A successful news release is better than free advertising. Editorial coverage of your company is more credible and more effective at catching the public's attention than an advertisement. But the first (some say the only) task of any news release is to capture the interest of the editor to whom it is sent.
Most editors are swamped with unsolicited news and they may use only one of every ten news releases they receive. However, there are several steps you can take to increase the odds that your news release will be published. This article describes some of the qualities of a successful news release.
Make sure that your news release is well-written and that it really is news. A successful news release fits the style and audience of the target publication. It is written in good newswriting form. It contains useful information and doesn't sound like an advertisement. It contains some element of local interest or information relevant to the readers of the publication to which it is sent. The headline is clear, descriptive, and attention-getting.
Be honest and open
Putting false or misleading information in a news release is unethical and will assure you of a permanent spot on the editor's black list.
Read the target publication before you send the news release. Make sure your writing style, the information you include, and the photos or graphics you send fit the newspaper or magazine at which you are aiming. One of the most common complaints from editors is that the writer of a news release obviously didn't bother to open the publication.
Be sure your news release is on time
Many magazines have editorial deadlines two or three months before the publication date. Daily newspapers often prepare special sections days or weeks in advance. If you're aiming at a magazine, call or write for Editorial Guidelines, then pay attention to them.
Do not include a cover letter
The release should be printed on your company letterhead and it should include all pertinent information, including background information and the name and phone number of the person to contact for more information. There is one exception to the No-Cover-Letter Rule: When your news release announces a special event for which you would like press coverage, use a cover letter to extend your personal invitation to the editor to attend the event.
Include at least one photograph
Photos with people in them are more interesting than photos without people. Photos that show a product in use are more interesting and more effective than static photos of the product on display. Your photo should tell a story or convey information about the product's benefits. Avoid "grin & grab" photos (two people shaking hands while supporting a check, award, trophy, or other object) and other contrived photojournalistic cliches.
Editors open their mail next to the wastebasket, just like the rest of us. A well-written headline and an interesting photo can help you catch the editor's attention in the few seconds allotted to you.
Mail the release in a hand-addressed envelope. Put a stamp on it (rather than metered postage). Address the envelope to the editor by name. (Be sure to spell the name correctly.) Most editors dislike faxes. Do not fax your news release unless it contains late-breaking news that absolutely cannot wait.
Follow up your news release with a personal telephone call. No more than two weeks after you mail the release, call the editor to ask if he or she needs any more information. Very few news releases are ever followed up in this way. For that reason alone, your follow-up call can increase the editor's interest in your news and help establish you as a credible source of news.
If your release was turned down, ask the editor how you might have made it more newsworthy. Be polite. Don't argue or whine. Pay careful attention to the editor's comments. Be open and honest. If you promise something, do it, on time.
Be patient and persistent
Submit newsworthy material on a regular schedule. That builds a rapport with the editor and helps to establish you as a credible contributor and a useful source of information. Editors and reporters often rely on outside sources. If you can gain the respect of the editor, you are a long way toward ensuring effective publicity for your company.
If you hire someone to prepare your news release, ask about results. Newspaper and magazine editors say some of the worst, most useless news releases come from professional PR firms and advertising agencies. In many cases, an agency prepares a news release and shotguns it to every publication on the map, with no effort to fit the style or content to the target audience. The result usually makes it obvious to the editor that the writer never bothered to pick up the publication or do even the most basic homework.
As the editor of two magazines for owners of light aircraft, I frequently received news releases aimed at airliner owner/operators. Whoever sent those releases to me had no idea who my readers were or what kind of material I used. Editors look down on such shenanigans with well-deserved scorn.
Sheer numbers of news releases mailed don't count for much if they don't get published. That holds true whether you do it yourself or hire an agency to do it. It is far more effective to focus on specific target publications and to tailor the news release to those audiences and editors.
Here, according editors, are the top ten reasons why a news release is likely to end up in the trash:
1. It's badly written.
2. It sounds like advertising copy.
3. The subject is not suitable for the publication.
4. It doesn't contain enough information.
5. It's too long. (See #1.)
6. It's too technical for the publication and the readers.
7. The writing style doesn't fit the publication.
8. The information is irrelevant or uninteresting. The story has no "local" angle.
9. The photographs or graphics are not up to the standard of the publication.
10. The information is "old news" or it arrives too close
to the editorial deadline.
The list is in no particular order. According to most editors I've met or worked with, any one of these can be doom you to the circular file.
Promoting Products & Services . . .
Some books and experts say that you should never bother writing a news release that promotes a product or service. The reason they give for this prohibition is that the result will always sound like advertising.
It is harder to promote a product or service without sounding like ad copy; but it is far from impossible. I have had great success writing and placing news releases that promoted new or unusual products or services. You can find many such articles in the local newspaper and in trade magazines.
The key to success is to find a "hook" that makes the information interesting to the editor and his or her readers. Most often, that hook is a human interest angle of some kind. Find the hook that can turn your product or service into real news, and your news release has a good chance of getting published.
The Corporate Writer™
P.O. Box 354
Ripon, WI 54971-0354
David Sakrison is an editorial consultant with 28 years of experience writing for business, associations, museums, state & local governments, and the press.