Companies may struggle to feature on the news pages of trade journals and become increasingly frustrated when their news releases appear to be ignored. In the vast majority of cases the reason is simply that many news releases fail to contain real news, or that news value can be hard to identify.
A news release should not be prompted because sales are down and the company needs a cheap and quick way of finding new customers. It can certainly communicate positive messages and increase awareness, but should focus on an item of interest relevant to the readers of the specific publication. Appropriate subjects for news release might be regular occurrences – such as new contracts, technological developments, awards won, sales successes, company growth and new appointments – but to achieve good coverage, you need to create additional interest.
Take an example of a supplier of windows being appointed by a local authority: “Shutters of Shutford Wins County Council Contract” is a news story with scope for development. The news release must contain the following essential information:
- Who – Shutters of Shutford / Oxfordshire County Council
- What – £800,000 contract to refurbish windows in the council chambers
- Why – refurbishment programme is in the final stages of completion
- Where – grade II listed building, Oxford city centre
- When – work due to be complete for Mayor’s official opening, 1 October 2016
The following standard layout will ensure that the information can be identified quickly and easily:
- Introduction – a summary (sometimes an editor will not look beyond the first paragraph, so the essence of the story must be conveyed here)
- Qualify and explain – development of the story, including who, what, why, where, when
- Credible quote – which need not contain facts and is therefore an opportunity to introduce humour or raise eyebrows
- Conclusion – an opportunity to look ahead and capture your audience’s interest in the long term
- Notes for editors – background facts, practical information and contact details
After establishing the basic information within the skeleton structure, use the facts in a way that is newsworthy and interesting. Shuttters of Shutford might use their contract win to demonstrate wider trends, thus making it immediately relevant to the wider readership of a specialist trade publication – ‘This, the fourth council contract won by Shutters of Shutford this year, is a further indication that the public sector is becoming increasingly profitable for the industry as compared to private companies’. The company may consider human interest, such as a comment by the council leader on how the improvements will benefit staff working conditions. Alternatively, anecdotes can attract the reader’s attention to the story and make it fun to read. Finally, endorsements (sparinglyused) are an opportunity to portray the company in a positive light, particularly if the client is willing to state why the company was chosen.
Consider the headline at the end of the process. This will not necessarily be used by the publication – its main aim is to inform the editor of the content – but it is worth making it eye-catching to increase the chances of it being used. Consider (depending on the style of the publication) association of ideas, use of emotions, incongruity, curiosity, humour, intrigue, seasonal links, play on words, alliteration, recognised quotations. Always include the date of release at the top.
A final word about style. Aim for short words, short sentences (never more than 20 words) and short, snappy paragraphs. Be as specific as possible and avoid jargon and hackneyed phrases at all costs. Avoid adjectives except those that are vital to the content, and superlatives such as ‘the renowned’ and ‘the brand leader’. Only use ‘unique’ when you know it to be the case. Also avoid generalisations such as ‘economical’ and ‘best’ explaining why instead, and avoid constant repetition of the company’s name.
Aim to achieve all of this in no more than one page of A4 and you’ll find that your news stories increasingly gain column inches in the trade media.