As a newspaper reporter for nearly a decade, I was on the receiving end of hundreds of news releases. I have seen all types of them: the good, the bad, and the do-you-really-think-this-looks-like-anything-that-has-ever-appeared-in-a-newspaper?
I like to think that I was open to pretty much anything relevant to my reporting beats. Of course, what the senders considered newsworthy didn’t always jibe with my definition.
Too many of them were too long, too laden with jargon, too unfocused. This afforded me an excellent education in how not to write a news release and came in especially handy when I got into public relations and started writing news releases on behalf of my clients.
There is no single right way to write a news release, but you can see how we do it by clicking here. Feel free to copy our format in its entirety or to make modifications as you see fit. Whatever format you choose, it’s best to use it consistently.
Understanding that we’re talking art rather than science, here are six tips to writing better news releases: ones that reporters and editors not only will read but just might turn into the most valuable of all public relations weapons: earned media.
Keep it short: Anything longer than two Word-document pages is too long. Your goal is not to be encyclopedic but rather compelling. As you draft the news release, always look for ways to be clearer and more concise and, most important, accurate. Reporters and editors are swamped with information, so give them yours in manageable bites.
Make it interesting: It’s not only possible but, in this age of 24-hour news cycles, imperative that you find a hook for your news release. Perhaps your news is the first of its kind; maybe it’s part of a hot new trend or an important company or, better yet, industry milestones. Include an anecdote by way of example (show, don’t tell). Dare to be funny when appropriate.
Don’t over-quote: Quote someone saying something interesting or unique (which is easy to do because you can put words in someone’s mouth!). Lengthy quotes suggest that a reporter – or news release writer – is masking an ignorance of his subject or is just lazy. Lengthy quotes and excessive capitalization of job titles also tend to be employed in a false attempt to bestow greater importance upon the person to whom the quote is attributed. What’s more, a quote should be conversational; it should not sound like something an attorney drafted even if it is
Include a photo or graphic: Thanks to social media, visual content is more sought after than ever before. Your news release is unlikely to run in its entirety, but you enhance your chances of gaining coverage when you attach a high-resolution photo. Good-quality digital cameras are affordable, so there’s no excuse for submitting low-resolution, blurry pictures. Be sure to take as many shots as necessary to ensure that you get at least one good one. People and/or animals always make a photo more relevant, particularly when they are doing something.
Target your distribution: You might work from an unchanging media list or even use a news release distribution service, but don’t assume that you can send to the same people every time. This is particularly true when it comes to newspapers, where reporters have specialized beats. The education writer who was interested in your last news release shouldn’t be bothered if your latest news release is on an unrelated topic.
Be available after sending: No news release can anticipate every question from reporters, nor should it. It’s OK to leave a journalist wanting more. That being the case, it is essential that you or a designee be available should you be lucky enough to have a reporter ask you to elaborate on your news release. You sent the invitation; the least you can do is mingle with your guests.