By Alex Davis
Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
I worked in the news industry full time in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for nearly 10 years. In that time, I saw my fair share of poorly written news releases. Immediately, just as they quickly arrived in my mailbox, I would hit the delete key.
Journalists only have so much time. And a news release that doesn’t get to the point – or is riddled with errors – gets filed under T for trash.
First, Let’s Look at What Makes a Bad News Release
We obviously want your PR team to avoid that.
1. Too Much Fluff
Too often, people try to be creative and use more words than necessary. People love to tack on verbose words and phrases to be flowery and appear intelligent. They may add an adjective after every other word.
Knock it off! Simple if effective.
2. Misspellings and Grammatical Errors
One misspelled word spoils the news release. An “its/it’s or “there/their/they’re” error, among other common grammatical mistakes, makes you (and your organization) look foolish and unprofessional. Think of spelling as validation that you are serious about the mission.
Can editors fix your sloppiness? Sure. But your goal is to make publishing your work as easy as possible. (Because they will move on to other things in their busy schedule if they tire of performing surgery on your news release.)
3. Too Long
Living in a fast-paced society, we want – need – concise news. Attention spans can’t handle a novel. If you can’t capture attention within the first two paragraphs, reconsider sending anything. Go back to the drawing board.
A news release typically should be no longer than 400 words. Try for shorter.
What Makes a Good News Release? I’m Glad You Asked
There’s a formula for writing the perfect press release. Let’s get it right the first time.
Make the headline clear, concise and newsworthy. Being creative (and not just clever) has its place, but the headline also needs to be eye-catching. Sometimes it is best to write a headline after the release is written to detail the main thrust of the news.
Example: French is Toast at Middle School. (This actually ran with a story I wrote while reporting in New Jersey.)
Sometimes spelled lede, the first paragraph of a story is essential. This is what grabs someone’s attention. Present the who, what, when, where and why. Not all of those have to be given right away. Ask yourself, “What would I tell someone if I had just 30 seconds?”
Example: Digital photography will be showcased for the first time in the eighth annual student exhibition beginning Friday, Nov. 5, at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
Include strong, interesting quotations that add context and clarity to the news. Not everyone from your company or organization needs to be included in a release, but the important voices should be.
Example: “Clients can stay as long as they desire. Our leadership team supports them in re-entering the community and finding sustainable employment. We do not turn anyone away due to the inability to pay, so the ministry will support them until they can begin paying their own rent.”
4. Appropriate Length
A release should only be as long as necessary. Write what is needed to get the point across. Then stop.
Be sure to look over the news release. Have someone else do the same, if possible. Then review it again. And again, if necessary. You’re in the business of getting it right and grabbing attention. So get it right and grab attention.
A fresh look at a news release a few hours – or even a day or so later, if time permits – helps to see the article as if it’s brand new. You may see something that can be phrased better or removed entirely, and you’ll have a better chance at catching those tricky typos. A second pair of eyes also not only helps to catch mistakes and missteps, but also to make sure the release is on point.
6. Send, Wait and Hope
Once the news release is sent, PR pros must be patient and hopeful the release will be picked up by the media. If it doesn’t within a reasonable time, reach out and ask why. Learn from that experience.
How to Write a News Release That Gets Noticed (and Published)
These are just some important characteristics of a good news release. As you build your press release, put yourself inside the mind of an editor. At a base level, is it written well, with little need for hard work beyond cosmetic editing? Does it tell your story effectively?
Hopefully you’ll be sending out great releases in no time. Good luck! If you need help, there’s no shame in seeking a public relations consultant who listens to your needs.