The time-tested and trusted media release is probably the most used and perhaps respected form of communication in media relations. Respected of course only subject to it being well-written, thought-through and its content indeed constitutes news.
The main criterion for a media release (also loosely called ‘press release’, or ‘news release’) is that it must contain news and not marketing jargon. Journalists are interested in news (that’s what makes the media tick over) and not marketing bumf.
An event in your company that may be very important to you, may sometimes not necessarily be something a journalist considers newsworthy to share with readers, listeners or viewers.
Upon evaluating a news release, journalists ask: “Why is this news? How does this impact me and my readers?” As Don Crowther so aptly presses this point:
“The media wants news. Who cares that so and so just got promoted, that you have new graphics on your website, or that your widget that’s been out there for 12 years is now available in shocking pink.”
When starting your draft, apply the 5 Ws & H used by all journalists.
Try and answer these questions in detail and sift through your answers before you start writing.
Write a headline that relates to the story. You can do this once you have completed drafting your release. Keep it as short and interesting as possible. Headlines should grab journalists’ attention. Someone highlighted to me last week that a headline should be short enough for a Twitter update that will allow for a link to the story as well.
Some media releases brand a subhead below the headline. This gives you another chance to capture the reporter’s attention. Subheads are longer than headlines, but much shorter than the intro. If you have numbers and percentages in your release, here is a good place to highlight them.
Your first paragraph should, in one sentence, summarise the gist of the announcement – it should compel the reader to want to read further. It must be gripping, succinct and ideally no longer than 25 – 30 words.
The intro “sets the scene” and the body offers further details. The release should ideally be no more than 400 words (about one A4 page). One-and-a-half page releases are common, but should never exceed two A4 pages.
Position the most important news as high up as possible. This should include the key message(s) you wish to impart. Follow this rule because it helps keep the attention of your reader, and also because when sub-editors are under pressure on deadline, they tend to simply cut the story from the bottom.
Write in the third person. Do not use technical jargon – explain it in lay-terms so that everyone can understand. Use simple words.
Your releases should have the same template, which should clearly indicate it is a “media/news release”. It should include your company logo, the date, and contact details for further information.
Many releases also have a “boilerplate” – a stock paragraph that describes your company in a nutshell.
A news release is not a company’s marketing brochure. Remember, reporters aren’t in it to help grow your business or drive fans to your Facebook page. They are the least concerned about how your product offers the clichéd “best value for money,” or how your staff are “dedicated to client service” – or how your long-term vision to be the “leading whatever company” in the region will make your enterprise the “business of choice”. What they are looking for is news, plain and simple.
Here are further useful things to bear in mind when drafting your news release (or reviewing the one your agency presents for sign-off):
Attribute sensible and punchy quotes to a spokesperson. Do not quote spokespeople who will not be available or willing to conduct follow-up interviews (either because they will be on holiday, or because they do not view the media as an important ally).
Avoid jargon and technical industry-specific terminologies. Explain these in lay terms.
If you send out a media release riddled with grammatical errors, you run the risk of alienating journalists, resulting in your release simply being spiked (an old newspaper term which implies being thrown into the rubbish bin). Of course, there’s also the curse of ridicule.
Ensure your media list targets the journalists whose beat it is to cover the theme of your content. No sense sending a media release on the environment to a fashion reporter. Not only are you guaranteed it will not be published, but you also run the risk of jeopardising future dealings with that particular reporter.
Arabic or English
Especially in countries like the UAE where English is not the sole language of communication, ensure that your release goes out in the language used by the reporter (or media outlet) to whom the media release is addressed.
List at least two contact people and their contact details at the end of your release – if one is unavailable to deal with a media query, hopefully the other would be reachable. Journalists work on deadlines. If they can’t reach you to clarify a point, they will either simply delete the story or go ahead and publish a story that may contain factual inaccuracies about your company.
These tips are by no means the elixir for guaranteed publication of your news releases, but they will go a long way to ensure greater chances for seeing them in print.