Writing a News Release


Burlington, ON (George Torok)

Call it a ‘News Release’. News could be news. ‘Press Release’ sounds like propaganda.

You could also call it a ‘News Bulletin’ or ‘Announcement’.

Add, ‘For immediate use’. This implies urgency. It also allows them some choice on when to run it. If the news is date sensitive state ‘for use before’ or ‘for use after’.

Fax or mail? If urgent – fax. But to get noticed mail it. They get a lot of junk mail and junk fax. The fax junk looks too much alike. If you mail it you have a chance to get attention with the colour and feel of the paper. Send it on good quality paper. That could be your letterhead if it looks good.

You might get lucky sending it to ‘the news room’, or ‘editor’. But you will have much better luck addressing it to an individual. Which do you read first- letters marked ‘occupant’ or those with your name on it? Media are people too.

Make it easy to read. Maximum one page. Use easy to read font. Twelve point works well. Add a little spice by bolding key names – but sprinkle lightly. Italics draws attention but is hard to read. Use capitals and small letters – don’t print the whole thing in capital letters. That is extremely hard to read. Use many short paragraphs and short sentences. Double spacing is best.

One glance should show who the release is from – that might be your company name or organization. If you have a logo use it.

Lead with City and date of the release. This gives perspective.

At the bottom of the page state, ‘The end’ or ‘- 30-‘

Show contact name(s) and phone number(s) very clearly at the bottom or top of the page.

Make sure those contacts know their name was used and that they will be available and knowledgeable to talk to the press when they call. Impress on those contacts that the press need speedy responses to make their deadlines. Those contacts should have copies of the news release and be prepared to answer questions with authority and believability and to get the right message out.

Start with strong title. A subtitle is not necessary if the title is strong. Study newspaper headings for ideas. Examine the style of the target media you are trying to reach to get ideas.

You have only one chance to hook them with the title. If you do not, they will not read any further. One glance at the headline is how they preview the release. There must be words, themes, companies, personalities or issues in the title that slows their glance enough to invite them to read the first paragraph.

The first sentence must grab. Rework that first sentence until the first few words or even first word pulls the reader in.

The first paragraph is important. If they read that far – it is what draws them into the story. To help you write that first paragraph imagine that if they might print only one paragraph – it would be your first one. Write it to contain your most important message. You are not writing a mystery novel – don’t keep them guessing.

Write the most important message first, then follow with the next points in order of decreasing importance. Assume that they might chop it after any paragraph. Write each paragraph applying the same approach to your sentences. If they only print one sentence make that the first sentence.

Good news releases are not written, they are re-written and re-written. Each time you re-read think chop, chop, chop. If you can’t fit it all on one page – then chop, chop, chop.

Proof read before you send it. Journalists are especially sensitive to poor grammar and typos. It hurts to read garbage – so they won’t.

The media will read your release thinking, ‘Will this interest my readers, listeners or viewers and is it unique?’ It doesn’t have to be ‘very’ unique – just a little. Every January we get news about the first New Year’s baby. Because the first one is unique at that time the second is not news.

Relate the news to the reader. Why is it important to the readers, listeners, or viewers of the media. Test for significance by asking, ‘So what?’

Answer a reporter’s key questions; who, what, why, where, when and how. You could even use these questions as sub headings – or as a summary. Use these questions as a quality test before you send it.

Quotes are good and more interesting. You might use quotes from company officials, community leaders or customers. When you use a name always state who they are, eg National Sales Manager, President and Founder, author of,.. Use quotes that evoke emotion, create controversy or present a position.

Don’t introduce too many new names. This confuses readers. Talk about one or two.

Write the name in full the first time you use it. After that you can use only the last name. If you want a name to be remembered use it several times in the release.

Send the release to arrive two weeks before the event.

Weekly and monthly publications need more notice than a daily. Bi-monthly and quarterly publications need even more notice.

There are ebbs and flows in the news depending what is happening in the world. Your good news story might get pre-empted by an election, a strike or disaster. If it gets missed and the news is timeless, change the slant and send it another time.

You might send a ‘pre release’ a month before the event with some highlights to tease them. Then follow up with the main release and more details two weeks before the event.

When announcing an event send a release before the event to tell them it is coming. After the event send another to tell them what happened.

After the Release
The reporter(s) may call for more information or to arrange a photograph. Be available. If you are out of the office check your voice messages often. The press has deadlines.

Don’t expect to review the reporter’s article before publication. Occasionally they will run the article exactly the way you wrote it – but not often. Once you give them the information they have control. The only place you get to control the content is in an ad. The reporter may put any spin on it that they wish. It helps if you have read other articles from the reporter and know their slant and hot buttons.

If your news did not run, call the reporter. Not to complain. Ask them if they can give you some feedback on the news release. First you want to know if they received it on time. Some questions you might ask:
Is this type of news of interest to you and your readers?
Should I be contacting someone else at your publication?
Can you tell me why it did not run this time?
What can I do next time to help you use this?
Is it OK if I send news of this nature to you in the future?
Any other suggestions that you have for me?

Always thank them for their help.

Keep and file all your news releases in the sequence that you sent them – even the ones that did not get action. Clip and save the articles that ran with the release. Study them to find what works with whom.

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