The first paragraph of any media release is the most important. Often it is all an editor has time to read to determine whether the story is worth following up or running. It should encapsulate the main point of the story in 30 words or less and strive for clarity so the reader does not have to reread it because of ambiguity or poor explanation.
The second paragraph is a supporting statement, with the following paragraphs written in order of importance so that they may be cut from the bottom up if the story is too long, yet still making sense.
Obviously this style is very different to the one you may be more accustomed to using in corporate proposals or even business letters.
To ensure that all stories within a publication conform to the same style, most publications have developed what they refer to as a style book which contains these types of rules. Alternatively, they standardise on an already published style book such as Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.
When your media release is selected for publication by the editor, the first thing he or she will do is edit your story to conform to his or her publication's style sheet. If your media release already conforms to standard style requirements, it would require less work by the editor, and be more attractive to use than the release that was written like a school essay.
Some very basic style conventions include using the active voice, rather than the passive.
For example, XYZ has released the speaker phone modem, rather than the speaker phone modem was released by XYZ.
Keep paragraphs and sentences short, but stylistically different, with the occasional long sentence thrown in for relief. Don't be too concerned about grammatical correctness. It's OK to split infinitives, to begin sentences with a conjunction and to end them with a preposition, if it adds clarity and a more conversational tone.
Putting pen to paper
Keep punctuation to a minimum. When possible avoid semicolons, colons, dashes and hyphens. Incorporate bullet points into proper sentences.
Names of companies are singular rather than plural, even if the company name itself is plural. For example, "Digital Systems is releasing", rather than "Digital Systems are releasing".
Avoid foreign expressions such as "per annum", and "per se", or expressions you would not normally use in conversation, such as "whilst". Use "a year", "as such" or "while".
Never use a long word where a short one will do and avoid words like interestingly or obviously, and words that end in "-est", such as "biggest".
Following submission of your material, it normally takes between six to eight weeks for it to get through the system and be published, depending on whether the publication is a weekly or monthly.
If you do not subscribe to all the publications you send material to, and few probably would subscribe to the 30-odd computer publications published regularly in Australia, tracking the publication of your releases can become a nightmare. Unless the editorial is product- specific, and you can simply track its success through increased sales.
Fortunately you can overcome a lack of resources in this area by relying on the publishing industry's sales staff or media tracking companies such as International Data Corporation (IDC). IDC publishes a database called the Australian Computer Industry Digest (ACID) which lists all stories published in most of the major computer papers each month.
Each story includes the name of the publication, the page number, the story headline and a short description, and is referenced in alphabetical order by company name. Updates are issued monthly, for an annual subscription fee of about $1,600.
It not only provides a comprehensive list of all your own published material, but it enables you to track your competitor's press or technology releases as they occur.
It certainly beats trying to track your own published material, and it is one of the few media tracking organisations which service the computer industry.
Alternatively, you could call the salesperson associated with the publication every so often to ask them whether they have noticed any stories, although this is seldom as successful. But you could use the same call to ask whether there have been any updates to the features list since the last time you spoke.
When the salesperson you call asks whether they may call you back regarding advertising for a coming feature, you could make a note in your diary to remind yourself to call them back a couple of days before they are due to call you, to pre-empt their request for advertising. It's usually more effective.
Photocopy your published stories, reducing if necessary, and paste them onto a blank A4 sheet with just the publication's name, date and page number printed as a header field. Use this to create your own press clippings folder for display in reception or for use as a marketing tool. If you simply paste the original stories without photocopying them first, they quickly yellow with age.
If you are persistent in sending out quality releases, it does not take long to accumulate quite an impressive record of your achievement in this area. Next time I will cover interviewing techniques.
The views of Ms Sayers are not necessarily the views of this publicationLauraine Sayers Sayers SaysPO Box 6168, St Kilda Road,Central Melbourne, Victoria 3004 Tel (03) 9523 9943 Mobile: (018) 051 257 Fax (03) 9528 4230