A Few Basics to Get You Started
Nearly all businesses and organizations have occasions to write a news release, yet too frequently these opportunities are passed by.
A good release doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Yes, it should be written in a professional way and, yes, spelling does count. It’s true that there is a generally accepted format for news releases, but it’s not complicated. Invest a little time upfront to know when and how to write a news release, and that knowledge can be put to good use throughout the life of your business or organization.
The Reasons You Need a News Release
A good release is simply a news-worthy announcement that draws attention to your business or organization from customers and clients and, better yet, from potential customers and clients.
Some businesses successfully use news releases to augment their marketing programs. They consider releases an effective way to recognize employee promotions and regularly draw attention to their businesses. Others choose to use news releases more conservatively.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that you are writing a news release, not an advertisement. You want to draw attention to your business or organization, but make sure that the subject matter is something that readers would consider news-worthy. Editors often ignore releases that are merely advertisements in disguise.
The Subject Matter of a News Release
First of all, you should have some news—perhaps a fresh or expanding business, a new employee, a promotion, an upcoming event or fundraiser. Maybe your business achieved a significant certification, award, acknowledgment or had an employee recognized by or elected as an officer for a state or national organization.
Sometimes you may merely want to draw attention to your organization. In those cases, it is helpful to have something in particular to report. For example, a safety organization might have the best luck getting its news release published by discussing Halloween safety, Christmas lighting safety, school bus safety or some other timely topic.
Occasionally, too, businesses write news releases to share bad news such as a business closing or a layoff. Why? It can be beneficial to be pro-active—especially if it is likely that media will find out and write about this news one way or the other.
Being pro-active sends a subtle message that your business is concerned about the situation. It also gives you the opportunity to craft the message. It is far easier to write a quote in a news release than it is to discuss a stressful situation during a phone call with a reporter.
The more unusual your announcement, the more likely you are to get better coverage. A new Laundromat probably would warrant publishing your announcement as a “brief” on the business page. But if your Laundromat includes a sushi bar or a workout facility to help singles meet while doing laundry, then you may end up on page 1 of your local news or lifestyles section.
The Basic Elements of a News Release
Indicate clearly at the top that you have a NEWS RELEASE or PRESS RELEASE.
Write today’s date and contact information (name, phone number, and email address). On rare occasions, the media outlet will have a question, so be prepared to answer reporters’ questions. A professional can help guide you if in doubt.
Headlines need to grab the readers’ attention or at least get to the heart of the matter. The first paragraph usually summarizes the news. Then tell your announcement. When appropriate, use direct quotes to add authority and give a human voice to your release. Don’t forget to include background information that will enhance your announcement.
Finish the news release with a paragraph that describes your business in a nutshell. For example: XYZ Cleaners, doing business for 20 years in Smalltown, handles both domestic service and business service. Owned by Jane and John Smith, XYZ Cleaners has two locations: 123 Main Street and 456 Elm Street.
At the very end of your release, it is customary to write a “-30-” or “* * *” to indicate that your release is finished.
More on Writing Your Release
Media outlets receive dozens, if not hundreds, of releases weekly. If you believe your release deserves more than just a “brief” on the business page, then you need to differentiate your release from the others. Grab attention. Be witty, but be careful not to be too cutesy and turn off the reporter and hence, the reader, too.
Newspapers are more likely to print releases they don’t have to put a lot of work into. If your release stands out, is properly formatted and well-written, you increase dramatically your chances for publication.
As a busy business owner or employee, finding the time to write and edit a new release may be difficult. If you have something worth publicizing, consider contacting a professional writing agency to get the job done. The cost for writing a short news release is minimal compared to the benefits you’ll reap when current and potential customers see your name in print.
Distributing a News Release
To determine how to distribute your release, you will need to know your market and the preferences of the news media within your market. Call to find out the deadlines and in what format your media outlets prefer to receive the release. Ask to whom the release—and accompanying photo, if applicable—should be sent. Many newspapers and stations prefer email. Some prefer a Word document attachment; others would prefer to have it pasted into the email.
It is generally helpful to follow up with a phone call to call attention to your release and ensures that it has been received.
Finally, consider getting double duty out of your news release. Post it on your web site and on your employee bulletin board. Include it in a customer mailing, or email it to your employees or customers, as appropriate.
Take Advantage of the Opportunity
Some news releases will require a creative approach to draw attention. Others are best written in more straightforward “newsy” style. If in doubt, consult a public relations company or a business, like The Write Place, that can help you get your news published. The staff at The Write Place can gather the necessary information, write the news release, and distribute it for you. However, if you prefer to write your own, The Write Place staff will gladly edit your material and advise you as needed.