In my career as a corporate communicator, I’ve written hundreds of news releases. My reasons for writing those releases fall into three categories:
- I had something newsworthy to share. The only good reason to write a news release is because it contains actual news. That’s so basic that any further explanation would only be condescending to my esteemed communications colleagues.
- I needed to recognize a donor or partner. In the nonprofit world, a donation will occasionally carry with it a high expectation for publicity. In such cases, it’s pretty easy to decipher the communicator’s motives for writing a news release. If the headline and first paragraph focus mostly on the donor, you can assume that donor recognition was the primary reason. Granted, many sizable donations have a significant impact in the community. That is inherently newsworthy and therefore deserving of a news release (which would automatically move it to my first category).
- I was too weary to fight internal politics. Entrenched within any organization, you will find someone who believes that his or her “cotton candy” fluff is newsworthy. (Actually, if you’re a communicator, that person will find you.) Perhaps they want recognition during a special month honoring their particular profession. Maybe they just feel good about what they do and want the world to know. Reluctantly, I’ll admit that on rare occasions I’ve taken the path of least resistance and written an insipid press release merely to pacify someone for political reasons.
Three Questions to Ask Up Front
Here are three questions that help me to focus on writing news releases that actually contain news. These are also good questions to ask at the beginning of any communications project.
- Who do we want to communicate with? If we don’t know who we are targeting then we should not be communicating. To speak to all is to speak to none. There is no such thing as the general public.
- Why do we want them to have this information? What do we want the target audience to do with the information we share? Is there a call to action? “Getting the word out” is a means to an end. Raising awareness is a process, not a goal.
- What is the best way to share this information with them? A news release is typically distributed through the traditional media—TV, radio or newspaper. Sometimes, though, social media can be a much more effective way to communicate with a target audience. At other times we might find it most effective to mail a letter, send an email or write a handwritten note. After all, a news release is not the only tool in a communicator’s toolbox.
By definition, a news release contains news. For good reason, it is not called a publicity release. Disseminating news is the only valid reason to write a news release. Doing so for any other reason compromises our integrity and relevance as professional communicators.