Writing better news releases generally starts with considering your media audience. Yet there are some things you can do right away—like, today—that will enhance the chance that your releases will be used and that your stories will get picked up.
Some of these ideas address writing. Others apply to the information you choose to include. All can help you make releases more useful and appealing, and you can put them into practice immediately.
Provide Great Quotes
Consider the story the reporter, blogger or producer is trying to write and supply quotes that will fit that narrative. Read that last sentence again. Consider the story the reporter, blogger or producer is trying to write… Very few people who write releases ever do this. But it can really help.
True reporters, meaning those who are conducting interviews and breaking news, often don’t like using quotes from a release. It feels lazy. But they will do so if 1) the quote summarizes their story well 2) the quote eloquently makes an important point 3) they need it for balance or 4) they have no choice. Quotes should be short, pointed and as authentic as possible.
To that end, quotes in a news release should sound as if they were spoken. Seriously. When you see quotes in the Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal, they sound spoken because they often were. They come from interviews. Try to mirror that tone in your releases. If you consistently provide really good quotes and you are releasing regularly, you should see those quotes get used.
Present New Facts
A release that tells you something you already know is useless. A release that adds relevant new information, whether that’s statistics, context or other facts, is worth reading—and often worth using.
There are many examples, but our favorite took place a few years ago, during an ebola scare in the U.S. A group called National Nurses United was advocating strongly that nurses get the training and equipment needed to address an ebola outbreak. They didn’t just release statements and appear on cable news. They also surveyed their membership nationwide and released data. It was a powerful addition and they owned that story for several days.
When a reporter or blogger gets a release and then has to call to verify something, it is very frustrating. It adds work. Sure, they may be calling anyway for an interview request or some such. But the idea that there is information missing, that there was a question and that they have one more call to make all undermine your credibility.
The classic example is polling. Many releases contain polling data, but fail to report when and where the poll was taken; how many people were polled; who those people were (adults? registered voters?); which firm conducted the poll; and the margin of error that applies. Most reporters will want to know all of that before citing a number.
You can avoid all of these problems. Publish complete releases that answer all reasonable questions, contain all relevant information and don’t raise questions. How do you do that? Think how the release will be used, what stories it will generate and then provide the information you would want in that scenario.
Cut the Jargon
In some cases, industry language is appropriate or even required. Often, however, it is not. Using wonky terms when they are not required is lazy and counterproductive. It makes your copy dense and difficult to understand. Often, this language creeps in to meet internal needs that have more to do with making executives and subject matter experts happy and less to do with generating stories. Fight the power. Purge the jargon unless you really need it.
Publishing releases on a consistent basis can increase pickups. You don’t want to be a fire hose, nor do you want to publish two releases a year. The idea is to be a consistent, helpful presence. The exact cadence to achieve that will depend on your organization, your industry, your earned-media strategy and how much you really have to say. It is different at every company and association. Find the sweet spot.
Publishing consistently has another benefit: it creates a factual archive where reporters, editors, copyeditors, bloggers, producers, aggregators and others can go to look up information, from numbers and dates to names and titles.
Include a Fact Sheet
If you have a lot of information—particularly data—and it is interesting stuff, add a fact sheet to your news release. Often, this can encourage a pickup as reporters pull some of the numbers into a story. It can also encourage publications to create graphics. Just make sure you apply the rule above. Make sure everything is thoroughly documented and that everything the reporter or blogger needs is there.
One important note: more information is not a substitute for the right information. Make sure you have the basics covered before you add more.
Make a Real Person Available
It goes without saying that you’ll make a spokesperson available. But adding someone who is closer to the action can really help. It might be a decision maker, like a CEO or a veep. Or maybe it’s a subject matter expert, like an engineer or scientist. If the source is something more than a mouthpiece (read: more authentic than someone on the comms staff), it can help sell a story.
Most sites need imagery and it is often a pain in the butt to find it. You can help—and help your story—by providing readily available images (photos or graphics) that accommodate phones, tablets, laptops and social media needs. Offer a variety of sizes in both vertical and horizontal formats. Perhaps most important, make them compelling! Everyone likes great visuals. Offer great images and you’ve added a selling point to your story.
Write Better Boilerplate
Don’t get so wrapped up in your marketing language that you fail to cover the basics. Boilerplate language should explain who your organization is and what you do. Everything else is secondary. You can and should craft this marketing language. Just don’t lose sight of the purpose. Do it right and some publishers will pick it up verbatim.
For example, consider something like this: Greenbean Corp. helps agricultural companies transform business systems to facilitate growth and improve customer outcomes. Answer this: what exactly do they do? Are they selling accounting software or a new sales system? This more specific language is better: Greenbean Corp. is the most experienced supply chain consultant in the agriculture industry, providing systems architecture, outsourced management and software solutions that have reliably increased sales for hundreds of companies. This may not be the best marketing language ever created, but you get the idea. Cover the basics.
Put some of these nine suggestions into practice, and you’ll see improved results over time. Of course, news releases alone are not a press strategy. They are only one weapon in an entire arsenal that can be deployed to better communicate your organization’s message through established media channels. But they can be very effective when used correctly. Take the time to write more thoughtful releases. It’s a solid investment.