Hitting The Mark With News Releases

Dec 22, 2022

“The first draft is the best, and it’s all downhill from there.”

These snarky yet valid words came from a longtime friend, colleague, and mentor. They semi-jokingly referred to much of the writing we produced as the content marketing arm of a Fortune 500 healthcare IT provider. But it was most often muttered when talking about news releases.

Working in such a large, diverse organization, we never lacked fodder for any form of content, and news releases were among the most requested form of PR. As former trade journalists with decades of agency and in-house marketing experience, we’d both been the recipients and issuers of thousands of releases and had instincts––and opinions––about what made them good or bad.

Although we applied these principles with varying degrees of success, a few core tenets proved universal. So here are a few considerations.

Should This Be a Release?

Note that I say a news release, and not a press release. Whatever you are announcing should have news value, and its primary target should be the media––whether they report for trade, consumer, financial, or other outlets. But plenty of folks default to a news release when they should pursue other communications.

If the goal is lead generation, then a news release is not your best tool. If your target audience is prospects, customers, or potential partners, then communicate directly with them. Speak their language. Be persuasive. But don’t issue a news release. There are far better direct channels to use. Be creative and go direct.

Other times, a news release is a good choice, provides a solid proof point, but is not a news generator. Most partnership releases will not be covered, but you still need an asset to point to that documents the relationship, kind of like an old-school wedding announcement. Public companies have disclosure requirements and are obligated to issue such releases (among many others). Pending trade show participation or speaking engagements are other types that simply won’t get ink. But your partners, prospects, and customers may see them. Similarly, ‘point’ upgrades to existing solutions won’t garner reportage, but you’d be remiss in not announcing them.

Once you’ve settled on a news release as the vehicle, determine what level of distribution and muscle to put behind it. Should it be an asset posted to your website newsroom only? Issued on the wire? Issued on the wire with multimedia attachments and pitched directly to target media?

The Draft

When writing a release, avoid the formulaic approach employed by most companies. Leading with, “ACME Widgets, the acclaimed global leader in innovative platforms to end the scourge of hunger and promote world peace, today announced blah blah blah …” will immediately lose readers. Keep the company descriptor minimal and factual, because anyone who doesn’t know who you are can read the boilerplate at the end.

Avoid ‘inside baseball’ jargon. Succinctly describe what you are announcing, who it impacts, and what it means to them. No need to dumb it down to the point of ‘explaining it to your grandmother in Peoria.’ Just be mindful of the audience and their level of understanding. Provide context––frame up the problem that your solution addresses, and how you help solve it. Omit needless words.

Ask journalists about quotes in releases, and many will say they don’t read them because they’re typically superfluous, self-aggrandizing garbage. They needlessly inflate word counts and are rarely reprinted. But this doesn’t need to be the case. Ditch the back-slapping adjectives and “We’re proud/thrilled/honored to…” language and opt for editorial comments that add color and emphasize your value proposition. Statistics that underscore problem statements are gold. Be bold and declarative without bragging. And avoid multiple quotes when possible. Remember, you’re paying by the word.

Ride the Stallion, Not the Camel

It’s been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Well, release reviews are not only a source of delays that can torpedo the timeliness of your news, but can morph a fine Arabian stallion into a flea-infested camel. Establishing ‘need-to-see’ approval chains for each release helps, as does defining each reviewer’s role. For example, marketing reviews for adherence to corporate messaging, the product lead makes sure that features are correct, the legal reviewer checks compliance, and so on. If you have 15 individuals reviewing a single release, rethink your approach.

Implement a linear, serial review process––one reviewer at a time, with edits and comments returned to the document owner and resolved before moving to the next reviewer. Start with the most basic review, such as product, then on through the food chain and finish with legal. This way, you avoid “forked” reviews with conflicting edits that are difficult to resolve and only prolong the process.

Distribution: How Much is a Cab Ride?

When it comes to distribution, you get what you pay for, and the many ‘free’ services will get you about as far as a free cab ride. You’re nearly always better off with a trusted leader like PR Newswire (Cision), which provides tailored distribution to target audiences and a host of add-on features and feeds to refine and extend your reach. But that’s a topic that can devour another post.

One glaring distribution mistake that occurs far too often is when a company painstakingly crafts a release, then spends untold agency and in-house hours on reviews and revisions, only to squabble and balk at paying an extra $600 on features that will exponentially increase engagement.

One time-tested way to boost engagement is to bundle at least two pieces of related content with each release. These can be photos, data sheets, case studies, videos, archived webinars, podcasts––you name it. It costs a few more bucks but is very effective. Video has been proven time and again to turbo-charge engagement. The bottom line is to not rely solely on the release to tell your story. Link to related reports, eBooks, white papers … even cartoons.

And if you’re still reluctant to spend on bundled content, a link to a related content repository is another way to add more to the story without attaching individual items.

The justification, development, and distribution of news releases is a topic we could discuss for days. But keeping a few of these considerations in mind can help ensure that your next news release hits the mark rather than the proverbial circular bin.