News Releases: Part 1 – What a News Release Is and What It Isn’t

Every business wants publicity, and most people understand press releases can generate free publicity, and everyone likes free. “Advertising is what you pay for. Publicity is what you pray for.”

In this series, I’ll talk about what news releases are, when to send them, how to write them, and how to distribute them.

You may notice that I used the term news release rather than press release. I learned how to write news releases from a TV anchorman-turned-publicity-guru, George McKenzie. Although he’s retired, you can still find George’s articles on free publicity all over the Internet. He wrote a number of e-books on publicity, co-authored the best-seller Mining Online Gold with an Offline Shovel, and created the The Instant Press Release Toolkit.

George told me some people in radio and TV associate the term press release with print media and prefer the term news release. Although I may use the words interchangeably, I haven’t forgotten his philosophy: when in doubt, use a term that everyone will accept.

Several bloggers have written good advice on press releases recently. In fact, I started this series several weeks ago but postponed it to gather the resources that I kept discovering in my blog reading. You will find links to these other excellent resources, but I hope my own experience will add something to the mix as well.

The first thing to understand about a news release is that it has to be newsworthy. You may think the public eagerly awaits your new product or hordes of people want to know about your book. But journalists aren’t interested in giving you publicity; they want to give their audiences, in George’s words, “information they want to know or need to know.” News releases should never sound like advertisements. The media isn’t in the business of giving publicity; it is in the business of informing and entertaining its readers, listeners, and viewers.

George often said that there are no boring stories, just boring storytellers. If you’re not sure your news is newsworthy, look for a hook that will make it more interesting.

  • Tie it to something that is already newsworthy: current events, holidays, or popular culture. Tie your book on child-rearing to advice on how parents can avoid raising the next ____ (fill in the blank with the latest Hollywood-star-gone-bad). Relate the launch of your interior landscape business to the benefits of indoor plants for improving air quality. My client David Bowles, tied the release of his book to the 225th Observance of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse since the battle is an important part of his story.
  • Find an angle that will capture the attention of readers (both journalists and the public). Come up with a new approach to the subject – something that will stand out from all the other news releases coming in at the same time as yours. When Grace Anne Schaefer launched her first book, the news release focused not on a new book being published but on how donations from the sale of the book would benefit the descendants of the people in her story: People of the Frozen Earth Help Their Descendants Twenty Centuries Later When Author Makes Donations from Book Sales to Benefit Lakota Sioux.
  • Provide useful information or expert advice. Position you or your company as an expert and give people the information they want to know or need to know. Another news release from David Bowles offered 23 tips he wishes he had known when he started researching and writing his family history. Note that the news release lists nine tips and links to his blog for the remainder of the 23 tips. This news release was picked up and published in full on a number of genealogy and writing Web sites, generating some nice traffic to his blog.

News releases can either be time-sensitive or evergreen, meaning they can be used anytime. David’s release on the launch of his book during the observance of the battle was time-sensitive. However, his news release on tips for writing a family history is timeless. Evergreen articles can be used whenever a newspaper, Web site, or other media needs to fill space, even weeks or months from when you submit it.

In her Publicity Hound’s Tip of the Week for September 4, 2007, Joan Stewart said, “Don’t announce an announcement.” A news release should contain news, not an announcement that you are going to announce news. You have only a few seconds to capture the journalist’s attention in the headline and first paragraph; otherwise your release will be tossed in the trash with the other boring releases.

For other views on what press releases are and aren’t, read the following articles:
Free Press Release Writing Guide by Jennifer Mattern
Free Publicity Articles (including press releases and more) from Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound
How to Write a Press Release for Your Services by Shaun Crowley at Freelance Switch
Press Releases by Helen Ginger at Straight from Hel
What is a Press Release? Journalism 101 by Lisa Vella at Getting It Write for You
What Press Releases Aren’t by Jennifer Mattern at Naked PR
Writers’ Resources: Press Release Writing by Jennifer Mattern at All Freelance Writing
Writing Press Releases for Home Business Promotion by Mary Emma at Home Biz Notes
Writing Press Releases Part 4: Why Use Press Releases? by Angela at Pearl Writing Services

Now that you know what a news release is and what it isn’t, in the next installment we’ll talk about when to send a news release.

[tags]press release, news release[/tags]

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