MONITORING MEDIA COVERAGE

It is essential to keep abreast of the news being printed or broadcast about your organization, your competition, and the industry as a whole. A comprehensive public and media relations program must track public perception of event, stay informed of industry trends, and understand the impact of evolving legislation on your community.

If you have time to spare, you can monitor news coverage yourself by typing key words (such as the name of your organization) into popular web search engines such as Google and AltaVista. However, this will track only online citations. A more reliable tracking method is to use a media monitor service or a clipping service.

News Releases—the Major Communications Tool

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.

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:
  • Determine the most significant benefit your most important reader will derive from the news.
  • Try and state those benefits in seven words or less.
  • Ask yourself if your statement is meaningful to someone not closely involved with your business.

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.

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:

KARACHI — January 22, 2015 —The PAKE PVT LIMITED (PAKE) (www.pake.pk), the premier professional event management program for the exhibitions and events, and United Group LLC (www.unitedgroup.com ), an industry initiative to streamline event development and certification around a global, uniform distribution, have signed a cooperative agreement to market a UnitedPake professional certification program.

Under the memorandum of understanding, PAKE and UnitedGroup will work jointly to create new UnitedPake specific exams which, when passed together with the current Levels 1 and 2 exams, will lead to two new UnitedPake certifications. The new exams are expected to be available during the first quarter of 2015.

Let's look more closely at this example. The where and when of this and most releases are specified in the slug ("KARCHI — January 22, 2015"). The who is PAKE and UnitedGroup. The what is signing a cooperative agreement. The why is marketing a UnitedPake professional certification program. And the how is PAKE and UnitedGroup working jointly to create new UnitedPake-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.

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.

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.

Final Details

Print editors and journalists are notoriously overworked and underpaid. A well-written news release will often be used word for word, with maybe a few changes for "objectivity" or to accommodate the publication's format.

The editorial staff at the Los Angeles Times says this about news releases:

A good news release is a concise, complete description of an upcoming event; a timely report of an event has just occurred; notification of important personnel or procedural changes in an organization; or other news or feature tips.

Bad releases—the ones that don't get used— often have these common mistakes:
  • Lack of a local angle.
  • Insufficient or inaccurate information (who, what, when, where, why, how).
  • Failure to include contact information for the organization.
  • Verbosity. (Try to keep the release to one or two pages, but balance brevity against failure to include necessary information.)
  • Lack of timeliness—the editor's deadline has passed or the news is released too long after the event.

Writing a news release does not have to be painful. What you need is a little time to gather all the facts: the who, what, when, where, why and how (and any additional information necessary to support).

Sometimes your news won't be used right away or in the form you provided. A writer may need time to rewrite your outline into a news story. Or, if a feature is being developed on event, the writer may use many sources for depth and objectivity. They may use quotable quotes, first-person anecdotes, statistics, and causes and effects from your releases as well as those of your competitors.

Deadlines are hugely important because the news media cannot delay publication or broadcasting. Don't bother editors with untimely information. If you can't pitch your story in time, wait for another opportune moment to come around.

Top Ten Tips for Writing Releases

To summarize what we have said so far, here are ten tips for writing an excellent news release.

1. Use an active headline to grab the editor's attention. The headline makes your release stand out. Keep the headline short, active, and descriptive, with the most positive spin. Write "Jane Doe Named Person of the Year" instead of "Jane Doe Gets Award."

2. Put the most important information at the beginning. This is a tried and true rule of journalism. Remember that the first two paragraphs should contain the salient facts of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Don't bury good information at the end.

3. Avoid exaggeration and unsubstantiated claims. A news editor can smell a sales pitch a mile away. Instead of making over-inflated statements, provide real, usable information. Find legitimate ways to set your organization apart, and stress those points.

4. Write in an active, engaging, and concise style. Use language that conveys your excitement about the news. If your release is boring or passively written, the editor may conclude the news itself is not very meaningful or you are not a good candidate for an interview. Interesting equals newsworthy.

5. Keep your release to two pages or less. Generally, if you can't state your message in two pages, you are not getting to the point fast enough. Editors are always looking for concise, easy-to-read releases that can be thrown onto a website or squeezed into a leftover space in a page layout. For highly important news with many details, you can include a third page, but this should be done sparingly.

6. Include a contact. Every news release should include a contact person who the media can reach for more information. This contact is your spokesperson and must be familiar with all the news in the release. They should be prepared to answer questions.

7. Keep jargon to the minimum. Avoid using highly technical terms and buzzwords familiar only to event insiders. Jargon can date quickly, and complicated language irritates people who don't know what you mean. Your goal is to tell your story to as wide an audience as possible, not to unduly limit the audience. Even special-interest publications mostly write in plain language and only use jargon and acronyms generally familiar to their readers.

8. Stress "benefits, benefits, benefits." This falls under the category of "show, don't tell." Avoid claiming something is "unique" or "the best" when you can't substantiate this. Instead, provide specific examples of benefits, supported by evidence and anecdotes.

9. Be specific and detailed. Marcia Yudkin, author of Six Steps to Free Publicity, talks about the "Yes, but what is it?" syndrome. Nothing is more irritating than seeing constant references to a product name or service name, but no information on what that product or service is. The reader needs to be able to visualize a new product or understand what a service offers. This is particularly critical for launches (announcements of new offerings). You should ask someone unfamiliar with your product or service to read your release and then describe the product or service in their own words.

10. Proofread! This is easily forgotten, but extremely important. Always proofread your work before issuing the final release. Better yet, give the document to someone else (perhaps a copy editor) who can readily spot spelling and grammatical errors. Nothing signals unprofessionalism more than a typo-filled communication.


Distributing the News Release

Your media contact database is your best source for editors, journalists, and freelancers who should receive your news, but if you want to include a broader range of news media targets, you may consider using one of the many news release distribution services available. Asking one or two of your news media contacts will likely reveal a creditable service. These services can be expensive, so base your decision on how broad an appeal your news has.

These firms will customize your distribution based on the subject matter, and can target specific media such as technology editors, medical editors, daily news editors, and so on. A customer service representative will explain your options and the cost involved.

News releases are very important in a public relations campaign. News releases give editors and the public a glimpse into your company. When these documents are done professionally, your organization will receive the recognition you deserve. Remember, though, that news releases are not the only tool of public relations professionals. In our next chapter, we will examine the variety of other tools that can be used.