How to create a news release … and why

When I’m asked to write a PR release, my first question is: Why?

In my decades as an editor, most of the PR releases that crossed by desk were merely passing through on the way to the trash can or the delete button. They were either pointless to my audience, gushing hyperbole or too much work to find the usable nugget.

And the sad part is: Produce information that my audience wants, and we’ll LOVE to publish your news release. Give me something that my readership craves, and it’s win-win-win all around.

There are lots of good reasons to send a news release that will resonate with the publication’s audience. Make sure you know what yours is, and then create it to accomplish that.

The first question to ask before writing a news release is why? What do I hope to accomplish? It could be:

  •  To get someone to write a story about it or redistribute the information
  • To get people to show up
  • To have someone do a review
  • To improve web search results
  • To keep you name out there
  • To develop a reputation as an expert in the field.

Then write the release with the goal in mind. There could be more than one. If, for example, you’re trying to be the expert and get the company name quoted, then provide timely information useful to people. The Arizona Auto Club, for example, offers the weekly average gas prices plus seasonal stories about how to weatherize the car for summer, expected traffic on long weekends, what to do in auto emergencies, where to get a free ride home for drinkers on traditional drinking holidays and safety information on child seats. It’s all about cars, and it’s all good information.

Employment companies put out surveys about job satisfaction or fun but soft stories about relationships at work, dumb things people do in job interviews and the like. It’s useful and interesting and about their business. It’s a free story to be passed on. The best way to get noticed is to serve the end user.

Here are a few rules to consider when creating a release:

  • Say something different. Tell a story, not a collection of facts. If it’s not interesting, don’t expect people to be interested. If you have a laundry business or hair salon or bakery, great, but that’s not interesting in itself. If your laundry specializes in cleaning up blood and the homicide squad routinely calls you in, that’s a story. If your salon has the newest, all-the-rage new Japanese hair-straightening treatment, that might be interesting to a certain market. If you bake marijuana muffins, people will read. If you sell real estate like every other agent, big deal.
  • Tell it quickly and straight . I don’t need a set-up, surprise ending and endless laudatory modifiers. Get to the point, the elevator speech: Acme creates portable devices so soldiers on the ground can tell if chemical or biological agents are present. Never produce more than one page.
  • Don’t make me look around or work. Put contact and key info in one spot, set off and maybe bold so it’s easy to find. Name, address, phone, website, email at minimum; more depending on subject.
  • Make it timely and targeted. If it’s event-oriented, give people time to do something with the information. If it affects a specific area or audience (and most things do), make that evident and get it to the information-distribution entities that cater to those areas and audiences. (That used to be mostly local newspapers but now that includes local websites and subject-matter sites.)

Can you do it yourself or should you hire someone?

If the sole purpose of the release is to improve you search standings by dropping it on a bunch of PR wires, go ahead and write it yourself (making sure that you get key words up high).

You can also do it yourself if you:

  • Know your business well and can explain your purpose succinctly
  • Know or can figure out where to send it
  • Can write without grammar errors.

If you can’t accomplish all those tasks, consider paying someone to do it for you. So how do you know who to hire? Consider these things:

If they’re not asking you the right questions, they’re not going to get the right results. So if they’re not asking right off the bat why you’re doing this, what you want to happen, who is your audience and the like, find someone else.

This is my bias, but I recommend finding someone who has been on the receiving end of releases and knows what she or he is looking for. You want someone who is experienced at finding the story and telling it well. Reporters and editors run through countless stories every week, and I prefer that experience over PR training absent that. However, some PR professionals who have never seen a newsroom do a great job.

Don’t believe them if they promise results that are not in their control, like a placed story.

Get examples of news releases they’ve produced recently. Are they interesting? Are they grammatical? Or are they filled with gushing “We’re excited to announce that . . .” constructions that don’t seem to have an interesting point? Would you pass on that information?

Lastly, will they tell you that you have a bad idea? If you’re paying for expertise, you don’t have to take that advice, but you certainly want them to give it freely. If they’re going to just do what you want whether it works for you or not simply to keep you paying, you’re wasting your money and everyone’s time.

If you need help with a release, other presentations or media relations, go to AZwritingcoach.com.

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