Since leaving my corporate digs a year ago and launching my “new wonderful,” I’ve had the pleasure to evaluate, enjoy and envy insightful communications by some of the world’s best technology companies. From new appointments and facilities, to recent product innovations and event announcements, I admire the professionalism and relevance of these news releases that populate my inbox.
Yet, for every well-crafted news release, there seems to be an avalanche of announcements that are confusing, grammatically gross, and less than awe-inspiring. It’s alarming that companies with the absolute best intentions to inform, arouse curiosity and excite are inadvertently casting a dark shadow on how their brand is being perceived by their targeted readership.
The news release is well under estimated in importance. In this digital world where “content is king,”* a news release is deemed “old school” or little more than a device to support search engine optimization (SEO). Strategic message development, thoughtful composition, and optimizing the overall benefits of a news release are often relegated to a quick and dirty “just “get ‘er done” document.
If you’ve read this far, I expect you’re feeling more than a little guilty. Me too! Besides my Jewish heritage that innately predisposes me to guilt, I admit to being a party to more than one nasty news release. The following is a partial listing of best practices to rid us of the nasties.
- News Release 101 - The Basics: Hire professionals to write your news releases. They possess the knowledge and passion ---yes, passion! --- to favorably showcase your company. If this is not deemed feasible, the primary author should make it a priority to understand and learn how to execute the Five Ws. This includes the necessity to reference sources. One of the best investments I ever made was purchasing an Associated Press (AP) Style Book for my first undergraduate journalism course. The AP and other credible style guides are reissued regularly to accommodate new standards, accepted vocabulary, best practices and digital platforms. These guides help to ensure your news release is properly formatted and communicates essential content correctly.
- Hitting Headlines: You’re expending the resources to publicize a major accomplishment or new service. Don’t be bland about it! Your headline should include a key benefit that is meaningful to your readership. The headline is critical to encouraging editors to consider your story for publication and enticing your customers and prospects to read the release itself. Note: Sub-headlines should also be considered to support the headline and sell the story.
- Why Should I Care? This is the very first question that should be addressed before composing any news release. The “I” refers to your targeted readership. The news release should focus upon facts that are truthful, understandable and relevant to your markets and customers. Don’t dilute your message with secondary subject matter. What if the news is applicable yet has a unique relevancy to more than one market or customer type? In some select cases, composing a separate news release with a different emphasis is highly beneficial. However, multi-releases must be carefully managed to safeguard your media and customer distributions against redundancy and furrowed eyebrows.
- Consider Quotes: Quotes from senior management or an authority on the subject matter add further credibility. It also contributes to creating thought leadership. However, puffery dulls the message, as does being overtly commercial. Any quotes should introduce or further detail the key message and value proposition of your opening paragraphs.
- Pictures Are Perfect: Photos, infographics or other images should be included and increase readership. If you’re stating statistics, make them stand out with a graphic. Given that the news release will be re-purposed to differing degrees for other print and digital materials, such imagery is often easily transferable and informative for these complementary tactics.
- Number Crunching Counts: Backing up your claims with data engages readers to keep reading! Percentages, ranges, and hard numbers all should be considered as part of your news release.
- Cut the Corporate Commercials. Of course you should include information about your company, but don’t overdo it. Some companies feel the necessity to elaborate on corporate divisions within the main release content. These mini-commercials are sometimes introduced so to appease the corporate brass or there is a very shaky assumption that it increases SEO. Instead, it potentially distracts readers who may become confused, tune out and stop reading altogether. Save the corporate background for the closing “About” section, also known as boilerplate.
- Social Sharing: After publishing the news release on your website and distributing to targeted media, a brief announcement linking the news release to your company’s social media channels is highly beneficial. When applicable, also link the news release to relevant corporate blog articles. As previously stated, this drives visitors to your website and supports SEO. Furthermore, encourage team members to share these postings on their own channels. If you’re introducing a study or guide, landing pages are often recommended to allow you to obtain visitors’ contact information prior to literature download.
- Call to Action: Make sure to provide a dedicated email address for readers to request further information. The email address should be vigilantly managed by someone with the knowledge to respond to or forward inquiries for a timely response.
- Proofread: You think you’re finished with your masterpiece. Your adrenalin is pumping. You’re aching with excitement to click that mouse and announce to the world your wonderful news. While counting down to blast-off, less than heroic flaws in grammar and terrible typos are suddenly discovered. Abort launch! Although you’ve proofread the release a dozen times, it’s always important to have another set of eyes review the news release for grammar, typos, and overall comprehension.
No matter how relevant, a news release with gross grammar, flawed formatting and other errors translates as being sloppy, rushed, and unprofessional. It reflects badly on your company’s brand. Don’t let nasty news releases repel readers. Consider these best practices to compel customers and prospects to learn how your company creates value.
* Sumner Redstone, circa 1995.