Being in my second year of graduate school, I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to communication classes and internships. My failures have taught me as much as my achievements, and I’m hoping to use this piece to share with you some of the pointers I’ve picked up along the way. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of how to write a successful news release:
#1 Know your audience. This sentence may be passed around to the point of becoming cliché, but it retains its value nonetheless. Just like with friendship, you have to have an understanding of who you’re talking to in order to develop a good relationship. What are their demographics? Likes? Dislikes? What writing strategies would appeal most to them? These are some questions to consider before whipping out your MacBook and typing away.
#2 Know your media. The spray and pray method is rarely effective for garnering media coverage. It’s generally a best practice to have specific outlets in mind or beat reporters to turn to for the specific subject of your release. Do your research on these people before you begin writing. How would you describe their writing style? Have they picked up your work before? If so, analyze the changes they made before publishing. You’re much more likely to get your work in print (or web or whatever medium you’re shooting for) if you make it easy on the journalist you pitch your story to. The fewer edits they have to make to your release, the more they’ll want to work with you.
#3 Be up to date on current events. Reading the New York Times and watching CNN will do you more good than just scoring you some points during an interview; in fact, keeping up to date on world news is crucial to the success of public relations professionals. Timing is everything, and it can hurt or benefit your release. Writing on current trends or tying in to other stories can definitely lend to readability. On the other hand, being insensitive to current issues can launch a full blown crisis. Be sure to utilize the student rates offered by many newspaper outlets and take advantage of free papers on campus.
#4 Tell a story. Again, you may have heard this a million times, but it can be difficult to figure out how to go about, especially for inexperienced writers. The line between colloquialism and maintaining professionality in writing may seem thin. Study previous releases published by your company or look at what’s trending in the media outlet you plan on pitching to. Turn to social media—what stories do you enjoy reading? How does the author relay the message? Your audience is more likely to remember your message if it’s interesting to read. Yes, give them the facts, but don’t bore them with the points you make.
# 5 Write well, edit better. In addition to writing a story worth reading, it’s important to put forth a polished piece. Keep your AP Stylebook nearby and read your work over before passing it along to anyone else. Many would suggest printing your draft out and reading it aloud to help catch mistakes and make sure it flows well. Of course, you want to be sure your article is stunning before sending it to the media, but shoot for doing this with your own in-house reviewers, too. Your professional reputation can seriously benefit from being seen as a meticulous editor.
Alissa Hooper, CSU PRSSA Director of Social Media