by Sheldon Baker
One of the most frustrating things for editors are news releases written like ads, lacking real news or containing so much technical information it reads like a foreign language.
Not every story is front page news or deserving of being published. Develop a legitimate, well written story and most editors will respond with interest.
Everyday media people are inundated with news releases, so they use every reason to "round-file" their mail. The following is a recipe to creating a news release that will get positive media attention.
NEWS RELEASE LAYOUT
The format of a news release is simple.
Starting at the top, a news release should be printed on company letterhead.
Under the logo in bold type, but larger than the body copy, write NEWS RELEASE in capital letters so editors know the type of document they're receiving. Beneath NEWS RELEASE to the left or right should be the name and telephone number of a contact person.
If the news release announces a new or interesting item but lacks crucial information or needs clarification, editors will want to speak to a company representative.
A headline should follow the contact information. Put the headline in bold face type keeping the same type size as the body copy. The headline should announce the subject of the news release topic. Try to get the company or product name in a headline and announce the action taken by the company. Some news releases include a "sub-head" which highlights
or notes key information that would make the headline too lengthy. The sub-head title, which can be a complete sentence, should also be in bold face type but in a smaller type size than the headline and body copy.
The next step is the dateline. This includes the city and state where the story originates and the date. While the announcement may take place on February 18, 2002, if you're mailing the release, date it one or two days ahead to appear timely upon arrival at the publication.
You must provide information in a logical order, starting with the most important information. Another key element is keeping this important information within the first two paragraphs. If space in a publication is limited, you stand a better chance of getting those first two paragraphs published.
In the media business, editors refer to the five "W's" in a news release or article. Who, what, when, where and why are the five guidelines a news release should follow.
Who: the company or individual making the news.
What: the actual news item that is being announced.
When: the time or date that the company will act on its news announcement.
Where: the location of the company or individual making the announcement and also where the event will take place.
Why: provides insight for the reader as to how the story was created.
Incorporate all of these elements and you're on the right road to developing a good news release.
The story lead and the first two paragraphs, as mentioned earlier, are very important. Introduce the reader to the news being announced and who's making the announcement. Ideally, the first paragraph should only consist of one or two sentences. The information should be clear and concise. Throughout the news release you should try to keep sentences short and well written.
The second paragraph may include additional, but secondary action taken by a company. The following copy usually offers an explanation of the company, product or person that is being highlighted in the release. This may consist of two or three paragraphs.
News releases often include an executive announcement or quote from the president or CEO. If a quote from a top executive is included, those words should reflect information only a CEO could provide.
Complete a news release by using one or two sentences in the last paragraph to describe the company.
Every news release should be double-spaced and include approximately one-inch margins on the left and right side making the news release easier to read. News release copy should only be written on one side of the page and preferably be no longer than two pages.
If the news announcement extends beyond two pages, write a letter to the editor or reporter with a summary to document your story idea. This story may be better suited for a feature article or as part of what is commonly called a round-up story including information provided by several companies.
Typos in a news release can be deadly. There is no excuse for words in news releases to be misspelled (or left out). Use spell check on the computer and take the time to proof read your news release to make sure they are 100% correct. Your news release is as important as any company document. Take the time to make your news release the best.
Including a photograph with your news release enhances your story and can garner more space in a publication, thus gaining more recognition for your company. You should be aware of how the photo will be used. A professional black and white photo or color print or slide is generally preferred. A photographer will know what other media outlets require. For example, a public relations wire service may request photos be printed with special borders or want a digital file.
With advances in technology, it's not always necessary to mail your release to editors. Sending a news release by fax or mail may be more timely and practical. Check with editors to determine their preferences when receiving a news release.
Direct your release to a specific person rather than title. Call ahead to make sure the editor or reporter is still associated with a particular publication.
Never ask an editor or reporter if you can see the copy before it appears. If you make a cold call to an editor or reporter, always ask if they have the time to talk or if they are on deadline.
There are no guarantees that your story will be published. Even when you've written a great news release and maybe even been interviewed, the story can be killed because of space restraints or other news breaking stories.
An executive appointment, new product development, sales success or a milestone event is news the trade media wants to hear. Try using these themes in your next news release to pique media interest.
- Focus on the benefits or timeliness of your product or service
- Link your product or service to a current news item that is trendy or newsworthy
- Create controversy
- Give an award or contribute to a charity
- Issue a report or survey
- Generate a research study
Utilizing these basic guidelines for writing and formatting a news release should help generate increased media exposure for your company.
Sheldon Baker is senior partner of Baker-Dillon Public Relations. His firm represents some of the leading supplement manufacturers in the natural products industry. He can be reached at (800) 570-1262 or by email at [email protected].