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A new product, damage control, a new key employee or a special event¡Xall these qualify for a news release. A news release (also called press release) is the means to contact the media with the intent of gaining exposure in newspapers, magazines, radio and tv stations and on the Internet.
Whether it¡¦s a non-profit organization or a business, connecting with the media is vital to getting the word out on what¡¦s happening. Newspapers, magazines and television and radio stations can¡¦t be everywhere and editors want to know about newsworthy items. Informing them, though, needs to be presented in a certain format. Here are the mechanics of writing a news release and how to follow up to turn your news into a story that gets you free publicity.
To begin, the media is dependent to some degree on information that comes their way. Editors and journalists are busy people and the better a publicist can help them do their job, the more likely an organization¡¦s news item will be covered. A news release is the first step in the process.
A news release needs to follow certain guidelines. Here are the specifics of what editors prefer and what will make a presentation more polished:
„h Give the news release a title, centered and underlined or placed in capital letters
„h Be sure to answer these basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, how
„h Double space the information
„h Provide generous margins on the right and left
„h Indent each paragraph
„h Keep paragraphs short. Try to keep sentences short as well
„h If sending the news release through the mail, do not staple pages together
„h Include a contact name and phone number at the top of page one and at the end of the news release
„h Check and recheck for grammatical and spelling errors
„h Number the top of each page after page one. Do not number page one.
Now, those are some of the basics. In addition, be sure and write a good introductory sentence. Rather than stating, ¡§XYZ Club will hold its annual Bigfest Barbecue next month¡K,¡¨ a better one would be, ¡§Roundup the family and bring your appetites to the Bigfest Barbecue, Anyville¡¦s favorite fund-raiser of the year.¡¨ Think through what there is to say and then go on to give the details of what will happen, when, where, why and how.
There¡¦s a fine line between being too cute and being too dry in a news release. Aim at a little of both, depending on the subject. But whatever is communicated, the intent is to catch the editor or reporter¡¦s attention and get them interested enough to think there¡¦s a story to be told.
News releases do not have to look fancy. In fact, the more impressive the packaging, the less impressed most editors tend to be. They have to know, however, that it is a news release, so it is a good idea to put the words ¡§Press Release¡¨ in large lettering at the top of the first page with the contact¡¦s name and phone number in smaller lettering beneath. An appropriate way to word the contact information would be, ¡§For more information, contact Ann Jones at 555-5555.¡¨ And, as stated before, if mailed, do not staple multiple page news releases together.
Including photographs or graphics is definitely all right. Be aware that they may not get used, but it helps to give visualization to the subject matter. Identify the information on the back of a picture, but do not plan on getting it returned.
Non-profits generally have a fairly easy time of getting events or news covered. A business is not as lucky. The media is not prone to giving free advertising to for-profit entities. Therefore, if it¡¦s a store having a sale, don¡¦t plan on any coverage. Buy an ad instead. If it¡¦s the oldest and largest employer in the city having a going out of business sale, that¡¦s news.
Determining a news release list is important. Don¡¦t send it to everyone in town. Sometimes it will be an editor, sometimes it will be a reporter. Do not send news releases to more than one person at the same radio or tv station, newspaper, or magazine. If it is a business story, find the news editor. If it is a home and garden feature, find the name of the home and garden editor and send it to that person. Do the background checking necessary so that the news release is being sent to a person and not just ¡§News Editor.¡¨
News releases can be sent by mail, faxed or e-mailed. It¡¦s a good idea to follow-up with a phone call asking if the news release was received and ask if they have any questions. This is an opportunity to put a voice with the information and give a brief sales pitch on the subject of the news release. Oftentimes editors receive news releases for events of merit, but they get so many that some good ones may get overlooked. A phone call brings it to their attention and very well may be the thing that gets it in the stack of items to cover. One exception: on-line news organizations tend not to want phone calls.
The better written a news release is, especially for the print media (meaning newspapers and magazines), the more likely it will be to be used¡Xsometimes word for word. Don¡¦t be afraid to step up to the plate to trumpet a cause, service or product. The news release is the mechanism that causes a lot of what ends up being broadcast to be news in the first place.