A press release, also called a news release, is the standard method for providing information to journalists that will result in some type of media coverage. Sometimes, if your release is well-written, an editor will run it almost exactly as you wrote it. Other times the editor will re-write the information for publication or assign it as a story to a reporter. Most releases, however, go into what we call “File 13,” in other words, into the trash basket.
How do you help ensure that yours stays out of File 13? I have several suggestions:
I’d like to say a bit more about that last item because it is so often neglected. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have just one audience, you have three. Can you guess what they are? Most people write to just one of them and forget the other two. If you “get it” and use this insight, your releases (and anything else you write for publication) will be far more effective than even many PR professionals.
A good press release is
informative and written in clear English. It is structured to provide
the most important information first, then continue in descending order
It should be short—it’s best to keep it below 500 words—and should not contain any specialist language that readers may not understand. A short, informative release is more likely to be published than a long, rambling, overly detailed one.
Avoid ‘fluff’ and ‘hype.’ Don’t fill your news release with glowing endorsements about your practice that will make a journalist skeptical. At best they will be edited out. At worst, they will encourage a journalist to scrap your release altogether.
With a snappy headline!
The title should be short and to the point. A good, strong title will
grab the attention of a journalist and make your press release stand
Remember that your first challenge is to get the editor to read the release; your headline must convey in a few words what your press release is about and that it is newsworthy. Realize that it will never be seen by the end audience; it is simply for the editors. If they decide to do a story, or even publish your release as-is, they will write their own headline.
Professional writers often leave the title until the body of the release is written. One good method is to take the keywords of the release and write a title around these. Think of the ticker scrolling across the bottom of the TV news. If that’s all the editor got to see, would it be enough to convey the gist of your news? That’s what your headline needs to do.
the five Ws as your starting point. The first two to three paragraphs
should sum up the important information, the five Ws. Follow these with
the H – How. The ‘How’ paragraphs expand on the five Ws to build the
vital information into the release. This ensures that, should an editor
need to shorten your release, the important information will not be cut
The first sentence, called “the lead,” determines whether your audience will continue reading so it is vital to grab their attention. Tempting though it may be, never open a news release with the name of your practice. For example, “ABC is to launch a new business club for young professionals this week.” This may provide the right information, but “Tomorrow’s attorneys will soon have the opportunity to expand their business network with the launch of a new young professionals club” is a much more eye catching and enticing opener. The opening sentence determines whether your release is read or passed over.
To ensure that important information is included the way you want it, use it in a quote from a specific individual. This ensures that a journalist will not reword the information, although they may delete some of it if it doesn’t change the meaning.
Another imperative is to make it newsworthy. Does your information link to a current news item? Can you target it to a specific subject that is being covered from another angle? In journalistic terms, this is referred to as a ‘hook’. Can you find one for your information?
have written the perfect press release. What else do you need to do? One
of the most important parts of any well written release is the ‘Notes
to Editors’ section.
In this section, include the name and contact details for an individual at your practice who can respond to any queries from the press to clarify the information or add detail. This section can also be used to provide background information regarding your practice and the subject of your release. It should always include your website address.
The final way to keep your release out of “File 13” is to make sure it really is news. Here are some ideas of appropriate “newsworthy” topics:
Remember, it is not an advertisement! If it sounds like marketing instead of news, it won’t get past the editor. Get it right and your press release should appear close to how it was written.