Let me explain. There is a huge volume of announcements being posted on the various press release distribution services, and there seems to be a new distribution service popping up every day. It is evident that there is certainly no shortage of press releases being written and distributed by conglomerates, start-ups, and individuals alike.
The problem, from what I can see posted online and according to several journalists that I’ve spoken to, is that many press releases are not written very well. So to help you avoid sending an editor or reporter a press release about your company, association, or practice that gets ignored or deleted, I’ve developed this ten-step press release checklist.
1. Is it newsworthy? Although the terms “press release” and “news release” are used interchangeably, I prefer to use the term news release because it serves as a reminder that you are writing a journalistic-style story to be shared with the traditional press or (more likely in today’s media environment) directly to the public via your company website, blog, or social media outlets.
Your release should not only provide factual information: That information should benefit the reader. For example, if your news release is about a product or service that solves a real problem, you are on the right track.
2. Does it have a hook? News releases are like Top 40 songs in that they need a killer hook to make them noticeable and memorable. The hook of your news release is the headline. It is what will determine whether or not the reader continues reading your entire news release or moves on to something else.
The headline is what people will see when your release is included in various news feeds. If the headline does not stand out, the reader won’t click and read the entire announcement.
3. Is it well written? If the recipients of your news release are journalists, don’t expect them to check your homework and correct your grammar and spelling errors. Nobody likes doing extra work—it’s easier to toss a shoddy news release in the circular file.
Even if you’re posting the news release directly to your website or social media outlets, do you want your prospects and clients to think that you are uneducated or unprofessional?
Although the days of the news release being a search engine silver bullet are over thanks to Google’s recent updates, using important keywords judiciously in the headline and body copy is still a useful tactic.
4. Does it answer the five most important questions? A well-written news release must anticipate the editor or reporter asking you the following questions: Who? What? When? Where? and Why? These Five Ws are the components of a complete news story that will adequately inform the media outlet’s audience.
If you omit one of the Five Ws, reporters might call to ask you to answer that particular question, or they may assume that your story is half-baked. For the most part, they don’t have time to give you the benefit of the doubt and are very likely will move on to a press release that puts all the facts at their fingertips.
5. Is it in AP Style? Although it is old school, the Associated Press (AP) news release format is still considered to be the standard among journalists. Its structure makes it easy for them to identify the most important points of the announcement so that they can write up their own story, or easily edit it so it can fit into the available space they have.
AP style covers formatting, how information is presented (Five Ws), as well as spelling and punctuation conventions. Simply Google “AP Style News Release” and you’ll find plenty of examples and templates.
6. Is it top heavy? This is actually a good thing! When writing a news release, put your most important information in the first paragraph and include additional information in descending paragraph order based on importance.
Editors usually edit news release length in a bottom-to-top manner. So, if there is only room for the first paragraph of your announcement, you want to ensure that the most important, can’t-afford-to-omit information is included.
7. Are you using multimedia assets? In recent years, a new news release form has gained popularity. Commonly called a multimedia press release, it enhances the traditional news release with a variety of multimedia assets such as video, but can also include photos, whitepapers, and background information.
The multimedia enhancements can be achieved via embedding live links in the news release that lead to appropriate sections on a website. Most of the news release distribution sites provide a multimedia template that helps you create what is in effect a multimedia landing page. That page is promoted by a link that is distributed to media outlets.
This is a fairly costly service, but you may be able to replicate this more affordably with the help of your web designer provided you have your own media distribution list.
8. Is it easy for reporters to contact you? It’s always nice when a news release is “picked up” by the media—even if it is edited down to the first paragraph. However, the Holy Grail is for that news release is to pique a reporter’s interest so that they will call you for more detailed information or to schedule an interview.
That’s why it’s important to include the contact information of someone who will actually respond quickly to a reporter’s request for the additional information they need and who also has immediate access to the executive that they want to interview.
Do your utmost to be available for a reporter or editor, as they are on tight deadlines. In most cases, you will be able to schedule a phone or live interview, but it will have to work within the reporter’s deadline.
Once you schedule an interview, keep that appointment. It is very likely that the reporter will be interviewing several sources regarding a particular topic.
It would be very unfortunate if you missed an opportunity and your competition was interviewed because all they did differently was keep their phone appointment. I hate when that happens!
9. Is there a call to action? Despite what some believe, news releases can be lead generation vehicles that rival and sometimes surpass the effectiveness of paid advertising. But like a good ad, your news release should have a call to action with a hyperlink, URL, or both. Here are some examples that a reader can take action on:
· Free Consultation
· Free Webinar
· Free Whitepaper
· Free Demonstration Video
Before you give away the freebie, ask the respondent to fill out a short online form, and you’ve got yourself a warm lead.
10. Are you sending it to the right person? Even if your news release passed the previous nine steps, it can be worthless if you send it to the wrong person.
That’s why you should be familiar with the media outlets you will send your news release to, as well as their editorial staff. Specifically, know the topic or “beat” that each editor or reporter covers and send them appropriate announcements. For example, you don’t want to send an oral health-related announcement to the financial reporter, unless of course you have statistics that prove that proper oral hygiene saves money on overall health-care costs. Get the picture?
Working with bloggers is a little different, as some don’t accept or use news releases. In his case, it may be best to send an introductory email to ask what their policy is.
So there you have it—my top 10 checklist to ensure that your news release will be read and shared.