Imagine a reporter or editor of a newspaper, especially a smaller community weekly publication, constantly looking to find stories to fill space for the next edition. A well-written media release arrives in his e-mail box. He cuts and pastes the story into the next edition of the newspaper. You just made his job a lot easier.
The media need and want your stories! Press releases are a good way for associations and small businesses to get their messages to the public. In my opinion, we are being remiss in not taking full advantage of this very affordable medium.
Writing a media release may appear to be a daunting and challenging task for most people. However, it is not really that difficult if you keep several points in mind.
We have done the research on what the "experts" say makes for an effective news release. Here is a summary of what we found.
Must be newsworthy
The major reason cited by news editors and reporters as to why they throw media releases in the garbage is that they are NOT considered newsworthy or of interest to their readers. Press releases must be news, not self-serving advertising. A news release should be used only when there is something concrete and of high news value to report.
An evaluation of successful media releases shows that the following approaches appear to work the best:
1. Human interest angles -- particularly heartwarming anecdotal stories.
2. Interpersonal relationships on difficult or controversial issues -- focus on love, sex, money, communications between men and women, parents and children, companies and employees, governments and individuals.
3. Tip articles -- advice and tactics excerpted from books, ten commandments, ten tips, etc.
4. Unusual events -- unique personal accomplishments, unusual creative ideas.
5. Humor and wisdom, fun and tragedy.
6. Really new and unique products and books -- Internet innovations and developments.
7. Politically and socially-important editorial tie-in articles.
8. Holiday and event tie-in articles.
If you are writing news releases and seeking publicity, your chances of success are increased if you follow one of these formats.
Localizing media releases maximizes the publication of your release in weekly and daily newspapers. The easiest publicity to get is the announcement of a local event with a distinct local human interest angle.
National publicity is harder to get. You are competing against everyone else in the nation. You really have to have a story that is of interest to a broad audience. One effective approach is to break your national media lists into geographically distinct areas and localizing the release.
Meet the editor's needs
Because they need outside news sources, the media are already inclined to be interested in your press releases. However, your chances of publication are increased if you avoid these three common mistakes:
1. Received too late for the deadline -- releases usually have to go through several steps before they appear in print. Allow sufficient time and know the editor's deadlines.
2. Too long and rambling -- newspaper space is at a premium. Don't waste everyone's time -- get right to the point.
3. Requires too much rewriting -- editors are busy people and don't have time to have the news release rewritten. Follow acceptable newspaper style.
Follow these basic rules
Here are the generally accepted standards for media releases.
1. Keep it short. Maximum length should be one to two pages and no more than 500 words.
2. Include city/town and date at the beginning of the release.
3. Use a headline that gets to the point. What you say here determines whether the reader will look at the rest of the release.
4. Avoid promotional sounding words.
5. Write a strong leading paragraph. Answer who, what, where, when, why and how. Use this paragraph as an abstract or summary for the release.
6. Make sure the most important details are at the top of your release; to make stories fit, editors cut from the bottom.
7. Use quotes to add colour to the story. Be sure to indicate the name, position, and organization of the person providing the quotes.
8. Write using short, familiar, specific words. Keep paragraphs short and avoid any technical or colloquial expressions.
9. Include a short corporate summary, if appropriate. Provide information about products and services that help establish your expertise. Mention location, years of business, etc. Keep it short; don't include the annual report.
10. Provide complete contact information -- contact name, company name, full address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address and web site. The contact should be someone who is available and capable of answering questions.
11. The release should be signed off with a -30- or ####.
12. If additional background information is required, use a "Backgrounder" to provide related facts and figures.
If you are using the Internet as your primary communications tool for your media releases, here are some other rules you should follow.
1. E-mail media releases work best when they have a sharply focused subject line, do NOT contain attachments or HTML formatting, and are brief and to the point, with clickable URLs for more detail.
2. Put contact information at the end, not the beginning. The first screen has to catch the editors' or reporters' attention with substantive news.
3. Put a link to your on-line press kit and to story photographs.
4. Don't follow up. You will annoy most editors by making a second contact.
5. Update your web site with the "news" before sending your release.
6. Target your audience. Only contact editors who write about your topic or industry.
7. Provide a simple way for editors to get OFF your mailing list; honour their requests to be removed.
On-line press kits
If your organization or company is planning to send out regular media releases, you should set up an on-line media information kit on your web site. This will provide background information for editors or reporters following up on your release. The on-line kit should include the following:
- Recent photographs and electronic picture files (300 dpi .jpg, .tiff or .eps formatting is good enough for newspaper printing)
- Corporate or association profile
- Biographies of key staff
- Product and service data sheets
- Industry facts and figures (if you are an industry association)
- Previous news releases and features
- Links to on-line news stores about the company.
You can do it
Following the above guidelines, and with some practice, you too can write great media releases that will help get your message out to the public.