If you shuffle through 100 news releases, the probability is that they will each have an essential similarity. This likeness stems from the idea that with news releases, as with good architecture, form must follow function.
The purpose of a news release is to quickly convey information in a competitive environment. Although it’s placement, positioning and utility that “sell” the release, a release will be incomplete, if not useless, without certain “resource” information.
What is resource information and why do you need it?
Go back to the idea of a “successful” release. A winning release is not merely a handout used verbatim by the media, rather; it’s a device designed to stimulate editorial coverage. If a release is complete, if it contains all the quotes, concepts and ideas anyone, anywhere, will ever want, a journalist has little incentive to look further or to ask questions.
A release that’s more than a basic announcement (“Fred Wilson named Manager”) should entice reporters. One sure way to encourage inquiries is to produce a delicately-balanced release, one that tells enough of a story to generate interest, but not as much as a journalist might want to know.
Since a good release is incomplete, it must say where reporters can find more information. It’s these details that comprise the “resource” material found in every good release.
Resource information may seem dull, uninspired, and uninspiring but like a good timetable it has its uses. Here’s what you need:
Who sent the release? The organization’s name plus an address should be shown, usually with a logo or single-spaced block in the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Is there a contact? A name and phone number should be at the page top, usually in the upper right-hand corner. Some media relations firms favor naming both the client and the promoter while others list only the client but use the promoter’s name. Either approach is acceptable.
Is there an embargo date? Sometimes news is “embargoed,” an expression which says a release time has been established and broadcast or publication is prohibited prior to that time.
Embargoes may be established with a capitalized banner above the body of the release saying: “NOT FOR RELEASE PRIOR TO APRIL 30TH AT 10 AM EST.”
Embargoes make sense in only the most limited situations. For instance, a magazine may send out a release about a hot new story a week before the latest issue hits the stand. Early distribution may be required to reach media nationwide but advance publication would hurt sales; therefore the publisher establishes a release date and time.
But embargoes should be avoided for several reasons: They may be ignored, they’re a barrier to coverage (there’s enough news available without waiting for someone’s carefully-timed release) and a specific release time may hurt some outlets and favor others (morning versus afternoon papers, for example.)
A suggestion: Skip fancy embargoes. Just write “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” and everyone will be happy.
Do you need a headline? Sure. News releases often contain a brief headline to identify the promotion’s subject and angle.
Is it a novel or a blurb? A release should be short; one page is best. If the release must be two pages, use two separate sheets of paper. That way if the material is cut apart by reporters who want to use certain paragraphs, material on the back of the page won’t be lost.
It’s a journalistic tradition to put “30” at the bottom of news releases and news copy because, so the story goes, the first telegraph message was thirty words long. To end the transmission, the telegrapher wrote “30” so the receiver would know how many words were in the message. It’s quaint, but it work