How to Write a News Release 101
By: Kelly Pedro of Shanachie Communications
When I first transitioned from daily newspaper reporting to freelance writing I kept hearing: “Does anyone send out press releases anymore?” What they really meant was: “Do press releases get you earned media attention?” Either way the answer to both questions is yes. With newsrooms shrinking and putting more pressure on journalists, they’re turning more than ever to press releases for story ideas, new story angles or a source for a story they’re already working on. Want to get a journalist’s attention with a press release that stands out? Here are the do’s and don’ts of sending a news release that will get you or your client earned media attention.
Think like a journalist
This sounds obvious, but is actually harder than it seems. Most business owners or communication specialists think about their business first when putting together a news release, which is a mistake. Think about what makes your release worthy — where’s the news? Then put that at the top of your news release (or, better yet, your headline).
Keep it short
Journalists are a busy bunch and a news release that goes on for pages is unfocussed and just annoying. Your best shot at getting a reporter to read your news release is to keep it one page — this ensures you’re focused on one idea or key theme.
Send the news release to one or two specific reporters
Lighting up every reporter and editors’ inbox with your news release may seem like a great idea, but actually tells the media outlet that you haven’t done your research — and is more likely to fall through the cracks. You should pitch your story — essentially what you’re doing with a news release — to a specific (and relevant) reporter. Is your news release a business story? Send it to the business reporter. An education story? The education reporter. An entertainment story? You get the idea.
Include after hours contact information
Journalists don’t work business hours — news happens all the time. You’ve worked so hard to get your news release attention do you really want it to end up in the recycling bin because a journalist couldn’t reach you at 6 p.m.? Include a contact number where you can be reached after 5 p.m. in case a reporter calls after hours.
Add bells and whistles
Check out how the media outlet dresses up their news stories. Do they have infographics or fact boxes? If so, try to provide one or both of these elements in your news release. A simple “by the numbers” box often works well. Bonus marks for adding headshots of whoever is quoted in the release.
Call to follow up unless you’re offering an exclusive
Yes, I know this is standard for many communication people. You send a news release but want to make sure it didn’t end up in the journalist’s spam folder so you call to check, right? Wrong. Journalists are juggling multiple stories a day and don’t have time to answer a call to make sure they got the release. Unless something about the story has changed — or you’re offering them an exclusive story or interview — don’t call.
Don’t, don’t, don’t use jargon
Words or terms that are tossed around in your industry often don’t fly in news reporting. That’s because journalists write and report for a general audience, not a niche one. Simplify the language in your news release and leave the jargon for your B2B communication or your next white paper.
Send your news release as an attachment
Want to get your news release into the trash bin ASAP? Send it as an attachment. No really. If you want your news release read by a reporter, copy and paste it into the body of the email so the reporter doesn’t have to wonder if you’re sending them a virus masked as a news release.
Name everyone who ever touched the project/survey/data you’re sharing
Sure you want everyone to get their due, but listing off six of seven names in the news release is not going to impress a reporter. Keep it simple. The same goes for photos. Have you ever seen a photo with 12 people in it? It’s not great. If a media outlet calls to set up a photo or asks you to send one, keep it simple. Pick one or two spokespeople and agree that they’ll be in the photo or quoted in the story, no hard feelings.
Don’t send a news release on Friday evening
When it comes to news, timing is everything. Sending a news release on a Friday ensures you won’t get any media attention. Most of the paper for Saturday is already done by then. Don’t send your news release out when there’s already a major story going on — it’s unlikely there will be any reporters free to cover it (or notice). The best bet for getting media attention is sending your news release out in the morning on a slow news day like Monday.
Remember, every business has great stories. Find them, write a crisp, jargon-free news release, send it out at the right time to the right reporter and you’ll more often than not get earned media coverage.
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