Your voice is one of the most powerful tools you possess and using the media is a great way to get your voice heard. The most profitable and often overlooked free publicity generator is the news release. A news release is a brief written summary alerting the local media about your business news and activities. News releases are not only great marketing tools but also far more credible and believable than advertising since they appear to come from an objective third party.
So, what makes a good story? While the answer to such a subjective question can be difficult, here are a few pointers in order to guide you in writing your news releases.
Reporters like stories that are related to a current event or issue, or those that have emotional appeal. A news release should provide enough information to generate interest but just enough to incite them to want to know more. In doing so, it is only logical that it must provide good contact information if they wish to follow-up. You would be amazed to know how many news releases fail to mention even the simplest of things, like a phone number or a contact name.
More importantly, your news release must be devoid of any obvious fluff or overt advertising. You need to write it to read like a news story because a news reporter will be using it. Look at it from the reporter’s perspective. In other words, write the story for them.
What can a news release do? They can announce important company changes, new recruits or appointments within the organization, recently or soon-to-be launched products or services, and so on. There are many more ways that new releases may be used, including identity branding or pre-empting negative publicity. If you have no hard news, you can create some. For example, if a national organization announces facts that are relevant to your business, you could make a good story by asking local experts for their reactions. In short, it could be anything new — hence, the preference of the word “news release” over “press release.”
Being the first in some way is an effective tool that can also help spark more interest in your news release. If you can support the fact that your firm is the first to provide a certain product or service, that your product or service is the first in its category, that you’re the first to provide an ordinary product or service in a unique way, or that your event is the first or the largest in its category, you can and should use that information in your news release.
A company claiming to be the best is certainly not a news item. But a company claiming to be the first in some way is. Capitalize on that leadership when approaching the media. Try to sell your story in a different way, possibly with a new angle or twist. Adding your unique experience, even blending your story with a current news item or issue, will up your chances.
For example, someone sends out a news release in which he announces the opening of his new company. Sounds like a trivial story? It’s not if that person suffers from a disability. In other words, bring your unique angle into your news release. Give it a human feel. The key is to capture the reporter’s interest. It must appeal to him or her and not just the marketplace.
As with many things in life, timing is crucial when sending your news release. Three to five days in advance is usually the right amount of time to ensure the editors can put someone on your story. Mailing a release too early is just as bad as mailing it too late – it will be put aside and forgotten. Deadlines do vary depending on the type of media, so be sure and check with them in advance.
Remember that the media get thousands of releases each day. So being unique or having a unique story to tell is what can often captivate attention. For example, if your release is about an event, then how different, unique, or special is your event when compared to any other? Think of it this way: If you were a reporter and had your release in your hands while at the same time there is another interesting story on which you could report, what would cause you to choose your story above the other? The answer is by being different.
Finally, targeting the media is just as important as targeting your market. Special features writers, columnists, radio show hosts, special interest publications, and specific programs are particularly beneficial for two reasons.
First, targeting your release to specific reporters, news anchors, or programs (instead of the newsroom or media entity) increases your chances. While it may require a little investigating, remember that the media are made up of people. They like the personalized approach just as much as your clients do.
Second, targeting your news release is more effective for the purposes of marketing since it will be reported in a medium that caters to your specific target market. Ask: “Where does my niche or target market hang out? What publications do they read? What shows do they watch? What radio programs do they prefer?” Your hit ratio will thus increase proportionately.
The media love to report on stories that inform or affect their specific audience. And if that audience matches your own, you’ll know that your story will be noticed by people that are in a more qualified position to buy from you. The more focused you are the greater the outcome you will achieve.
News Release Guidelines
Here are 10 general guidelines for preparing news releases:
1. Make them read like a newspaper article with these basic elements:
- What happened?
- Who did it?
- Why it happened?
- When it happened?
- How it happened?
2. Emphasize what makes your news release important. Know what is going to grab people’s attention.
3. Be provocative. Most media outlets get many releases every week, so you want o make yours stand out. Find an eye-opening aspect to your release.
4. Make the headline and lead clear. They need to hook the reader quickly or the release will be skimmed over and forgotten.
5. Use quotes. Be sure to attribute the quote to the person interviewed for the release.
6. Make your release look professional. Credibility is very important.
7. Consider sending attachments. A cover letter, especially if you know the reporter, may get the editor’s attention. Also, a summary of the key points can help the reporter write an article.
8. Avoid using jargon or acronyms.
9. Use active verbs. Using active verbs rather than passive verbs keeps the reader interested in your story.
10. Follow up. It is a good idea to follow up any distribution of a news release with a phone call to your contact to ensure your release has not been lost or forgotten.
Keep in mind that a news release is a good free source of exposure. However, since the average reporter gets more releases than he or she could possibly use, your news release should be just one part of your media campaign.