For more than 20 years, I was on the receiving end of news releases at some of the biggest newspapers and websites in the country to a small-town paper with a newsroom staff of seven. Now I’m the guy writing them. Knowing what happens to the majority of releases – circular file, delete button – I have some idea what it takes to get them read. And simply getting them read is the first step to getting a journalist to take any action.
Let’s limit our discussion to newspaper coverage, since getting broadcasters, bloggers and others is a slightly different ballgame.
The most important rule when writing a news release is to have a hook. What is the piece of information you have that is newsworthy or different? Are you releasing a new product? Are you making a newsworthy announcement? Has somebody been promoted or hired? These are the things that will grab a reporter or editor’s attention. If you don’t have a hook, your chances of getting any coverage are slim.
You also need to know who you are trying to reach. If you’re targeting a major daily newspaper, you better have some important news. And you need to make that very clear in your release. Large newspapers are never at a shortage for story ideas, so yours better be strong. If you’re going for smaller, community newspapers, the news hook can be smaller. With limited staff and reporters covering multiple beats, giving them story ideas is often appreciated.
So let’s say you have that good story. You’ve got the news hook. You know who you want to pitch. What’s the key to writing a good release? Brevity. Give them the who, what, where, when and why. Get in, and get out. And point them in the right direction to begin their own reporting on the subject.
This is why it is important to know your target. Larger newspapers are not going to run your news release; they will use it as a starting point to write their own story. Tell them exactly when and where your announcement is being made, and why attending will be important. If you aren’t having a press event, give them the names and numbers of the people they need to talk to. If your event has already been held, give them some key information from the event.
But always remember the word brevity. As a newsroom veteran, I can tell you most reporters and editors will not read beyond the second paragraph, so you better hook them quickly. And don’t think about going beyond a page. If you do, you’re only writing for yourself.
Have you written or received news releases, and do you agree with this assessment? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet your responses to us using the hashtag #mcgblog.