August 22, 2013 — As a former journalist who’s received countless news releases, and as a former communications officer who’s sent out countless others, I’ve kept a mental list over the years of news release best and worst practices. So, despite a previous post where I railed against list content, here are three (not five, not a dozen, only three) things to keep in mind to help you craft a better news release:
1. Keep it relevant – link your product / service / offering to the news, preferably in the first paragraph. It’s easy to say “we’ve developed something that is terrific.” It’s harder, but better, to say “there’s an issue out there that requires original thinking and innovative responses. Here’s how we’ve done both.” If you link your release (subtly) to an issue or event that’s been getting play in the media, or with the target audience, you’ll greatly help harried reporters or editors seeking a new angle to an old story.
This will also answer a journalist’s critical question: why should anyone care? I know, your company or organization thinks its announcement is so important that everyone should care. Still, you need to show what makes this product or service radically different from anything else previously (hint: if you’re product or service is just marginally different or new, think again about why you’re putting out a release).
2. Keep it friendly (as in user friendly) – there are two main ways to do this. First, keep the release short – say a page and a half maximum, or about 650 words. It’s tempting to put into the release everything about your product or service. It’s equally tempting to use every adjective or adverb you can think of to show why it’s better / bigger / faster / easier etc. than anything else. But don’t – let the facts speak for themselves in a few clean, clear words. Remember – you’re trying to whet a journalist’s appetite for more, not drown her or him in detail.
Second, always think of your audience of journalists … and their audience. If you’re sending to general interest media, keep the release in English (or whatever recognized language your journalists work in). In other words, no geek talk or acronym-studded sentences or phrases that force a journalist to scratch her or his head and say “huh?”. Journalists receive dozens of releases a day – don’t make it difficult for them to get through yours. And, since a reporter’s story often contains verbatim extracts from a release, use the words in a release the way you’d like to see them in print, e.g. make your quotes, well, quotable.
3. Keep yourself contactable – you’d be surprised at how many news releases force journalists to dig for a phone number or e-mail address or URL where they can find more information. Your responsibility is to make it easy for a journalist to find that info. Make yourself easy to find.
Will these tips guarantee that your release leads to media coverage? Of course not – but they’ll help ensure that, at least, journalists will read the release. And that’s half of the battle already won.