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- Develop your agenda.
- Start with your objective. Why do you want to tell your story? Getting a "positive story" isn't specific enough.
- Identify your audience.
The first three steps are easy most of the time. Now it gets harder.
- Prepare your message. You need a primary message, the one thing you want to be sure reporters and your audience hear, understand and remember. You can include up to two other messages, but one message is usually better than two and two are usually better than three. If you have more than three messages for a single release, you aren't focused enough. You should be able to state your message(s) in 10 to 15 seconds. If you can't, it isn't clear enough for reporters to understand it and get it right when they put it into their stories. And your audience won't remember it. Sometimes stating your message in 15 seconds or less will be easy, but often it won't be. Take the time to get this step right. It's important. Develop messages that address your audience's wants / needs. And target reporters who write for your audience.
- Gather the information for your story before you start writing.
- Write your release. Be brief, clear and above all interesting. You're competing for the attention of people with a lot to do other than read your release. Focus on your message. People often leave their message out of their news releases. Avoid jargon, buzzwords and phrases only you understand.
What to include in your press release:
- Headline. Goes at the top of the release, tells readers what it's about and why they'll care. Serves the same purpose as the headline of a newspaper or magazine article - attract interest. It may be all that editors or other readers see when reviewing a newsfeed. Give them a reason in your headline to open yours. Often the last thing I write.
- Lead paragraph. Like your headline, it should grab the attention of the reader. If you haven't interested a reporter or editor by the time s/he reads your lead, your release is probably headed for the trash. The purpose of this paragraph is to interest reporters, editors and others enough to keep reading.
- Nut paragraph. Use a nut paragraph to frame your story. This is where you tell us the essence of your story. It's often the second paragraph of your release, but not always. It can be your lead. It can be even be more than one paragraph. If you were writing a movie, this is where the plot thickens and the audience learns the basics of your story.
- Quote(s). Reporters love good quotes. I like to include one or two quotes in news releases. Make them quotable, if you want them to be used. Some organizations only quote executives. I like to quote whoever I want reporters to talk to if they call. That may be a subject-matter expert instead of an executive. With a few exceptions, reporters want to talk to someone who can help them with their story - not someone with a suit and a title. Make your quotes sound like quotes; i.e., like someone spoke them. Use contractions, slang and other conversational language.
- Background information. Once you've grabbed our attention, framed your story and added a quote or two, fill in the detail of your story. I like to limit news releases to two pages whenever possible. It's not a rule, just a preference. If you need more space than that, consider putting some information into a fact sheet or separate sidebar releases that cover specific aspects of your story.
- Boilerplate. A closing paragraph describing the organization issuing the release. Tell us who you are and what you do. Skip the sales pitch. Reporters and others who see your release won't like the sales pitch.
During 20 years as a journalist, Jerry Brown worked for The Associated Press (he was assignment editor for AP's Washington bureau during Watergate); daily newspapers in Little Rock, Fort Worth and Denver; the U.S. Information Agency; and two trade publications. Jerry's been practicing public relations for the past two decades and is an accredited member (APR) of the Public Relations Society of America and a former board member of PRSA's Colorado chapter. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or visit his Web site at pr-impact.com.
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