The news release is the basic ingredient of all media communications. It has many names but, whatever you call it, it is the primary means of getting your message out. In order to be successful, a media release must contain legitimate news presented in such a way that the editor recognises it as something he/she shouldn't ignore.
Strong writing is crucial. If you are not a strong writer, find someone who is. If you do plan to write it yourself though, you may find the guidelines below helpful.
1. Write it like a news story
Use present tense unless it's tied to a specific point in time. For example:
"President Mary Jones today signed an agreement on union labour peace . . .," to refer to an event which occurred at a given point in time; "President Mary Jones has called on the Government to help negotiate a no-strike agreement with . . ." for a specific time.
This gives the story more shelf life. A newspaper receiving the announcement won't see it as being as outdated if the word "today" is in it, referring to three days ago, as long as the story hasn't already appeared in a rival publication.
2. Use a strong lead
While the news release is the most important aspect of your media kit, the lead, or first sentence, is the most important part of the release.
Remember the five Ws of journalism - Who, What, When, Where, Why. The lead should cover the most important of these, with the others covered in succeeding sentences and paragraphs.
"Building Trades president Mary Jones has signed an agreement guaranteeing labour peace on major construction projects." This covers the who (Mary Jones) and the what (signed a labour peace agreement).
The where, when and why should follow in the next two paragraphs.
3. Leave no loose ends
The release shouldn't leave any obvious questions unanswered, or any contradictions. It should also contain contact details.
4. One theme
Be focused on one point. If there is more than one point, then pick the most newsworthy as a lead and run with it. Do not lead with a sweeping sentence that summarises the briefing.
5. Avoid jargon
This is my favourite. Rarely will jargon be used. It will be changed and when it is, it might be distorted. The object is to present material that is easy for the editor to use with a minimum of work because time is their greatest enemy.
6. The format
News releases do follow a specific physical format. However, they tend to vary due to personal preferences and clients who have their own ideas on the look and feel of the release. But you can't go wrong following these guidelines:n Two pages maximum (one is better)n One and a half or double spaced, use one side of page onlyn Release time at the top (optional)n Give it a headline (think of a newspaper headline)n Dateline (city and date)n "More" to signify the end of a page (page numbers should be added)n "End" to signify the end of the releasen Include names and numbers of contacts (make sure they are there to accept calls).
These days however, most journalists prefer to receive news releases in the body of an e-mail.
Happy writing! We'll have to look at the art of issuing media releases next time to make your new-found writing skills pay off.
Dolores diez is managing director rivers of communication. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org