Three Reasons Why I Write News Releases

July 8, 2012

In my career as a corporate communicator, I’ve written hundreds of news releases. My reasons for writing those releases fall into three categories:

  1. I have 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.
  2. I need 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).
  3. I am 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Things I’ll Look for When Selecting the Next Member of My Marketing Team

March 1, 2011

Hypothetically, let’s assume I’m looking to hire a new member of my marketing team. In reality, my public relations manager will be leaving in a couple of weeks, so I actually am making plans on how I’ll fill the void created by her departure.

Wait, though, before faxing me your resume. (Do people still do that? I hope not.) I have been asked to delay recruiting until the expense budget comes into better focus. The hiring process is frozen, but while we await the spring thaw, let’s return to my hypothetical situation.

As I think about the importance of building a strong marketing team, I have already updated the job description. The social media revolution mandates new expectations that are reflected in several bullet points on the revised list of job duties. Of course, I’ll also be looking for someone who meets a minimum threshold of necessary skills, talents and experience.

Above and beyond that, though, I will almost certainly select someone who:

  1. Has an impressive digital footprint. Before calling someone in for an interview, you can bet I will Google his or her name. There are so many people looking for jobs that I cannot imagine interviewing someone who does not have an impressive amount of information readily available on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, a personal blog, an online portfolio, or some other searchable platform.
  2. Is well branded. I want to know what a person stands for, both personally and professionally. A good brand makes promises and I need to have some idea of what I can expect from anyone who expresses an interest in being part of my team.
  3. Is differentiated. Does this person stand out from the rest of the pack? Quite frankly, I won’t even notice someone who blends into the vast, beige-colored landscape populated by thousands of job seekers whose clichè-ridden resumes were shaped by the same cookie cutter. (See my previous blog post about using Facebook as a tool to differentiate yourself in a job search.)
  4. Is savvy with traditional media. The ideal person will have a good understanding of traditional media—TV, radio and newspapers. He or she will also have experience in proactively pitching good story ideas and in building strong relationships with people inside the news media.
  5. Is savvy with social media. The right person will have moved far beyond the initial process of setting up profiles on various social media platforms. He or she will have demonstrated an ability to a) listen using social media tools, b) have sustained conversations in social media and c) create content valued by others who are swimming in the deeper end of the social media pool.

Three years ago when I most recently hired someone, the criteria were somewhat different. At that time I relied heavily upon two lists. One described my expectations for individual responsibility and the other focused on team performance. Though I’ve added criteria, both lists are still relevant today. So, here’s my question:

If, hypothetically, you are looking for a marketing job, how would you measure up?

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