By Katrina Olson
Last week we talked about different types of news releases and (generally) how they’re written. For those of you who’ve never written one or may need a refresher, this week’s Marketing Momentum is for you.
Answer Journalists’ Questions
Although the news release has taken many different forms, sometimes including digital bells and whistles, its primary function remains the same: to answer journalists’ (and ultimately readers’) questions. That’s why, in its simplest form, a news release looks like this:
News releases are written using the inverted pyramid. The most important information is first and the rest presented in declining order of importance. What’s important? The facts—everything the reader needs for them to know what you want them to know, or take the action you want them to take.
Follow The Outline
More specifically, the copy in a standard news release follows this outline:
The headline should read like a news story headline and indicate what is new, relevant or interesting about the story to follow.
- The Lead
The lead (or lede) is the first paragraph that includes the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why”—the essential information.
- The Second Paragraph
The second paragraph provides the rest of the necessary information. Explain the “how” or provide context or history readers need to fully understanding the story.
- The Remaining Paragraphs
Use these paragraphs to accomplish your goals. Include quotes from key people inside and outside of the organization. Supply background on a person, product or service, or explain complicated concepts or technology. Offer a final word or drive home a point.
- The Boilerplate
This final paragraph is a sort of corporate biography that offers basic company information, such as the year and city in which the company was founded, its mission, annual sales, key product lines and notable achievements.
Tips for Writing News Release
You can increase your likelihood of getting coverage by writing your release like a news story—as objectively as possible with no errors or inaccuracies, and in the proper style and format. If it’s well written, editors or journalists may even run your story with no changes. To increase your chance of success, follow these guidelines.
- Use plain language and straightforward, declarative sentences.
- Write in a simple and direct style.
- Keep your release to no more than two pages.
- Use tight, pertinent, insightful and attention-getting quotes to illustrate or elaborate on facts.
- Have those people who are quoted approve their statements.
- Avoid using superlatives (e.g. best, extremely, leading, top-of-the-line, etc.).
- NEVER say, “We’re proud/excited/thrilled to announce” something.
- If you must use superlatives, use them only inside quotes from people.
- Do not overstate your product’s, company’s or staff’s abilities.
- Double check your facts, statistics and claims and attribute them to reputable sources.
- Use specifics; avoid generalities.
- Be concise and to the point. Don’t include unnecessary or off-topic information.
- Do not write in a salesy or promotional tone.
- Provide “Notes to the Editor” to clarify or provide necessary information that doesn’t belong in the news release.
- Be sure to tell the reader what they need to know to help you achieve your PR goal.
- Write in third person.
- Include a human-interest angle, if possible.
- Eliminate fluff and filler.
- Make sure content flows logically.
- Make sure content is “on message.”
- Edit and proofread for clarity, word choice, grammar, usage, spelling and punctuation.
- Double check dates, days of the week, capitalization, and personal and company name spellings.
- Use AP style.
- Make sure you fully understand what you’re writing about so it makes sense to the reader.
- Believe in what you’re writing because if you don’t, it will show.
- Only write about what’s truly newsworthy; if it’s not, don’t write a news release.
- Don’t try to disguise an ad as a news release; journalists will know and you’ll lose credibility.
News releases also follow a specific (standard) visual format. Next week, we’ll look at proper formatting of a news release.
Olson is a marketing and public relations consultant, and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at katrinaolson.com.
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