5.1. Writing News Releases

Who, what, where, when, why, and how—these are the six critical ingredients of all news releases. But don't forget, a little spice can make your news release stand out from the crowd. In this part, you will learn how to write a professional-looking news release, the most important tool in any public relations program.

5.1.1. The Headline

The headline is the first thing—and sometimes the only thing—an editor will read. Releases are often rejected as a result of a weak headline.

Create headlines with impact. The most effective words in a news release headline are eye-catching words like "announces" and "new." Comparative words like "better" or "more" can also draw attention to your article. The headline is the "hook" that lures editors and reporters into reading more. Headlines must be compelling.

Many public relations novices make the mistake of embellishing their headlines. Your organization has to earn the respect of editors. Nobody owes you a reading. Too much information, or confusing information, is a turnoff. Most importantly, you should never sacrifice accuracy for the sake of a flashy headline.

Here are some guidelines for writing headlines:

When actually writing the headline, try to achieve the greatest impact using the fewest words. Your headline doesn't need to be quite as dramatic as a newspaper headline. Editors are looking for information in the headline, so try to at least include who, what, and why. Whatever the headline, you must accurately reflect the content that follows.

5.1.2. The First Paragraph

Many news releases are accepted or rejected on the basis of the headline and first paragraph or two. These introductory paragraphs are often all an editor will have time to read. Many releases are rejected due a simple downfall: failure to include any news in the first paragraph.

An important news-writing concept is collapsible copy. Collapsible copy reads well from the beginning to the end of any given paragraph. The information is "chunked" to stand on its own, if need be. Each sentence could be pulled from the news release and used as a quotation. This type of copy should be used as extensively as possible in all paragraphs.

Editors expect to see the five Ws covered in the first few sentences. Here's an example:

NEW YORK — January 22, 2003 —The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) (www.lpi.org), the premier professional certification program for the Linux community, and UnitedLinux LLC (www.unitedlinux.com ), an industry initiative to streamline Linux development and certification around a global, uniform distribution, have signed a cooperative agreement to market a UnitedLinux professional certification program.

Under the memorandum of understanding, LPI and UnitedLinux will work jointly to create new UnitedLinux specific exams which, when passed together with the current LPI Levels 1 and 2 exams, will lead to two new UnitedLinux certifications. The new exams are expected to be available during the first quarter of 2003.

Let's look more closely at this example. The where and when of this and most releases are specified in the slug ("New York — January 22, 2003"). The who is LPI and UnitedLinux. The what is signing a cooperative agreement. The why is marketing a UnitedLinux professional certification program. And the how is LPI and UnitedLinux working jointly to create new UnitedLinux-specific exams.

These two paragraphs alone communicate the essential points of this announcement,. In print, there may not be enough space for more than this. Some special-interest journals devote a column or a page to announcements, which are printed verbatim from the news release. Unless the announcement is deemed more newsworthy, this may be all the coverage you get.

5.1.3. The Middle Paragraphs

Limited space in publications and time in broadcasting means the first paragraph may get covered. Paragraphs should always be ordered by importance for two important reasons.

First, editors read through releases quickly and often will not finish entire releases. You must consider what things are most important, and place them next in the release. Often, a statement from your spokesperson explaining the expected impacts on the marketplace or something related can be catchy enough to be quoted. Follow this with the next most important thing, and so on to the end of the release.

Second, sequence frequently indicates importance (unless the story is an in-depth feature that can establish pacing and shape). Stacking your news, in what some editors call the "inverted pyramid," can show editors the relative importance of your details. By following the inverted pyramid, you will make the editor's job easier and also accomplish your goal of getting the most critical information covered.

5.1.4. Final Details

You need to mark the end of your news release, so that editors know there is no further news. In journalism, this is traditionally done by putting "-30-" or "-end-" on a new, centered line, after the last line of copy, as follows:


After ending the release, it is important to include the boilerplate— standard, reusable background information about the organization issuing the news and contact information for editorial follow-up. The boilerplate includes the organization's web address where the editor can go for further details. Boilerplates can be reviewed and revised periodically, but they should maintain consistency. Wildly different boilerplates are unprofessional from one release to the next.

Below is an example of boilerplate and contact information.

About Linux Professional Institute

The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) develops professional certification for the Linux operating system independent of software vendors or training providers. Established as an international non-profit organization in 1999 by the Linux community, LPI develops accessible, internationally-recognized certification programs which have earned the respect of vendors, employers and administrators. LPI's activities involve hundreds of volunteers and professionals throughout the world in many different capacities, and the group encourages active public involvement through mailing lists and its website at www.lpi.org. LPI's multi-level program of exams is administered globally through Virtual University Enterprises (VUE) and Prometric testing centers. LPI's major financial sponsors are Platinum Sponsors Caldera International (NASDAQ:CALD), IBM (NYSE:IBM), Linuxcare, Maxspeed, SGI (NYSE:SGI), SuSE Linux AG and TurboLinux as well as Gold Sponsors Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HWP) and Wave Technologies.


Sheldon Rose

Sacke & Associates Inc.

416-218-1102, ext 2191