Enticing a journalist or blogger to write about your company or client remains an achievement in the PR profession. An article written by someone else about your business is more credible than your writing an article about it—especially if they work for a reputable publication or outlet. So make sure you’re doing it right—here are 10 ways to ensure an effective news release:
When you write an article you may not proof read it because you are ‘too close’ to the text. Your eye may skip over small details because you are very familiar with the content. Therefore get someone else to read the material, even if it is a family member. They may be able to query assumptions of knowledge you have made or can find omitted words etc. [I had an editor review the text of my 900-page book Strategic Public Relations and he made various useful suggestions on how to improve the text.] So don’t be too proud or too busy to get someone else to review your text.
The fact that your CEO got an award is not news – unless the award was for something major. When aiming to write an effective news release, always ask: “Why should the publication’s readers care about this product/service/milestone?” and “What value does it provide to readers?” and “What problem does it solve?” If you don’t have an answer, then it’s not newsworthy.
News releases are not sales letters or marketing brochures. So take out the “you,” “we,” and “us,” especially as reportage should be in the third person. Don’t use overly hyped words such as “leading,” “breakthrough,” and “excited.” Refrain from peppering it with flowery adjectives to describe your organization. These just repel reporters. Just stick to the facts.
You might have something worth reporting, but if it’s all facts and figures, your readers won’t see it. Their eyes will already have glazed over unless you provide a human interest angle to the data, such as insights into the situation of a specific person affected. Always tell a story. Complement facts with quotes that express insight or convey an emotional reaction to the data. For an effective news release frame the focus of a story around a challenge that was or can be overcome, a problem that was or can be solved. That’s how you portray your company as a hero—by showing, through storytelling, how it has helped or can help others, and not by indulging in self-praise.
For an effective news release focus on just one thing. One project. One product. One campaign. Save the others for separate releases. You can talk about them if they’re related and build on each other, but only one can be the star. Having multiple angles will run you into all sorts of problems. Not only will your release be too long and your headline incomprehensible—which will confuse and annoy editors—they also won’t be search-friendly. Search engines see content that’s about too many things as content that’s about nothing.
If you don’t state your point in the first paragraph, editors will toss out your release before getting to the second. Sometimes you might want to lead with an anecdote. That’s OK, as long as it’s related to the point of the release. It should also be interesting enough to make readers want to know what happens next. It should flow smoothly to the second paragraph, where the big reveal takes place. And it should be short. If your release is about an anti-stroke campaign, you should hit the campaign within 3-4 sentences.
A headline can make or break a release. Advertising guru David Ogilvy once said that on average, five times as many people read the headline as they do the body copy. So if you don’t sell something in your headline, you’ve wasted 80 % of your money. It’s the same with a news release that you’re selling to reporters. An effective news release headline communicates direct benefits that are relevant to your target audience. It’s not cryptic, promotional, or overly clever.
Stick to a single page, no more than 400 words or thereabouts if possible. Summarize the key point in the first paragraph. You can link it to a high-profile issue or event and immediately connect it with the product, service, or cause you wish to publicize. Include a paragraph with statistics from reputable sources for credibility and context, energize it with a quote or two; and then end with some boilerplate text about your company. That’s it.
Quotes make opinion, insight, and emotion possible for an effective news release. They take readers beyond the traditional five Ws (who, what, where, when and why) to the hows, including how much. Quotes can be used to answer questions like, “How do employees feel about the change in overtime policy?” Or, “How can you explain that concept using a metaphor or analogy?” Avoid quotes that simply state facts and figures, because they’re a waste of space. Also, don’t use quotes that blatantly promote your product, unless they’re from impartial sources. And don’t use bland quotes, because they fail to make an impact.
For an effective news release, offer to make a spokesperson available for the reporter to interview, either over the phone, by email or personally. Ensure you have thoroughly trained and rehearsed the spokesperson beforehand. They need to speak in everyday English and not revert to technical jargon as experts tend to do when they feel under pressure.
Don’t write “myocardial infarction” if you can write “heart attack.” Don’t write “remunerate” or “compensation” when you are simply talking about “pay.” Unless you’re writing to colleagues (and sometimes even if you are), jargon makes you sound pompous and difficult to relate to. It also forces reporters to look up certain terms (in which case they might just drop your material). It’s also not search-friendly, because search engines favor natural language.
The news release is still the workhorse of many PR campaigns, even after social media has allowed businesses to engage directly with customers. The fact that people know a journalist wrote about your topic lends credibility that your own blogging, newsletter-writing, and Facebook and Twitter posting just can’t match.
Incidentally, there are 3 names for a release sent to news editors: “Press release” has 1.81 billion Google results, “news release” has 1.83 billion results, and “media release” has 1.99 billion Google results. All of those 3 terms are acceptable and recognizable. None are preferred or undesirable. Obviously, social media and news websites have complicated the picture, but a PR-generated release is still the core means of conveying news or public information, which can be varied in presentation and content to suit the purposes of the recipient.
Certain words in the headline of an effective news release are much more likely to get media to pick up your release. In fact, certain words are almost sure to hit the hot buttons of a news editor. This article explains and lists the types of words that will draw a good response. Also, this article gives you simple techniques for writing strong headlines.
Adapted from an article by Maggie Holley.
By Silvia Arto, Vice President of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, Chair of the European Regional
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