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Getting the Word Out, Part I

Part I. Crafting an Effective News Release

Good publicity is a powerful tool. If your organization has been involved in a newsworthy event, it would be a mistake to sit back, cross your fingers, and hope reporters come knocking on your door. Instead, you should send the news directly to the reporters. The proper way of doing this, of course, is through a news release.

It seems as though everybody is writing news releases these days, for all kinds of reasons. With the advent of e-mail, it has become dangerously easy for folks to throw together a hasty news release every time anything remotely interesting happens. Bad idea.

With so many news releases being written, it's more important than ever to make sure your organization's efforts stand out. The combination of strong writing and proper formatting will go a long way toward distinguishing your news release from the rest of the crowd.

Here are 10 basic tips for writing an effective news release:

  1. Include contact information.
    Make sure your contact information appears at either the top or the bottom of the release. Include your name, address, phone number, fax number, and e-mail address. A brief description of your organization can also be included at the end of the release.

  2. Be concise.
    Remember, reporters are busy people and don't have time to read through excessively wordy releases. Keep it short and keep it simple. Write clearly, stick to the facts, and avoid overly descriptive language and technical jargon.

  3. Timing is everything.
    If your news release concerns an event that will occur at a future date, make sure it is sent out well in advance. If your release concerns an event that has already occurred, don't wait too long to get the word out. Even the most interesting news has an expiration date.

  4. Invert your pyramid.
    If you don't know what the inverted pyramid style is, take a look at a few newspaper articles. The idea is to put the most relevant information at the start of the story, allowing editors with limited space simply to clip off last paragraphs when necessary, rather than rework the entire article. The first two paragraphs of your release should cover the five W's: who, what, where, when, and why.

  5. Use quotes.
    One good quote is worth a dozen expository sentences. Whenever possible, use a colorful quote from a representative of your organization, an expert in the field, or someone directly involved with the news event.

  6. Write in the third person.
    Using words such as I, we, or our will make your release look less like news and more like promotional material. Reporters generally write in the third person and so should you.

  7. Use the proper format.
    Begin with either "For Immediate Release" or the date the information may be released. The release itself should begin with a headline either bolded or in all capitals, followed by a sub-headline. The body of the release should begin with your location (city, state) followed by a dash. Align left, single space, and separate paragraphs with a space rather than indenting.

  8. Proofread!
    Always carefully proofread everything you write and whenever possible have at least one other person look it over. Misspellings, careless typos, and poor grammar will reflect poorly on your release.

  9. Craft a strong lead and catchy headline.
    The lead paragraph of your news release is the most important. It needs to catch your readers' attention and convince them to keep reading. Make it short and snappy, with enough information to give readers a good idea of what the release is about. The same advice holds true for your headline.

  10. Is it really news?
    Before you write a news release, take a long, objective look at the news event. Is it timely? Is it of interest to your intended audience? Does it contain new information or new ways of looking at old information? If not, reconsider.
Part two of this article will appear in next month's newsletter and will look at some on-line resources that can help you distribute your news release.

The preceding is a guest post by Patrick Ferraro, a freelance writer in Seoul, Korea, and a former editor of the Newsletter.
Topics: Communications Nonprofit Marketing