppering everyone with every release. You can read it here.
Nwankwo also writes about how to use events effectively as news generators. Here he offers 6 tips. His writing is targeted at commercial corporations but could just as well be applied to non-profits. One of his most useful points is that you need to think creatively. For example, he sugggests, if you’re holding a press conference to announce a new environmental initiative, why hold it in a stuffy hotel ballroom when you could hold it at a rubbish dump, with the director (and perhaps a celebrity or minister or two), in overalls and wielding a shovel? Actually I recall attending a similar event myself where President Thabo Mbeki donned yellow overalls and fished some litter out of a river in Cape Town, to highlight a clean-up effort. It was all staged — I saw some officials placing the pieces of litter near the bank so the President wouldn’t have to get too dirty — but it was effective. Something like that almost guarantees you a picture or two in the next day’s paper, and probably a few seconds on the TV news too.