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Copyright by Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D.


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How to make editors notice your news release

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere



Let’s say you work for company too small to have its own public relations staff. Or your company has a public relations staff, but they’re off for the day.

Your boss calls you in and gives you the news.

Your entire clerical staff has just walked off the job to protest cancellation of casual dress day. Or the computer virus detection program manufactured by your software company has been recalled because it contains a virus. Or the new owners have decided to convert production in your factory from extra absorbent disposable diapers to fine linens and doilies.

Whether the news is cause for misery or celebration, your boss needs someone to prepare a news release right away – and that someone is you. What do you do?

A. Submit your resignation on the spot.

B. Feign a sudden, incapacitating illness that requires you to leave immediately for the hospital.

C. Smile and say, "No problem," with as much confidence as you can muster.

Well, being the cool, collected person you are, the type who is always prepared for any eventuality, you do C, of course.

You know that your job as PR man or woman of the hour is to present the news in the most favorable light possible. You know that whatever you write must accomplish two objectives: It must reinforce the main image or mission your company seeks to project, and it must do so in a way that appeals to your audience’s interests, concerns, or biases.

But what you don’t know is how to write a news release. What is it supposed to look like? What format does it follow?

As you walk down the corridor to your office, you say a little prayer: "Oh, please let me still have those notes from my college business writing course."

Sure enough, in the back of the bottom file drawer, in a dog-eared file on faded yellow notebook paper you find these hastily scrawled notes, along with a reference to The Business Writer’s Handbook:

•Write in a clear, concise style.

•Provide your information according to the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why.

•Arrange information by level of importance, with all critical information in the first paragraph, and less important information in succeeding paragraphs (editors tend to cut from the bottom).

•Check the accuracy of your facts.

•Define any technical terms.

•Provide the name and phone number of a contact person who can give further information.

•Begin with the place and date of the announcement.

Double-space the text and use letterhead.

•If the release is longer than a single page, type "More" at the bottom of every page except the last.

•Type "-30-" or "End" at the bottom of the last page (editors are impressed if they think you know the lingo).

•Send the release to a specific person (or at to a particular editor, such as the business editor or the education editor).

There. You breathe a huge sigh of relief. Nothing to it.

Still, not to appear ungrateful, you promise to make the coffee every morning and to floss every night for the rest of your life.




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