The press release is dead: long live the news release

It’s a sad fact of life that the dear old “press release” has been abused, battered and cowed into a corner by selfish business wannabees who try to kid their customers and prospects into believing they’re pieces of writing destined for the media. In most cases they’re not, but because they’re called “press releases” their writers think their customers and prospects are so stupid and gullible they’ll believe all that BS.

So now, rather like the little boy who cried “wolf,” real, honest press releases have to fight hard to get taken seriously because their credibility has gone right down the drain. Yet when they’re done properly, such releases are still very valuable PR tools when we need to communicate with various audiences on a less hard-sell level. What’s the solution?

Dump our romantic attachment to the old term: think “news release”

Not much of a difference, you may think, but although subtle the difference is huge. “Press” is what all the hypocrisy issue is about and few people – especially journalists unless they’re very hard up for story ideas – believe a word of them any more because of the way they’re labelled.

“News,” on the other hand, is honest labelling, provided what you produce is news and not corporate doo-doo. And here’s where many of the old-fashioned criteria of how to write a good “press” release are still very valid. Even though we’re no longer kidding ourselves that we’re trying to nail journalists and newspaper editors, we still need to make the story good or we’ll bore and lose our readers – whoever they are. So here are some tips. (And they’ll work if you happen to write a real press release, too.)

Find a real story that’s of genuine interest

A key similarity news releases have with press releases is that they must not be concealed advertising or corporate puffery: they must tell a true story that is of genuine interest to the audience concerned, and not necessarily relating to your business activity. Depending on the audience you may want to consider looking at these areas:

Company’s charity achievements

Employees’ unusual achievements

Contributions to the community

Plans for local expansion, X00 new jobs

“Human touch” e.g. rare birds nesting in factory roof

New jobs created in far flung manufacturing outpost

Business success (only if very significant)

Change over to greener policies and how implemented

Campaigning for good cause

Etc.

Forget what’s important to you

Probably the #1 reason why many releases don’t work is because their content is only of interest to the issuers and their bosses. And yet when you point this out to them they can’t understand it.

“But our development team worked 14 hours a day for three years to win that contract!” they shout indignantly.  “And the CEO had to cut short his vacation in Turks & Caicos just so he could sign the documents by the deadline!” Sorry folks, but audiences don’t care.

If you want to get the release to work you must forget all elements of self-congratulation. The information you send out has to have something “in it for them” (the audience) – something new, interesting and relevant. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, just worth reading.

Write for the audience and the way they speak and think

Match the style and writing approach to those of your audience. And if you’re aiming at different groups, you need to rework the approach of your release according to the various audiences involved. This is not the time for one-size-fits-all text; it needs to be tailored.

However, you’ll often find that the basic core of a release can remain pretty well the same across all groups, because it consists (or should consist) of the pure facts – the old journalist’s formula of who, what, how, where, when and why.

What changes is the angle, and particularly the lead-in. That means the headline, which should be short and attention-grabbing, and then the first two or three sentences that support the headline and set up the whole story.

Use “quotes” from the key people involved in the story

Whatever you do, don’t use those awful, meaningless corporate-babble quotes you so often see in company “press” releases … “We are delighted to be able to announce the new contract at this moment in time and we have every confidence that our latest investment will be of significant benefit to our…” you know the type of thing. They are boring, meaningless and a big turn-off to anyone reading it.

Instead generate fact-rich quotes that tell important parts of the story. You don’t have to hang around waiting for senior staffers to say pearls of wisdom, either; make up the quotes, write them down, then show them to the people who are supposed to have said them. As long as they’re happy with what you’ve written, that’s all that matters.

Email releases – pay attention to etiquette

You obviously know about spam and – I assume – wouldn’t be sending releases out to people who haven’t opted into your emailing list. But be careful; if they have signed up for your newsletter, you might get the odd one or two who regards a release as something different and therefore not strictly in accordance with “netiquette.”

Yes, I know this seems ridiculous but people are incredibly territorial and precious about incoming email and you don’t want your business tainted with a spam accusation. You might do better to incorporate a special release into your regular newsletter as an addition to the ongoing stream of information, rather than as a stand-alone item.

And still on the subject of preciousness about incoming email, never add a release to an email as an attachment, unless the people on your list are used to and happy with receiving attachments from you. Despite all the fancy virus sweepers some people are still paranoid about viruses, probably with good reason. Keep everything in the main email body.

So let’s bury the pseudo “press” release once and for all … long live the “news” release!

Make sure that news release is perfectly written:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

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  1. BizSugar.com says:

    The press release is dead: long live the news release…

    Press releases are being misused by businesses hoping to impress customers with “genuine press stories.” Here’s the reality, and how to use them effectively today…

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