In my nearly 10 years at Institutional Investor, we were on the receiving end of literally thousands of news releases, so I like to think I have a pretty good idea what catches editors’ eyes when sorting through their inbox. Following are a few takeaways from my days as an ink-stained wretch that I try and keep in mind when helping our clients craft news announcements.
- Find an “angle.” Something might be big news for your organization—you landed a new head of European sales or rolled out a software product after 18 months of hard work—but your release needs to prove why it’s newsworthy. Editors are more interested in reporting that you are moving into the European market for the first time than that you hired somebody to do it or that your software is, say, the first cloud-based version rather than the fact that you simply launched another product.
- Lose the sales pitch. News releases are absolutely a terrific way to get your marketing message out, but only if they get picked up (i.e. used), and nothing will cause a persnickety editor to bin them quicker than a headline or copy that reads more like an announcement for a Memorial Day sale at the Ford dealership than a news story. Everyone knows press releases aren’t objective, but they won’t be taken seriously if they don’t at least present a veneer of objectivity.
- Earn style points with editors. Another element of making your release read like a news story is employing the style convention used by the overwhelming majority of media organizations, AP style. You may bristle at making “managing director” lowercase (especially when it comes after your boss’s name!). Your general counsel may want you to insert a “TM” each and every time your product name is mentioned. You may think your headline just looks nicer in title case. But from an editor’s standpoint, every deviation from AP style is either something they will have to fix before they can use your story (AKA “work”) or, alternatively, another reason to hit “delete.”
- Punch up the quote. The one place where you are allowed to throw reporterly objectivity to the wind and put your sales hat back on is the quote, so make it count! A snappy quote from a senior executive is your opportunity to hammer home to the recipients of your release why this is newsworthy and establish your preferred spin. That said, sometimes clients intuit that this is their big chance and try to pack too much info into the quote or lard it with corporate-speak. No editor worth their salt is going to run a quote that purports to be a real human being talking but uses words like “synergies,” “best-in-breed,” or “augmented value proposition.” Make it provocative, pithy and conversational.
- Be available. Arguably the highest outcome for a news release is when it serves as the basis for a proper interview(s) and extensive coverage of your announcement. But that means you need to be ready to participate. Nothing is more awkward than sending out a press release—“Important breaking news!!!”—only to get a call from a reporter eager to write about it and having to tell them the one exec who can comment just embarked on a three-week sailing vacation to Greece.
With the advent of the internet, the volume of news releases editors see every day has exploded. That makes it harder to get noticed. On the other hand, newsrooms are more short-staffed than ever, so demand for ready-made content is greater than ever before.
Send out something that is newsworthy and craft it to look and read like a news story and you just might get picked up.
* Many PR pros now prefer the term “news release” or “media release” to reflect the multichannel distribution of announcements in today’s communication landscape. But the terms are used interchangeably and for SEO, “press release” still gets searched the most (thus, it’s in our headline!).