By Amanda Cleary Eastep
There it was in our small town weekly.
The big news that my mother and my best friend’s mom had taken us to see The Nutcracker ballet in Chicago. For the 5th grader I was, the publication of this story could only mean one thing…
…no one would ever ask me to prom, ever.
So began a lifelong call to answer the question: What is news?
I had to answer this question as a journalism student at Columbia College.
…as the editor of that same small town weekly 16 years later.
…and eventually as a PR professional.
As a former editor, I know what a pain it is to receive a newsless release from an organization or company. Sifting through lots of fluff only to find that’s all there is.
If you’re a business trying to get the word out about your services, products or people, you’ll make better friends with editors if you submit a story that fits the publication and appeals to its audience.
Providing quality news releases will help you cultivate quality relationships with the media.
So how do you do that?
What I’m talking about here is basic news writing. Why? Because my experience with writing hundreds of news releases for various organizations has been this:
If I write a news release, then it should contain news, not just my intent to self promote my business.
If I write a news release following the same guidelines I would when writing a news story, that release usually gets published, sometimes verbatim (and sometimes with a byline).
Before you send out your news release, ask if the story…
1. matters to the readers (and editor) of the specific media outlet
How do you know? If you aren’t familiar with a particular audience, do some research. Subscribe to (and read) the print and/or online publications that you most want to publish your news.
I know some companies that send out releases indiscriminately to tons of places hoping something sticks. Now if you’re a small business, you already realize that so much of your success relies on relationships…with employees, vendors, suppliers and customers. Same goes for the media. Think of local editors and reporters as people with whom you can establish and nurture similar, mutually beneficial relationships.
Take Jack, for instance. He’s my go-to guy. One of my favorite editors. He likes my organization. He likes me. When he asks me for a photo, I get it to him within minutes.
When he calls me and says, “Amanda, did you write this news release?” in his gruff Lou Grant to Mary Tyler Moore voice, I admit, “Yes, Jack,” knowing he’s talking about the template I used because I was pressed for time.
And when he asks me to “write it like you usually do,” I rewrite. (Actually, we only had to have this conversation once.) The next week it is published (with a byline).
2. meets at least one of these journalism textbook criteria:
Impact–Is the reader directly affected?
Immediacy—How timely is this news?
Proximity–Nearby events often matter more to local readers.
Prominence—Is the subject of the story a well-known public figure?
Novelty—You know. Man bites dog vs. dog bites man.
Conflict–This could involve the need for communicating a crisis.
Emotions—Will your news elicit excitement, happiness or empathy?
Here’s an example…
Let’s say you are a small business, and your target paper is a community weekly. You just hired a new VP.
Isn’t he a fun guy?
You decide to write the “Meet the Cool VP We Just Hired” news release. But this is not necessarily news to an audience beyond your employees, customers and website readers. Your lead may start like this:
Smith and Smith recently announced the hiring of Mr. Joe Johnson as the new vice president for development.
Besides boring, it’s not news to a broader audience. Instead, take time to look for an angle that appeals to the local news outlet’s readers (and your website’s readers, too).
Taking into consideration the above criteria, you might come up with angles similar to these:
Impact–VP Joe Johnson has a vision for expansion of Smith and Smith that will create jobs for local residents.
Immediacy–As the company celebrates its 50th anniversary, it welcomes a new VP who will help set the vision for the next 50 years.
Proximity and Novelty–When Joe–a lifelong resident–was just a tyke, he delivered Mr. Smith’s newspaper and dreamed of one day working for the company.
Prominence and Proximity--Joe previously served as mayor of the city, which thrived under his leadership.
Conflict and Proximity–The last VP made some decisions that jeopardized the well-being of the company and, in turn, the community.
Emotions and Novelty--Joe is an admirable family man, and he and his wife have adopted 6 children from various third world countries.
3. begins with a strong lead (lede) and follows a basic news story structure
The 5Ws and an H–Who What Where When Why and How–are the questions you’ll usually answer in a news story. The first four are answered in the majority of leads, which are often one or two brief sentences.
Follow the inverted pyramid structure of news writing for the entire story. Picture an upside down triangle. The most important facts are included in the lead, then taper off to the least important. Editors are more likely to publish releases that they don’t have to search through for the facts and rewrite. And if an editor is working with space constraints (at least in print), he can easily delete the end of your news release without losing any vital information. After you’ve written your release, test it by chopping off everything after the first and/or second paragraph. Does it still convey the most important news?
Not every story lends itself to this structure, especially human interest features and profiles. Here’s an example: Brave, Not Fearless, Says Inspirational Athlete of the Year You’ll notice that what would be considered a basic news story lead doesn’t start until the third paragraph.
AP style. Many newspapers follow the Associated Press Stylebook and will appreciate PR folks who know and use this style, too. You may already be more familiar with it than you realize since much of the news you read will follow these style guidelines. Or buy the book.
Your newsworthy news releases will be an effective way to get people to want to “read more about it.”
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