when words count

"Impact PR’s work in crafting the content for our web site paid for itself almost immediately." Rob Fields, MD Fields Tiling Sept 07

PR tips and tricks

The top ten secrets to writing an effective media release...(released progressively)

1. Planning is the key to writing and releasing your media release just in time so that it can be used by the media and fits with their deadlines. In most cases, you should plan to prepare and release a media release many weeks ahead to compete with many other equally worthy stories or breaking news.

2. Study and get comfortable with the style used by the publications you want to target because that's how they want to receive information from you. That may include using a similar tone to them that could be conversational, formal or somewhere in between. Read between the lines and get a feel for who their audience is and the types of issues and aspects of life that are important to them. The other thing you may need to use is a special journalistic style of writing you'll see in news stories a lot.  It's called the inverted pyramid style. Remember, space and time are at a premium as the media is in the business of selling advertising. They report news in the space subsidised by advertising. This means you have to capture your information effectively in the first few paragraphs (think 3 to 4). And you need to cover: Who, What, When, Where and Why. That's the minimum you need to give. If How is important, throw that in too.

3. Research the answers to Who, What, When, Where, Why and How and make sure they're short and clear. Communicate the answers to the 5 Ws and H within the first five or fewer paragraphs.

4. Create an interesting first sentence. The first sentence is usually known as the lead. This is the one thing journos and editors look at to determine if they will read further. It's best to state something newsworthy such as a first, only or explain the significance of what you're announcing that will mean something to the audience of that particular media outlet. If it's radio, paint pictures with words.
e.g. Two Brisbane schoolgirls are among five high school students nationwide who have been selected to speak on the effects of climate change on their futures at the upcoming world summit on Generation Z- the next generation.

A mine worker from a Central Queensland mining company hit pay dirt today when he unwittingly dug up the skeleton of an extremely rare species of dinosaur.

5. One of the most common mistakes business owners make when drafting their own release is concentrating more on selling and mentioning their services and company name and focussing less on the actual news they have to report. This is a fatal mistake and if the PR consultant or copywriting professional you're paying lets you get away with that, they are wasting your money because the story will be assigned to the trash bin as soon as it's read by the reporter. A media release is not an ad so don't try to mention your business name unnecessarily or upsell it or services throughout your release. That's just not news. If you need to promote your business and there's no news value, invest in advertising instead.

6. Top and tail your release so that the journalist knows how old it is, when they can use it and which information is not on the public record. e.g. At the top of the release write "For immediate release" and today's date like "24 June 2009" or if you want to write the release and send it in advance but not have it publicly released before a set time and date to coincide with a particular event or purpose, write "Embargoed to 10pm 24 June 2009". The use of this convention tells the journalist that they are obligated not to publicly release the information in your release until that time or later. To complete your release, you could use conventions like "###-ends". Putting the word "ends" at the very end of the release tells a journalist that any information such as the contact for the release or the spokesperson's details for interviews or photo opportunities and locations are not for publication. You should always put a contact telephone number and name after the "###-ends" and respond to any media enquiries for information quickly and promptly and that includes getting back to the journalist within hours or less. If they don't have the extra comment or information they need by deadline, they will kill your story and you lose a valuable opportunity that you have worked hard to get.

7. Don't 'shop' the same release all around town unless it has extremely high general news value to the general populace. Journalists hate businesses and PR consultants who don't take the time these days to analyse the needs of their specific audiences, their style, language and to understand whether that news or subject is relevant to them. 'Blanket' distribution of low-value or very specfic-target audience news releases results in wasted money for you and makes it harder for your next bit of news to be taken seriously the next time around.