Think Local, Write Local

One of the toughest things to do well in public relations is to write a relevant, compelling and concise news release.

Why—because much of what we’re asked to write about is not news, or, is old news at best. Worse yet, it may have no news value locally.

News releases are the bane of many reporters: They get them, scan them and toss them. And, it’s not their fault. Generally, news releases are written in passive pabulum and don’t follow several important guidelines.

Instead of me extolling the virtues of how to get a news release used, I will take some sage advice from Bob Zaltsberg, long-time editor at a wonderful local daily in southern Indiana, The Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.).

Bob states, “When considering what you’d like to see published, consider these factors: News is something that will be of interest to others. Ask yourself these questions about the event or issue you want us to cover: Why should people care? Would you care if you weren’t involved? Why is it important that people know this information?”

Furthermore, when it comes to “pitching” a story to a reporter, it’s important to consider where the most compelling story may be found. Bob illustrates this point in the following:

“The point is, the fact that your group or organization is sponsoring something or hosting something or organizing something is not as newsworthy as the issue your group is trying to address or the people you are trying to help. “Group X holds bake sale” is not as newsworthy as “Bake sale benefits Boys and Girls Club.” And that’s not as newsworthy as suggesting a story on any significant issue young people who frequent the Boys and Girls Club are facing that could use the attention of the community.”

This is great advice. Thanks Bob.

Quickly, here are a few tips to consider:

1. Is what you are announcing really news? Is there another way to get the message out on less-than-newsworthy items?
2. Write in the active voice and in current time. Most of the releases I see use troubling passive-voice phrases such as, “has announced,” or “was appointed.”
3. Put the most important information up front. Seems simple, but we find many wayward releases with buried leads.
4. Use AP style to be consistent and conform to industry standards.
5. Keep it short and pithy. No one needs more long-winded diatribes consuming their inbox.
6. Write real quotes that sound like someone talking. “I am deeply excited about the awe-inspiring dedication of a large contingency of citizens finding a way to congregate around a cause…” C’mon. No one actually talks like that, unless it’s William F. Buckley.

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