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7 Tips that will Immediately Improve Your News Releases

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Are your press releases getting you the results you want?

If you’re constantly in search of more coverage for your clients, perhaps you should consider working on writing your press releases; they’re vital.

The news release, (or press release, as it is often called) is a tightly-crafted written statement distributed to targeted channels to deliver news information about an organization or event. Usually sent to members of the media, releases get the “press” ball rolling, and lead to follow-up between journalists and PR people that often lead to news stories and interviews.

If your releases are worded well and formatted according to AP style-standards, it is not uncommon for them to be published verbatim by editors of news publications. Most organizations also post their news releases on their company websites, and increasingly, via social media.

As you can see, press releases are an extremely important piece of the PR professional’s tool set. Today, I just wanted to offer a few tips that will enhance your writing for news releases.

 

Here are 7 tips to improve your news releases:

1) Before you even start writing, ask yourself: “Now why do we care again?” Anyone can write a press release. To write an effective press release, you need to understand basic newsworthiness. If it’s not crystal clear to a journalist why the reader should care after skimming a few lines, you can pretty much say goodbye to your chances of getting a story in the paper. Before pen goes to paper (or fingertips go to keys), give serious consideration to conveying your story’s newsworthiness.

2) Address the 5 Ws in the first sentence. Most people, especially journalists, don’t have the time these days to read novels. You need to explain the “who, what, where, when and why” in the very first paragraph, if you want your press release to be taken seriously. Get right to the point.

3) The “how” can wait until the next paragraph. While it’s important to tell us the five Ws upfront, equally important is holding off on the “how” until slightly later in the release. There is such a thing as information overload. Cramming the “who, what, where, when, why and how” will cause just that. Careful placement of separate thoughts and details will increase readability drastically, and journalists will thank you for making their job (read: sifting through a thousand poorly-worded press releases daily) easier.

4) Thou shalt provide hyperlinks. In this 21st century society, seeing is believing. You can say whatever you want, but on the Internet, oftentimes people won’t believe you unless they can follow a link to verify the information for themselves. Call it skepticism if you want, but it’s true, especially for members of the press. In a job environment where they are constantly bombarded with both news and “news” information, journalists can become jaded quickly, and cynical of all but the most obvious facts. How to avoid this affecting whether your story gets press? Easy: provide your readers with a link to back up your facts, and set your press release apart from the pack (According to experts, only 13% of PR professionals use links in releases).

Hyperlinks can add credibility to your press releases and further optimize SEO rankings. Experts suggest adding one link per 100 words of copy.

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5) Longer does not equal better. If you think that a longer copy increases your chances of getting press coverage, think again. You may think that those four extra paragraphs adds more “meat and potatoes” to your press release, but in actuality it’s just more lines for a tired journalist to skip. In 2010, a ten-paragraph press release is really just a paragraph or two that people will read, and the rest will be either skimmed or skipped, depending on your luck that day. Plainly put: when it comes to press releases, concision is your best friend. Just give us the necessary details.

6) Formatting matters. Just because you’re got all the key info into your press release doesn’t mean it’s necessarily ready to go out yet. Before you send that bad boy out, make sure your release follows standard formatting conventions. If you don’t, journalists are is likely to ignore your precious work. Spacing, margins, and all other formatting conventions do matter, so use them wisely.

7) Read your copy aloud. No really, do it. You might think you’re invincible when it comes to typos, but I promise that one good read-through aloud of your next press release will convince you otherwise. There’s only so much that Microsoft Word will catch. Eventually a “to,” where you actually meant to type “too,” for example, will slip through the cracks. If you want to avoid such a careless mistake, make sure to leave time before your deadline to read through your copy out loud.

So these are my seven tips for improving your press releases in 2011. If you’re able to work some of these tips into your writing, your writing will have a more polished, professional feel, and you’ll have a better chance of getting coverage for your stories.

And now it’s your turn…


What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Share a tip for writing better press releases below.

9 More Nuggets of Advice for the Young PR Pro

December 18, 2010 1 comment

Season’s greetings, to all of my readers and supporters! If you know me well at all, you know that the frenzy of the holidays gets me hyped (in a good way). I can’t stop singing Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole songs… In other words, I’m all about holiday cheer, and I wish you and your loved ones a very special holiday season. With that said, I have an article I’d like to share…

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “9 Nuggets of Advice for the Aspiring PR Pro,” and detailed a few lessons of wisdom that I’ve picked up in the industry. I also promised a follow-up article, and now I’m making good on that promise. Without further adieu…

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9 more nuggets of advice for young PR practitioners:

1 ) Be a consumer of news media. Just because you’re not a journalist doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be knowledgeable about what’s going on in the world, and know how reporters think. Pick up a paper every day, if you can. Bookmark the New York Times or Huffington Post as your Internet browser’s homepage. Make sure to read as much as you can, and have an educated opinion on the “latest” news.

2 ) Learn the art of small talk. If will come in handy more times than you know. Most of the times, you won’t walk into a meeting and get straight to business. That’s not how it works in the real world… Even the most “down-to-business” execs usually want to chitter-chatter for a few minutes. Sometimes a few friendly words exchanged early in the conversation can make the tough questions later on a bit more palatable. Remember, you are dealing with people.

