Monday, March 16, 2009

What is a News Release, Anyway?

I am frequently asked a rather fundamental question by clients or prospective clients: “What the HELL is a News Release, anyway?” It’s a great question! (and forgive the expletive. It's sometimes there, sometimes not.)

Like the canvas for an artist, or the meal for a chef, the news release represents the writing and persuasion skills of a public relations consultant, as they appear in print.

A news release (also known as a press release, media release, or press statement) is a professionally written document directed at members of the news media - or some other person or group - for the purpose of announcing something important that has news value. Public relations consultants use them frequently in their quest to gain exposure for their clients and craft public opinion to favor those clients.

Sometimes they are sent to announce news conferences or other public events, at which other communications tools are used to reinforce a central theme or message. They are included in a media kit.

Public relations consultants create news releases for their clients after learning all that’s possible about the subject of the release and all the pertinent data that will be needed to construct it. After a release is crafted - usually within two days or less, it is submitted for a final review to the client, who reviews the release for accuracy before it’s sent to the media or to relevant audiences.

Typically, releases are mailed, e-mailed or hand delivered to assignment editors at newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television stations, as well as to relevant bloggers and online news sources. Reporters are called to ensure they have received a release and understand its contents, or if they have further questions about its subject.

The news release is usually only one or two pages in length, is double-spaced, and is written in a news style that could lead to being placed in newspapers with little or no further editing - a very good result.

News releases must be timely, newsworthy, address only one issue, follow news guidelines for writing, i.e. the Five “W’s” (who, what, where, when and why) and include a “lead” that is powerful and states the subject of the release clearly and briefly. Contact information is provided (name, title, phone and email) so that a reporter can follow up with more questions if they need clarification, or if they wish to expand the release into a story - that is also a good result for a news release.

Other than for typos or factual errors, clients should avoid the temptation to further “tweak” a completed release when they are given a final draft- usually (in my experience) by adding vast reams of text they think would “improve” a release. This is never a good idea. A release can easily become too wordy and lose the all-important news format, and editors have just a few seconds to determine if the release is newsworthy and if it’s professionally written.

But a four-page release buried under the entire history of a company or a self-serving biography of a CEO doesn’t qualify as either newsworthy or professional. The news release must be a carefully crafted piece of technical writing, and it can be ruined completely by well-meaning edits.

Which means paying a public relations professional to craft these and other written documents - and trusting them to get it right - makes a great deal of sense.

Even more so when you learn that news releases are often more cost-effective than advertising, because they “earn” media coverage, which can be seen as more credible than thousands of dollars in advertising.

If you have further questions about news releases, please contact Abbott Public Relations at 603-785-7796.


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