How to Write a News Release That Wins
The art of writing a news release still eludes some of the best PR minds in the industry.
Give them a telephone or face-to-face opportunity and they can sell snow to the North Pole, but they struggle to express themselves with words and pictures in a confined space.
Over the past 20 years I’ve probably written over 1,000 news releases of one description or another.
I was very lucky early on in my career in PR, as I was taught how to write news releases with devastating effect by closest friend and mentor Colin Norton-Smith, the global director of communications for Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) and the single most influential person in my career after I left the BBC. Sadly, Colin passed away nearly a decade ago but what he taught me about the power of the written word lives with me every day.
First, a news release should be news. Plain and simple.
That means it needs to comply with accepted editorial standards – a sort of ‘quality control’ on what is and what patently isn’t news!
These are my top ten tips to write a news release that wins:
1: Make sure the date of the news release is visible at the top of the page
The date of the news release should be immediately clear, not buried in the body of the text or even at the end! This may sound like a basic tip but if the news story really has news value, the date is critically important for the journalist.
Is the news story for today, tomorrow or for next week? All journalists work to deadlines. The last thing they have time for is working out whether the news story needs their attention now or if it can wait.
2: Write a short, grab-you-by-the-throat news headline
This is an art in its own right as it’s the hook for the journalist. Ideally, it should be short. It should encapsulate the essence of the news story and it should be interesting – otherwise it will end up in the recycle bin.
Even business news stories can benefit from a ‘tabloid approach’ to headline writing. As a rule of thumb, stick to a maximum of 60 characters (not words, please note) so search engines can show it easily.
3: Make an entrance with confidence
The opening paragraph of a news release should be the guts of the news story: short, punchy and not wasting a single word.
Ideally, include a compelling number, fact, figure and/or statistic. Avoid hyperbole, exaggeration, and flowery language. Instead, have a point of view, backed up with evidence. Facts are important, along with interpretation and insight.
Fundamentally, a news release should comply with news values. So many ‘news releases’ in fact don’t contain anything new, and instead recycle information already in the public domain. Avoid the temptation to label something a news release unless it really is news. It doesn’t do your organisation’s reputation any good otherwise, as it’s very poor PR practice to call something a news release when it’s patently anything but newsworthy.
4: Keep the body copy short and tight
Try not to go over the top but actively look for other contributions to the news story. Consider expert opinion, new research data, perspectives of customers and clients, even a Government Minister or respected authorities in their fields such as an academic. Quotes provide “colour”, while numbers and data help to tell the story.
5: Be careful how you ask for quotes for your news release
The worst thing a PR professional can do is to ask for a quote for the news release. As the storyteller, it’s your job to write that story, then seek approval for the quote that you’ve attributed to that person. Always think about making the news release as strong and robust as possible as well as making the contributor look good. Any person or body quoted in a news release needs to be saying something that adds value, rather than something generic.
6: A great close is as important as a great open
Think how a business story is written in the leading business newspaper or journal (both offline and online) in your industry. You’ll notice that there’s a strong finishing point or conclusion, often an expert quote or even a call to action.
7: Signpost stuff
The device ‘Note to editors’ comes at the end of the news release and should be in numbered bullet format.
This could be a link to a research paper (online), a key background fact, further data that supports the story, and a link to a photograph or video. You may want to offer an interview with a commentator quoted in the news release. You may want to refer to a webinar with precise date and time, or another event that’s relevant to the news release.
8: Make sure your name and contact details are on the news release
It is vital to have your media contact person’s name, title and contact details (including an out of office mobile number). It’s also poor PR practice quote someone in the news release only for them to go on holiday when it’s issued. Journalists often like to follow up: removing that possibility can kill your story and damage your reputation for delivering the goods in future.
9: It’s not just the words but how you say them
What’s known as ‘tone of voice’ is often overlooked and yet it’s a powerful tool to use when writing a news release.
The tone of voice depends on a number of factors, including:
- nature and culture of your organisation;
- type of news you are trying to convey;
- language that your audience feels comfortable with; and
- what feels appropriate – formal versus informal; technical versus colloquial language.
10: Always have a picture!
If you want your news release posted on news sites, having a compelling photograph or graphic is essential.
Ardi Kolah is author of High Impact Marketing That Gets Results, published by Kogan Page. Order your copy today and get a 30% discount by adding the code VOCUS30 on check-out.
Image: mikeymckay (Creative Commons)
Communications Best Practices
Get the latest updates on PR, communications and marketing best practices.
Cision Product News
Keep up with everything Cision. Check here for the most current product news.
Thought leadership and communications strategy for the C-suite written by the C-suite.
A blog for and about the media featuring trends, tips, tools, media moves and more.