California Bowling Writers

November 19, 2006

The Basic News Release -- A La Carte
By Joan Romeo

Whether writing for online or offline editors, consider some of these basic guidelines before whipping up your news release:

  • Both types of releases require good grammar, proper punctuation, and correct spelling. It's a major turnoff for any editor to see a sloppy, hard-to-read piece of writing. And chances are, the release (and future article) will get tossed. So proofread, proofread, proofread!
  • Give your release a headline that sums up the release's content.
  • Stick with journalistic basics and include the 5 W's --who, what, where, when and why--in the lead paragraph of a release. Then expand on each in subsequent paragraphs.
  • Use clear language and brief text. Stay away from slang, jargon, and buzzwords. (Another turnoff for editors.)
  • Use quotes to enhance the article or to share the opinions of experts. Quote clients or yourself if necessary, as long as it's worthwhile and expands on a topic or expresses an opinion.
  • At the end of every release, include a short paragraph on your organization (boiler plate) and all the details on how to contact you via snail mail, e-mail, URL, phone, or fax.

Whichever audience you're writing for, the basics of good writing and news release etiquette always apply. Write concisely, write well, and write only what they need to know. If editors want more detail or further information, they'll get it from you.

A snail mail news release gives you flexibility to include graphics, photos, charts, fact sheets and other details that make up a press kit. However, an online release is another story, since brevity is appreciated. Keep your e-mail news release as brief and to-the-point as possible. A good rule of thumb is approximately 5 to 6 short paragraphs. If you have more info (or graphics) to include, point editors to your web site. Also include information on how to get a release copy by snail mail.

If you're wanting to venture online, here are some other common sense and courtesy tidbits. I recommend following them since online editors, who see hundreds of news releases a week, can be very picky and sometimes short on patience.

  • Never send a press release as an attachment. Always put the information in the body of the e-mail. This makes it easy for the editor to open and read.
  • Do not use html tags, color, or anything else that may not transmit.
  • Never include a graphics file as an attachment. Chances are they won't wait around for the download.
  • Use a hard return after each paragraph, but not after each line. If you do this, it may cause the text not to wrap properly on some systems, and will result in an odd text format.
  • On the first line of your e-mail release, type FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, insert a line space, then type the headline. Next, insert another line space, then start the text with the city/state and date in the first line.
  • The old adage, "Don't call us; we'll call you" applies here. Don't follow up your release with a phone call. Nothing annoys an editor more. If you really feel you need to get in touch, send a follow-up e-mail. But do this sparingly as it also can appear bothersome.

The good news is if you don't feel up to this adventure on your own, you have some options. Several companies on the web act as service bureaus and can send out your news release online for you (for a fee, of course). They also have great information and samples of some online releases. Check out these sites if you're interested:

Create a Unique Treat

Remember, online and offline editors are inundated with news releases and solicitations. So when writing your release, strive for a unique angle that will make you stand out above the rest. Grab their attention. Ask yourself if the story is newsworthy, and if it's not, then don't send it. Time is a precious commodity to these people. Keep to the point. And they appreciate good writing, so hone your skills.