This Guardian blog posting: How to write an effective press release, discusses one of the foundations of successful media publicity. Writer Janet Murray observes the most important foundation:
Make sure your story is newsworthy
Before you even attempt to write a press release, think about the things you like to read, watch and listen to in the media. Most of us are generally interested in things we haven’t heard before, find surprising or help solve our problems. So before drafting your press release, it’s worth asking yourself these questions:
1. Is there anything “new” in my story?
2. Is there anything unusual or unexpected about it?
3. Would this be of interest to anyone outside my business?
4. Will anyone actually care?
The last one sounds harsh, but is probably the most important: you might be excited about your new marketing director or the launch of your new product, but will anyone else be interested? If the answer is “no”, hold off on that press release until you’ve got a better story.
If you’re not sure whether your story is newsworthy, read, watch or listen to the publications or programmes you’d like coverage in to get a feel for the kind of stories they typically cover.
She has other points, all worthy of consideration.
I’m at the receiving end of many news releases, of course, and most of them are downright irritating. Government news releases often include manufactured “pull quotes” that read in language so artificial that you know no one other than a PR person writing the words (in a manner not to offend his or her boss) would actually use them. Trade associations and private businesses in their news releases combine really bad English writing style with bragging clichés that don’t add any value.
The exceptions stand out like shiny lights. I use them.
Now, however, a question arises: Is it better to send out several bad news releases or do nothing until you really have a great story to share?
I wish I had a clearer answer to that question. The argument for volume over quality has become more debatable in the era of Internet and website pickup — and if a badly written or designed news release contains the basic information and tells something even mildly interesting, on a slow day I may pick it up, edit it, and put it online (and if the timing is right, and I’m sucking for space in our printed publications, in print.)
The best solution, of course is to combine quantity with quality — and add capacities such as feature-story solicitation and writing (for trade and specialized publications, or op-ed pieces in mainstream media, where appropriate). These skills require either in-house or (more likely) contracted external professionals.
The challenge, I fear, is that most AEC businesses/practitioners don’t know the good from the mediocre. However, even if you aren’t an expert, you can evaluate your work (and that of your consultants) against advice you see here. Check the boxes. Does your news release make the grade?