15 Tips for Writing News Releases

Don’t let ill-conceived or poorly prepared news releases undermine your efforts to deliver your message to the public. An editor who has to wade through a mass of boilerplate before getting to the newsworthy bits might stop reading after the first paragraph—or the first sentence. Following are 15 tips for preparing effective news releases.

  • Use the “inverted pyramid” style. You’re not writing a mystery novel, so stifle your flair for suspense. Put the most important information in the first paragraph. That’s what reporters for daily newspapers do, and that should be your model for writing news releases. Remember, editors who are short on space—i.e., all of them—will cut stories, and they like to cut from the bottom up.

  • Dispense with the “clever” lead you thought would grab the reader’s attention. The editor will cut it, so the reader won’t see it anyway.

  • Remember the “five Ws.” Answer the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Answer them in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence. Provide details in succeeding paragraphs.

  • Keep it simple. Use mostly short sentences and short paragraphs and stick to common words. Don’t embellish, and don’t write five paragraphs if you have two paragraphs of news. Don’t use too many adjectives and adverbs. Avoid superlatives. Make your writing clean, clear, and unambiguous.

  • Use a conversational style. Read your news release out loud or have someone read it to you. If it sounds like Tom Brokaw reading a news story, it’s probably good to go. If it sounds like an essay, a sermon, a speech, or the musings of a New Age philosopher, throw it away and start over.

  • Don’t send an ad disguised as a news release. Editors hate that. If you don’t have news, don’t send a news release.

  • Don’t tell an editor that you advertise with his or her publication. Editors really hate that.

  • Use the proper format. Use letterhead, white paper only, and double-space your copy; write a suggested title; include the name, phone number, and e-mail address of a contact person; include the date the release is sent and the earliest date it may be used. If it can be used anytime, write “For immediate release.” If it’s two pages, write “(more)” at the bottom of page one. At the end of the release, type “30” or “# # #.”

  • Be accurate. If an editor prints your mistake and it comes back to haunt him, he’ll think twice before running your next release.

  • Attend to grammar and punctuation. If an editor can’t trust your spelling, she might not trust your facts, either.

  • Identify photos. For head shots, write the name of the subject on the back. For other photos, write a brief caption on the back, or number the photos and include captions with corresponding numbers in the release. If you want photos returned, say so and write your address on the back. If you provide digital art, write captions on the release, and identify the images they go with.

  • For newspapers, address most releases to “City Editor.” But staff promotions, management hires, and award announcements go to the business editor. Releases sent to TV and radio stations go to the news editor. Releases for JCK go to the managing editor.

  • Learn an editor’s preferences. Does he or she prefer to receive press releases via e-mail or regular mail? If e-mail is preferred, avoid nonstandard type treatments such as all-uppercase, underscoring, bold, italic, centering, tabs, color, etc.

  • Strive for consistency. Get a copy of The Associated Press Stylebook and follow its guidelines. If your local newspaper has its own style guidelines, ask for a copy.

  • Never use exclamation points. If you feel the urge to use one, resist it, throw the release away, review these tips, and begin again.

Final word. Let’s say your store, XYZ Jewelers, is sponsoring a benefit auction for the local Help the Children charity on Saturday, July 16, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The event will take place at the store, which is on the corner of Main and Walnut streets. Local news anchor Chad Blowdry will serve as guest auctioneer. You’re donating a pair of diamond stud earrings (0.50 cts. t.w.) and a 14k butterfly brooch, and other retailers also are donating items, including a latte maker, a TiVo, and an iPod. Anyone interested in donating additional merchandise or attending the auction can call you at the store for more information. You’re aiming to raise at least $10,000, which would top last year’s proceeds of $9,500.

So, how do you prepare a proper news release about the event that an editor might use? Actually, you just did. Keep up the good work.