The art of the effective news release (and some suggestions about how to earn positive publicity)

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spike news release
Dozens of news releases fill my email box each week. Most of them are "spiked". How can you avoid that fate with your own announcements?

We receive dozens of news releases by email each week. This isn’t surprising, with our network of regional and national construction publications and websites in Canada and the US. The challenge: Weighing which news releases to consider for publication and then editing and publishing the ones that pass the screen.

The “go/no go” use decision is almost instantaneous. I quickly scan the announcement for relevance and suitability. Most (I’d say 75 to 85 per cent of them) quickly end up in the “delete” bucket. The bulk of the remainder, after a quick review, are forwarded to either the advertising sales department or our contract writer to be converted into a news brief. Only a tiny percentage receive the full attention treatment: That is, a follow-up call, leading to a detailed and comprehensive story.

(The news release publicists might consider the referral to the advertising department as a ‘fail’ — but it really provides a second chance for self-serving commercial publicity when the story is truly important to the business seeking the attention.)

Obviously, in any review process, I need to make some decisions based on a variety of criteria. So I’ll summarize some of the criteria which cause some news releases to be used, and others to be spiked. (That is an old journalistic term for a metal spike where we would stick paper stories/articles that we don’t intend to publish.)

Here is the first and most important test.

Is the announcement of greater value to the readers at large than to the publicist seeking the news?  

As an example, as a construction publisher, we are much more interested in planned rather than completed projects. Work ahead means opportunities for subtrades and suppliers, and that is newsworthy. If the job is completed, then what does it matter to our other readers?

Similarly, job appointment announcements may have some relevance if they are extremely important, but the hiring of a new engineer or project manager is one big yawn to us.

(Note we publish these announcements if they are provided by our advertisers — and in fact, with limited rewriting, we’ll publish virtually every news release from our clients. This isn’t selling out journalistic integrity; it is staying in business. And after all, if someone sending us an announcement is doing it for their own good, why shouldn’t we take into consideration our needs as well. That is why I refer many news releases to the advertising department.)

With this screen passed, there are other elements that go into a successful news release. I’ll share some additional observations in the next post.

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