July 31, 2014
   
Use News Releases to Advance Your Mission

By Kim Cunningham

Kim Cunningham
Renamed and retooled, the “press release” of the past can effectively help your organization reach its communications objectives if you provide audiences with direct, honest information, open two-way lines of communication, and leave out the marketing speak.

In the new evolution of the tradition “release,” the word “press” is replaced by the word “news.” No longer written exclusively for the media, news releases are delivered straight to the general public. Your organization’s “public” could be comprised of current members, potential members, potential donors, partner organizations, lawmakers, decision makers, etc. Though the media should remain a strong part of your communication strategy, they are no longer the only recipients of your news.

Because the audience is changing, the tone of each release should also change. You are now talking directly to the public. Talk to them in their language—no more buzz words or industry jargon. What words do they use to describe your industry? How do they receive information? Are they personally connected to your industry?

If you do your research and answer these questions, then you will be able to communicate with the public effectively and become one of their trusted resources. When they have questions, they will come to you.

There are many ways of distributing a news release, especially now that there are free, online distribution services. But don’t stop there – share your news with all of your networks by posting it on your Website, writing about it on your blog, sharing on Twitter and Facebook, including it in your e-newsletter, etc. By posting your release on Internet news sites, your organization’s search engine ranking will increase with every click-through. You can also use the traditional services such as BusinessWire and PR Newswire.

By distributing a news release you are trying to reach potential customers, but you should always remember to continue communications with your current customers!

Leave the Hype Out of Your Release

News has not changed much in the past decade. It is still not acceptable to put out a release when dog bites man. At the same time, you don’t want to wait for man to bite dog to issue your first release. Find news angles throughout the year so you can continually communicate with customers. It might be useful to keep an editorial calendar for your organization so that news is being distributed when the public needs it.

Leave the hype (i.e., “world’s best!”) out of your news releases. News releases are no longer a place to include a hard sales pitch. Instead, include hyperlinks throughout the release that lead readers to specific sections of your Website or your social media networks. This gently nudges them into your sales process without overselling.

Here are some tips for writing a basic news release:
  • Before you begin writing, figure out what the news is. Why should a reader care about this topic right now? If there is no news, put your pencil down.
  • The headline must be an attention-grabber! Often, readers will scan and choose which releases to read based on the headline. If it’s boring, yours doesn’t stand a chance.
  • The first paragraph—the lead—typically answers the who, what, where, and when. The most important information should go at the beginning of the release.
  • The entire release should fit on one page – two if absolutely necessary. Each paragraph should include a maximum of two to three sentences.
  • Don’t waste the quote with an organization spokesperson saying, “We couldn’t be more excited...” Use the quote to share an opinion, talk about trends, or highlight your organization’s vision.
  • The last paragraph is called the boilerplate. This is “About Your Organization” and should include a link to your website.
  • Remember, a news release is the face of your organization. Always check for spelling and grammatical errors!
The public is now within our reach, and the retooled “press release” of former days is an effective tool for talking with them directly. However, it requires a new way of communicating. For a long time, public relations has been a way for organizations to shape and tell their own story. Now it’s time for the industry to open its doors and share its resources, experts, and knowledge with the world. The public is listening but they are also ready to talk and ask questions.

As long as you are willing to evolve and learn how to communicate with the public on their terms and in their language, your organization will be able to move forward and thrive.

Cunningham is the president of Cunningham Strategic Communications, a public relations agency dedicated to advancing the work of nonprofits and socially responsible organizations. She can be reached at kim@cunninghampr.com.

February 2011

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