3 ) There’s no “I” in team. Not much more to say here. If you think you can carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, even if you’re built like a professional bodybuilder, you’re severely mistaken. The field of public relations is a team sport.

4 ) Write to be read. It’s not enough to write for yourself; read aloud everything you put to paper (or on the web) before you hit “publish.” Make sure the words you’ve written effectively communicate the desired message. Think about if you’ve represented your client’s wishes. Have you addressed all of the key stakeholders? Is the writing clear and concise? Ask yourself these questions. If it makes sense in your head, but your audience can’t understand or relate to what you’ve written, then your writing is ineffective.

Don't be ashamed to go "back to the drawing board."

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4 ) Some clients will be rude. Just like in middle school, you’ll find that in this career field, you’re not going to be best friends with every client. Rest assured, there will be a small handful of clients that you may secretly wish bodily harm upon. Your task: to keep smiling, be polite, and make sure the work gets done anyway. Remember, you work in “public relations.” Your job is to relate to people; even if they seem to make getting along with you harder than Calculus II. In other words: “take the high road.”

5 ) Think like an editor. When dealing with information, both verbal and written, consider newsworthiness, angle, bias, etc. It will make your dealings with reporters that much easier, reviewing information from all angles before you meet with clients or your boss helps you anticipate all possible questions and/or sticking points before someone else brings them up. You always want to be as prepared as possible.

6) Organize your thoughts with a blog. Start and maintain a blog related to learnings in your field. It definitely helps to analyze your thoughts, and can even help with your career down the line. Just remain transparent in your writings, and keep in mind any confidentiality agreements you’ve signed with your company.

7 ) Things will change… often. How effectively you deal with change (i.e., keep a cool head in the middle of a tornado) directly affects whether you keep your job, get promoted, and succeed throughout your career.

8 ) Pay it Forward. If you keep up with your craft long enough, and follow these tips, eventually you’ll be in a position of power, where you have the ability to teach and mentor others. Remember the help that you received  on your climb to the top of the mountain, and be sure to lend a helping hand to the next person in your shoes.

9 ) Get a good stress ball. Sometimes, it will be your best friend. ‘Nuff said.

So there you have it: 9 more nuggets of wisdom that will serve you well in the public relations world. Hopefully you find these tips useful. And now I turn to you… What are your thoughts?

Agree? Disagree? What advice would you offer to young and aspiring PR pros? Weigh in and post a comment below.

Say “No” to Rush-Job Blog Posts

August 13, 2010 7 comments

This post, in ten words: Don’t publish half-baked content. Why? True pros don’t do rush-jobs.

I recently read a blog post written in 2008 by Jim Estill (of Copyblogger) about how to write an article in 20 minutes. I find it fascinating that two years later, it’s still being retweeted to high heaven. Estill certainly brought up some good points, such as limiting your post to a single topic, and using lists. After I thought about it a bit, however, began to get a little concerned that inexperienced bloggers might take his advice too literally. In other words, I don’t believe that the “20-minute blog post” is for everyone.

What's the rush? Take your time.

Although Estill’s methods work for him (and a handful of others), I just can’t help feeling like some unlucky soul is going to take his words out of context and think that every post should be written in less than a half-an-hour. So I’m here to play ‘devil’s advocate.’

I’m going to encourage you to spend just a bit more than 20 minutes on your work. The “just a bit” is up to you, in terms of interpretation. Perhaps an hour does it for you. Or maybe you’re like me, and spend only a few minutes on several blog posts, coming back to them over the course of many days to add and change things. Or you might have an entirely different method.

But I will say that you owe more than twenty minutes of effort to your readers, your current and prospective clients, and most importantly — yourself. Your key stakeholders deserve your very best, and nothing less.


You wouldn’t spend just 20 minutes on a press release, would you?

Don't shoot yourself in the foot.

If the answer for you is “yes,” then you’re very lucky, but far and few. For the majority of us, the answer is no.

So why would you do that with your latest blog post, or on any of your social networks? If you take your time with traditional media, then take your time with new media, as well.

Remember, you can write up a post in 20 minutes, but how long do you really think anyone’s going to sit around reading it? Take your time, and people might spend more time reading your stuff.

Quality over quantity.


Just because can write a post that fast . . .

. . . Doesn’t mean you should. After all, blogging is a form of media; it’s broadcast directly to the entire Internet. Take pride in your work.

Your credibility’s at stake here, and the ‘reputation balloon’ is a hard one to blow back up, especially after it’s had a nine-inch nail stuck through it. Rush-jobs are inexcusably unprofessional.



Make every post count. Every one.

Not sure on that one fact?

Then don’t post the article.

Think you could have possibly gotten something wrong?

Then hold off on publishing that post for a while.

Waiting a bit won’t kill you.

When you publish half-baked content, your credibility goes out the window. You’ll lose the same readers you were rushing to get that article done in five minutes for. So take your time.

From now on, think of your blog posts as a Thanksgiving turkey. Season them well, carefully put them in the oven, and set the timer. Don’t take them out until the edges are golden and they’re ready.

Make a promise to yourself:

“From now on, my posts are “done when they’re done.” Not a moment before.”

Your readers will thank you. And you just might have a reason to thank me after that. :)

- Robert A. Burns, II

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What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Weigh in below.

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