How do I make journalists pay attention to my press release? Every public relations practitioner asks this question. Most find the answer in tight, informative copy. An unhappy few attempt to find the answer in colored paper or gimmicks.
When looking for the answer to journalistic attention, PR practitioners need to ask themselves a few questions.
Before Writing the Release
Is this newsworthy?
This is the first and major question. The information has to interest the press and the rest of your targeted audience or else your efforts will be wasted.
The following are typical items announced via news releases.
Improvements or expansion of products/services
Noteworthy new accounts
Achievements by company or personnel
Response to a controversy or crisis
Giveaways or promotions
Human interest stories
Different items will appeal to different segments of the press and public, so choose the media outlet and (the department within that outlet) carefully and make sure the release matches their needs. Are you sending a segment-specific story to general consumer media?
If possible, find a special angle for your story. Does it have local appeal? Is there a unique aspect? Can you combine two items (e.g. a product announcement with a human interest story) to expand its appeal? Using an angle may mean you have to write multiple specialized releases instead of one generic piece, but if you get more coverage, isn't it worth it?
What is the purpose of the release?
The question above sounds obvious, but at times people issue releases without a clear goal in mind. Knowing your objective gives your writing focus and helps in the selection of distribution channels. Setting goals also aids in tracking and measuring the overall effectiveness of your strategies. Below is a mixture of short- and long-term goals.
Increase or maintain awareness
Establish credibility or authority; build image
Get interviews on television, radio, Internet
Become an expert source
Drive traffic to a special event or Web site
Change buyer/industry behavior
Expand market share
Comply with SEC disclosure regulations
Increase stock price
Writing and Editing the Release
News or Feature?
The news style follows the conventional newspaper approach, summarizing the story's who, what, why, when, where (and often how) in the first paragraph. A feature story press release resembles a magazine article and is written in a more entertaining manner. The feature often sets the tone and background before introducing the main topic.
Is the formatting and style appropriate?
There is several ways to format a release, and as long as you follow a few general rules, you should be fine.
Use one side of 8.5-by-11-inch white paper.
Margins of at least an inch should be on all sides.
Copy should be double-spaced (though one of my clients uses 1.5 line spacing successfully).
Include release date or "For Immediate Release."
Put contact information at the beginning or the end of the release.
If there is more than one page put "more" at the bottom to point to the following page.
Add a boilerplate "About the organization/product/individual" section at the end of the story.
End the release with "30" or "###."
When it comes to spelling, punctuation and so on, most writers follow the style guidelines of the Associated Press. There are other stylebooks available (I've listed a few in my previous article) or you can use a "house" style sheet. But whatever you choose to follow, be consistent.
Does it answer the relevant questions?
Some practitioners advocate that releases be written as a complete article, citing the tendency of editors to use stories verbatim. Others state that the release should only outline the story since reputable publications will contact the company.
I think the best approach is to include enough information to allow a busy editor to use it without calling, and write the story in pyramid news style so less essential information is toward the end.
Is it concise?
News writer and editors take about five seconds to decide whether or not to use your release. Go long on facts and short on adjectives. Use short paragraphs for easy scanning. Also use subheads on long or complex copy so readers can grasp your meaning at a glance.
If your release is three pages or more, consider transferring some of the information to an accompanying fact sheet.
Is there adequate attribution?
Anything that can be considered subjective, such as opinions or grand claims should be credited to an executive in a quote.
Does it need a sample/photo?
Including visual aids gives your release greater impact. Some publications want 8-by-10-inch or 5-by-7-inch photos, while others prefer color slides. The photo caption should also explain the who, where, when, why and what of the picture.
After Writing the Release
Has it been reviewed and approved?
Bigger businesses usually have a series of executives who have to review the release copy before it goes to the press. Ideally the number of reviewers should not be too long (in order to maintain timeliness), and a process that indicates who has already reviewed the copy (such as dated initials) should be established. If you're a small business owner, it is a good idea to have someone else proofread your copy. Since they're not as close to it, they might catch errors that you missed.
Where and how should I distribute it?
Actually, this is something that should be thought about ahead of time. Media outlets have a high turnover rate so an updated media contact list is essential. You can send your release to a distribution service such as PR Newswire or a directory like Bacon's Publicity Checker, which should be available at your local library. Another alternative is using your own media contact list. If you decide on the latter, remember that each of your contacts prefers to receive releases in a particular manner: mail, fax or email. Its important to know their preference, especially with your A-list (described below).
While you're contacting conventional media outlets, don't forget to send information to Internet newsgroups, electronic newsletters and Web-based mailing lists that accept this type of news. Set up a newsroom on your own Web site so reporters can access your entire library of releases, etc.
To whom do I make follow up calls?
With the proliferation of media outlets, it is impossible to contact each one about your release. Make an A-list of outlets that you think would be highly interested in your story and could give you optimum exposure.
These questions should be brought into play whenever a new press release is being created. That leaves you free to ponder other issues. Should you create video news releases? Audio? How do you build on the success of the release? But those are topics for other articles.
This article was written by Kelle Campbell, who specializes in freelance public relations writing for PR companies, businesses and nonprofit organizations. This piece originally appeared in the All About Public Relations Web site.