By Katrina Olson
The first and most important requirement for an effective news release is having a story to tell. However, if you work in PR or marketing, you’ve likely been asked to write a news release about a decidedly unexciting topic.
When faced with this dilemma, you have a few choices. You can write it and hate it. You can not write it (if that’s an option). Or, you can try to make it interesting to journalists and readers.
Several years ago a Panera franchisee wanted to hire me to secure publicity for every new sandwich they introduced. I declined the job, saying I was too busy at the time (which was largely true). I also thought it would be difficult to garner publicity for a new turkey and avocado sandwich.
Looking back, I could have found or created a story. For example, Panera is one of only two chain restaurants that publicly affirm that the majority of their meat is produced without routine use of antibiotics. And 100% of Panera’s chicken and roasted turkey has not been subject to antibiotics. Further, all poultry is 100% vegetarian-fed, and the chain uses no artificial preservatives, colorings, sweeteners or flavors.
Or, I could have created a story by suggesting that its bakery-cafes make an equivalent monetary donation to a local homeless shelter for every turkey and avocado sandwich sold during a specified week. That news release could also have highlighted the Panera Cares® Community Cafes (non-profit bakery-cafes that help feed those in need) and Day-End Dough-NationTM program. Giving money to homeless shelters—now that’s a story.
In addition to a great story, your news release must offer journalists and readers the following:
A news hook.
In journalism, a news hook is what makes the story relevant right now. Can you tie it to, and perhaps add a twist to a trending news story? Can you provide insight on or address the minority opinion of a hot-button issue? Can your company serve as a case study that reinforces or contradicts the results of a newly released research study?
Emotion and passion.
A brain-imaging study by University College London revealed that the brain’s wiring emphatically relies on emotion over intellect in decision-making. Try to make people care about your story by weaving in humor, personality, visual imagery, fear, self-preservation or any other emotions that will bolster your story. Be enthusiastic and passionate about what you’re writing and it will show.
Offer benefits that directly affect your reader. Does your product make their work easier or their lives better? Benefits can also be indirect. If you write about developing new green technology that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this reflects well on your company and industry, and appeals to environmentalists.
If you’re introducing a complex technology, make it seem simple. That means you must fully understand what you’re writing about so you can break it down. It may take hours of learning and research to write a simple, one-page news release—but if you don’t understand what you’re writing, neither will your reader. Also, using declarative sentences written in plain and simple language will make your release easier to read.
You goal is to garner exposure for your company, but your news release should be objective and unbiased. Sound like a contradiction? It’s not. A new release presents information you choose to release, written in an objective style. You don’t have to cover the opposition’s point of view or tell everything you know, but your claims should be true and supported by facts, research or statistics.
Even the most mundane products can look interesting with good photography. Whenever possible, include a photo of people, an action shot, unique product shot, product-in-use photo, “big check” photo for contributions, infographic or pictures with kids (if relevant). Readers have short attention spans and get bored quickly; images tell a story in seconds.
So now you know the difference between good and bad news releases. Next week: Six questions you should answer before writing 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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