The purpose of a news release is to tell a story that grabs a reporter’s attention and results in a placement in a publication, online outlet or on air. To do so, you must answer the most important question for any reporter you’re pitching: WIIFM?
While I just told you not to jam your news release with acronyms and jargon, sometimes acronyms are useful memory devices. WIIFM isn’t a radio station. It means: What’s In It For My (Readers, Viewers, Listeners). If you can’t convince a reporter that his or her audience needs the information in your release, it won’t see the light of day and it’s back to square one.
So how do you write a release that will result in a story in a print publication, online venue, TV or radio?
Following, in order of importance, are the Five Gospels of News:
1. Topicality. The definition of topical is “a subject of immediate relevance, interest, or importance owing to its relation to current events.” If your story isn’t topical, it isn’t news.
2. Conflict. As storytellers, journalists crave conflict and drama; it sells newspapers and garners eyes and ears. You can create conflict in your releases by raising an issue or problem and describing how your company or client can solve that problem.
3. Locality. “Dallas Man Drowns. Titanic sinks.” People care about their friends and neighbors and what goes on in their local community. More and more space in newspapers and time on newscasts is being devoted to local news.
4. Human interest. Don’t forget the human element in your releases. How does your company’s product or service impact the lives of people? Insert real people with real problems to whom readers, viewers and listeners can relate.
5. Visuality. Today, video is the king of content. Everyone wants video. TV stations want quality video to help support their ever-shrinking staffs, while newspaper and radio stations want video for their websites. Newspapers still need photographs and graphics because images attract a reader’s attention and supplement a story in ways words often can’t.
If you can religiously incorporate the Five Gospels of News into your press releases, you will consistently capture media interest and generate placements for your company or client.
Years ago, you rarely found a typo or error in sentence construction in books or newspapers. Then came cutbacks in editing personnel in newsrooms and Spellcheck became the default editor for all reporters and writers.
To help you avoid some common usage (written and spoken) errors, follow these tips:
1. Literally. In an episode of “The King of Queens,” Janeane Garafolo’s character annoyingly used the word “literally” in every sentence. Literally means exactly. To say, “I literally ate a hundred cookies” means you ate a hundred cookies. You didn’t, unless you’re Joey Chestnut.
2. Lead or Led. Lead is a mineral. You can lead a horse to water. You can be led astray.
3. Farther, Further. Farther refers to physical distance; that’s why it has “far” in it. Further refers to figurative distance “Please don’t complain further, it’s not much farther to my house.”
4. Hot or cold temperatures. Even meteorologists get this wrong. A temperature is a gradient. It can’t be hot or cold. It’s a number. You should say high or low temperatures.
5. Affect, Effect. Affect is a verb, meaning to cause something to happen. Effect is a noun, which is the result of having happened.
6. Assure, Insure, Ensure. Assure means to make someone confident of an outcome. Insure means to buy an insurance policy. Ensure means to make certain. “I assure you, if you insure your house it will ensure that you will be protected against loss.”
7. Historic, Historical. Historic means something is important or influential in history. Historical simply refers to the past.
8. Lightning, Lightening. The first one is a bolt of bright light from the sky followed by thunder. The second is making something lighter in color or weight.
9. Complement, Compliment. To complement, means to enhance something. Compliment is an expression of praise or admiration.
10. Could of, Would of, Should of. All wrong. It’s could have, would have, should have, often written as could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.
Let’s hope these tips make you a better PR writer. PRN
Reg Rowe is founder of GrayHairPR, an international virtual PR firm based in Dallas, TX. He can be reached at rrowe@GrayHairPR.com.
This article appeared in the November 25 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.