Press Releases for Civilians


Do I mind? Naaa-aaaaah...

In my former life, I worked both as public affairs director of a Denver radio station and as an editorial grunt at the National Wool Grower, organ of the American Sheep Industry Association. (Don’t even start with me. I’ve heard every sheep joke known to man, so wipe that silly smirk off your face right now.)

Both places received hundreds of news releases every year, and I was the one who got to open them. At the radio station, I determined what was worthy of our public affairs show, and at NWG I got to decide what to pass on to the editor-in-chief. Now, most of these news releases were fairly well written, formatted properly and newsworthy. But some were handwritten on ripped out spiral-notebook paper, the backs of pizza menus–and one was even addressed to the National Wood Grower. These wonderful examples of ineptitude taught me a great deal, knowledge that I am going to pass on to you. So pay attention.

First things first

  • Always use professional stationery, with your text typewritten, not handwritten. You’d think this stuff would be obvious, but apparently it’s not.
  • Make an appropriate media list. Don’t send a release about your thumbtack store to Modern Drunkard Magazine. They’re not going to care, unless you’ve designed thumbtacks that are shaped like shot glasses.
  • Know to whom you should address your release. Get the spelling absolutely correct. Even if your news release is announcing the cure for cancer or a proven method of removing all the calories from Krispy Kreme, a misspelled editor’s or producer’s name will guarantee your release a one-way trip into the circular file, no questions asked.
  • This is not an article–it’s a teaser to get the media to write an article/run a story about you/your company. So you need a news hook. This is not a promotional piece (headline: We’re the best darn company in the whole darn world!) This is offering information of value.

Content

Other than introducing a new product, service, employee or event, there are a few basic ways to get the media interested. (After each you’ll find the headline of a successful release demonstrating the principle listed.)

1. Relate your product or service to a hot-button issue.

NEW COOKBOOK HELPS FAMILIES EAT TOGETHER MORE OFTEN, A MAJOR FACTOR IN STAVING OFF TEEN PREGNANCY ACCORDING TO RECENT STUDY

2. Spotlight the unusual/colorful background or personality of one of the company’s principals.

ID THEFT EXPERT LEARNED PRIVACY THE HARD WAY

When she left the Los Angeles FBI, she had a $1 million bounty on her head

3. Demonstrate how photo/video-friendly your product or service is.

FITNESS VIDEO SERIES’ DIRECT TACTILE STIMULATION CRUCIAL TO CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND MAY HELP PREVENT FUTURE HEALTH PROBLEMS

(The third example actually fills two categories–the hot-button issue and the video friendliness. The video fitness series featured adorable toddlers and babies exercising with their moms.)

Since most of the time you’ll be writing according to principle #1 above, another way to look at it is spotlighting a problematic issue and presenting the solution–your product or service. Example #3: Issue: future health problems. Solution: Mom-O-Rama’s direct tactile stimulation. Example #1: Issue: Teen pregnancy. Solution: New cookbook that helps families eat together more often.

Details, details

  • Quote attributions: Use the word “say.” People say things. They don’t comment, or remark, or whisper, or note, or murmur, or pronounce–put your thesaurus away. This isn’t a high school creative writing contest.
  • Refer to people, both male and female, by their last names without courtesy titles. There’s a tendency to want to call women either by their first names or by Miss. Don’t do it. We’re all equal in news releases. Once you first introduce the person by full name and title, ever after they are called by their last name.
  • Write in present tense, as in, “We’re very interested in space travel,” Jones says. Some may disagree with this, but they’re not writing this article.
  • You must write about yourself in the third person. Save the first-person stuff for brochures. Don’t be afraid to quote yourself. This accomplishes two things–it looks as if you hired someone to write your releases for you, and it gives you some distance and objectivity from the subject–you (not much, but some).

Odds and ends

  • Answer the 5 w’s and an h: “who, what, where, when, why, how”
  • Be sure to include contact name and phone number
  • Use a memorable, short, succinct headline
  • Avoid clichés, superlatives, overused phrases, technical/industry jargon
  • Save editorializing for quotes
  • 2 pages maximum
  • Use quotes, statistics, facts, unusual information, resources (websites, books, research studies, field experts)
  • No errors
  • NO ERRORS! NONE! EVER! (Am I getting through here?)

But Conan, you cry, I’ll never get in the media! There are too many yahoos out there already clamoring for their 15 minutes of fame! It doesn’t matter, because even if the traditional media never picks up one of your stories, you still need to put out news releases to place them on PR Newswire, PRBuzz and other Internet PR sites; to put on your web site in your Press Room area; and to make them available for clients, prospects, etc. It’s a whole new ballgame, thanks to the Internet, so jump on the train before it pulls out of the station.

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