Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tips for Getting Your Press Release Published

by Susan

Me, after the paper went to press. Photo by Dan Cepeda
Yeah, that's me in the picture, 20 years ago when I worked as the news editor for The Sheridan Press. I'll confess, the picture might have been a little staged, but the sense of exhaustion was real. In my working life, I've done everything from assembling Thighmasters to throwing 70-pound boxes of meat around in a freezer, and I can tell you that I never worked harder than when I worked in newspapers.

Look at that picture. That's the person you have to get your press release past. There's one simple way to do it.

Make her life easy. 

This is not a post about how to format a press release. There are plenty of resources online for that. We're going to focus on how to write a news release so it's more likely to be used.

All the news that's print to fit


It might help to know a little bit about the way a newspaper works. Although the saying might be, "all the news that's fit to print," in truth it's often "all the news that's print to fit."

Newspapers sell as much advertising as they can, then determine editorial space based on that.  Laying one out is a bit like playing Tetris, dropping text around the ads while the pressure mounts as time ticks away. Woe to the editor who delays the press run.

First priority for space are the stories generated by the newsroom reporters.Then comes everything else, including (you hope) your press release.

There may be many other equally newsworthy press releases floating about the newsroom. So how do you make yours stand out? Make it easy for them. Give them something they'll want to use in a format they can cut and paste with minimal work.

The ideal press release

 A busy reporter or editor appreciates it when a press release:
  • Is newsworthy, which will vary depending on the size of the paper and the size of the news hole. 
  • Sounds like a news story, that is, sounds like what the reporters write.
  • Is a reasonable length, no more than one page, preferably. 
  • Is in electronic format, so they don't have to retype it.
The more they have to massage it into usable shape, the less likely they'll want to use it. Note that in these days, these four principles can work with electronic publication, too. At least they would with me in my day job where I maintain an organizational blog that shares relevant news.

How do I make it sound like a news story?

Go to your paper and read all the bylined stories. You will notice a few things. First, they cut to the chase immediately. The first sentence lets you know immediately why you should read it, and the Five Ws should be knocked out before they go to the second paragraph. 

One of the most common and the weakest beginnings to a press release is "Such-and-such is pleased to announce..." Have you ever seen a front page news story lead that way? You're simply adding fluff they'll have to cut anyway.

Stories are typically written in inverted pyramid structure, with the most important information in the first few paragraphs, then less and less important information as the story progresses, so that the editor doing layout can lop from the bottom as needed to fit. (Remember that game of Tetris?) 

The thing to remember about pyramid structure is that the first paragraphs should be what's most important to the reader, not to the person writing the press release. Avoid the temptation to name all your donors or give the history of your organization right at the beginning. 

Include a quote if you can, but it should sound like it came from a human being. Try not to let people write their own quotes! Most people will get overly stiff and formal on you. Get them talking and write it down, or ask for the gist of what they want and craft something for their approval. A quote should also add flavor and emotion and not be used as an information dump. Here's where all those dialogue writing exercises you've done come in handy. 

Newspapers use Associated Press style, and it's helpful to purchase the AP style guide if you're going to be writing news releases on a regular basis.

But I need it to be longer than one page!

You probably don't. Trust me. If it's important enough to merit more than one page, they'll send a reporter after you. And if a reporter calls, respond immediately. "Deadline" has a whole different meaning to them than it does to a normal human being. Most of us mark our deadlines in days, while they might be marking theirs in minutes. 

How should I sent it to them?

The days of hand-delivering press releases are over. You can check the newspaper website to find out how they want to receive news releases. If in doubt, pasted into the body of an email Send it early enough they can use it, but not so far in advance of an event that it gets set aside and lost.

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Granted, my newspaper days were long ago. If you work for one now and have different thoughts, I would love to hear from you in the comments. Or if you've written a few releases and have additional advice, please share it!




2 comments:

  1. Thank you for giving us the benefit of your experience in newspapers! These are things the average person would never realize. This is really helpful stuff! We occasionally need to do press releases for the non-profit I work with, so I will keep this info handy!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Chere! Glad you will find it useful. As I said, there's a lot of information out there on basically how to format a press release that you can find. Although, when I was researching it for this article, I found a lot of the examples to be, by my standards, not all that good. Think like a reporter, write like a reporter, goes a long way.

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