What’s the secret to writing an effective news release, one that always gets picked up by the editor, and one that sells your product?
After 30 years of writing them, I can tell you this: if you follow the traditional guidelines, specific publication guidelines, write a dazzling story and do everything right, there is still no guarantee your release will get picked up. It may depend on the mood of the editor the day he or she sees it, the number of other stories competing with yours on the same day, the date it arrives at the business, and any number of other obstacles that can hinder your success.
On the other hand, I have had news releases picked up immediately and printed verbatim. Perhaps being effective requires a dash of Irish luck.
Whether you are sending to newspapers, magazines, radio/television, newsletter publishers or online publishers, the smartest thing you can do is present a good product and make it easy to use. Below are my five tips for success:
Follow the rules
A good press release must have contact information, a date of release, headline, body copy, and end, preferably all on one page. The first thing the editor wants to know is who the release is coming from, and if there is no date they don’t know when it came in or when it should be published. If it is messy, has typos, or any of this information is missing, it could be considered unreliable and will probably be destined for the round file (i.e. trash can).
Write a good headline
As with most things, you have to get their attention first. Keep your headline as short as possible, making it clear what your story is about. Don’t keep them guessing or, you know…round file. And, make it catchy. I know that’s a lot to ask in a few short words, but we all need a challenge now and then.
Make it easy
Use 11- or 12-point type, use spell check, and then get it proofed by someone else. If it is hard to read or has mistakes…round file. Signal the end with either the classic “-30-“ or ###. Even if it is one page, this makes you look like a professional.
The five Ws
Who, what, when, where, why, and sometimes how. These may sound “old school,” but should be covered in your lead sentence or as close to the top of the article as you can logically weave them in. News releases are about news. Something is happening. If you cover the five Ws you are providing most if not all of the essential information, and these become the building blocks to your lead sentence.
Write a compelling lead
Your first paragraph must work very hard to hook the reader and still provide the essential information. Is there a local angle? Some exciting new information? An unusual fact? If you’re writing about a book launch, is there something remarkable that distinguishes your book from any other? Is it award-winning? Is it free? My best recommendation is to write the first thing that comes into your head, write the rest of the story, then go back and rewrite the lead sentence five more times. You will know when you’ve got it right.
And don’t worry. No one said it was going to be easy, but you’ll get there.