News is about people, uniqueness, new, success, failure, things people would be interested in hearing about.
So, the first thing to do is to be on the lookout for news. Can you spot a story? Not everything needs to be quirky or new – just ‘fresh’ – not old news and of interest to readers, listeners or people watching.
The types of things which make good news for the media:
- What are you doing which is new – introducing new changes, new policies, new initiatives
- You can have an opinion about absolutely anything rural at all – it’s in your name – so you already have credibility – best if Notts is affected though in some way.
- Are you best at something?
- Are you worst at something?
- Are you doing something controversial?
- What are you doing with your partners?
- News from professional institutes – have you got an angle?
- Is it a crisis/potential crisis?
- Successes of staff – eg national champions, been on a TV programme, unusual hobbies
- Stories with a human angle – people praising you or supporting your views, case studies of people who have triumphed over adversity etc
- Events – things to go and see
- Do you have an opinion on something national – which is a bit different
- Large rises in statistics
- Softer stories – which are ‘good for the community’
A news release may promote something positive, it may defend something controversial, it may provide information, it may explain a complex issue or it may notify the media of an event you want to publicise. It is both proactive – where you issue the information – or reactive where you respond to media enquiries.
A good picture story can have more impact than columns of prose. Think visual. What photo opportunities could your news release offer? Pictures of people in suits in offices do not generally represent very attractive photo opportunities. Local newspapers and television like pictures that involve children/animals/scenic shots/activity. It does not need to be a major story. Local television, in particular, is always on the look out for softer stories.
What I want you to do is to be more aware of what may make a good news story. Look at things which land on your desk or come via email and think – could this be news? – good or bad – you need to prepare for both. If it’s bad news, you want to be prepared and protect RCAN’s reputation. You may want to be proactive and control the story.
Also just as importantly you need news for other key stakeholders eg staff who are your advocates and partners who may need to know, or who could also carry your news in their publications.
How to write a news release
Before you write the release:
Is your press release really necessary? Is it really news?
If you were running a story based on this release, what would be the headline be?
Does the first sentence fit into less than 15 words? If no, or the first sentence is ‘Rushcliffe Community Action Nottinghamshire announces…’, go back and rewrite
Don’t send the release as attachment only. A release under the phrase ‘Press release, see attached’ and no other details is likely to be deleted and the company added to a spam list
Send copy to journalists as plain text. PDFs and other formats often add weird character breaks and slow down the editing process.
Headlines should be as short and interesting as possible. A headline should be short enough for a Twitter update including a link.
Headline – dog bites man – so what? Man bites dog – I’m hooked
If you’re emailing the press release, you’ve only got a handful of words in the subject line to grab journalists’ attention and if the first are ‘Press release: Rushcliffe Community Action Nottinghamshire …’ chances are you’re not going to get many journalists to actually read the rest of the subject line, let alone open the email/release itself.
The headline should clearly contain the value of the press release to the reader. It should not contain the name of the issuing organisation – for example: ‘RCAN announces new special initiative’ – obviously it’s RCAN as you are sending the press release.
Subject matter and language
Journalists get loads of press releases that are boring and paragraphs or even sentences containing lots of technical terms which make people want to delete them. Reporters get told to constantly ask the question when thinking of stories, ‘why would people care about this?’. I think people should ask themselves that question when writing releases.
Press release writers should make it clear why the readers need to know about their product/event/news/initiative. That is, provide a news angle to their releases.
The biggest bugbear with press releases is the vague, nonsensical terms – leading, highly scaleable, holistic, end-to-end solution, partnership delivery etc. Talk in in as plain a language as you can.
Purge superlatives. ‘Very’, ‘new’, ‘highly exciting’ etc – they don’t care and it will be edited.
Summarise what you are ‘selling’ early on in the release, preferably using the standard journalism 25 words of ‘who, what, where, when, why’. Releases often lack the time and place of an event, which can make all the difference.
Never, ever, write more than two pages – preferably one. Two-hundred-and-fifty words is enough to say everything. Add a link to a longer post if there are specific details that need to be added.
Only include a quote that someone might actually have said. No ‘strategic partnership solutions’ language (anywhere, but particularly not in the quote). Please don’t quote people who aren’t available for interview – there’s nothing more annoying than getting a release and then finding the subject isn’t available to talk.
Fancy graphics or big pictures just fill up inboxes which may mean having to delete the release without really reading it. If images are available, then say so and where to get them from or attach them to a suitable size. Supply clear, usable photographs.
Don’t send out a release and then go on holiday for two weeks the next day. Always put a phone number somewhere and an email address.
Keep it as short as possible and as helpful as possible.