Thursday, March 31, 2011

"We are excited" to bring you this news release

Credit: Design Thinking Blog
PR pros write news releases respecting a number of conventions which make them easier for journalists to use.

  • We write them in Canadian Press style (American Press in the U.S.), so journalists can use our content without having to do too much copy-editing.
  • We give them straight-forward titles that explain the news - not expecting busy journalists to take the time to decipher cutesy headlines (chances are, they won't have time to).
  • We write them in an "inverted pyramid" format, with the most important information provided first, in the lead paragraph, and further information provided in order of decreasing importance - so no matter when a journalist stops reading, we know (s)he's gotten the most important details.
  • We finish with a "boilerplate" paragraph describing our organization.
  • We signal the end of the release with the notation " -30- " though no-one knows exactly why... but both PR folks and journalists know that means "the end."
Another tradition in news release writing is the inclusion of attributed quotations, which should provide perspective on the news from the issuer's point of view.

While the rest of the news release should be written in as objective a voice as possible (for maximum usability at the media end), the quote is an organization's opportunity to throw in its official opinion on the news. It's OK, because it's attributed to someone - just like opinions should be in journalism.

The wasted quote: a common rookie mistake

If I had a nickel for every news release I'd read with a quote that said simply "We are excited," "We are proud," or "We are delighted" to announce whatever the news is, I'd be rich. (I'd also likely have earned a couple of bucks thanks to some of my own early news releases.)

It's a comfortable place to begin, and it somehow seems personable to say the company is excited or proud or delighted about its own news. The problem is that no-one really cares how the company feels (or, alternately, would expect the company to feel that way about its own news, making the pronouncement irrelevant and decidedly not newsworthy).

Good news release writers understand that the quote is our shot at positioning the news in the light in which we want it to be considered. If the rest of the news release has to be "just the facts," the attributed quote is our opportunity to provide some context and colour, to help move our communication objectives forward, whatever they might be.

I took a quick scan of the newswire a couple of minutes ago, and found a couple of examples that make my point.

1) A news release announcing the agreement to renew AMC's Mad Men.

This is news many Mad Men fans like me have been waiting for; in fact, we are excited and delighted by the news. And while AMC does admit to being "thrilled," it's in the context of good news many in recent days had begun doubting would ever come -- and it's after AMC's key messaging.

"AMC's original programming began with a mission to create bold storytelling of the highest quality, and 'Mad Men' was the perfect expression of that commitment. We've been proud to support this show from the day we read Matt's ground-breaking pilot script and have loved building it with Matt and Lionsgate into the cultural phenomenon it has become," said Collier. "For everyone involved in the show and its passionate fans, we are thrilled to announce that the series will continue on AMC under the exceptional vision of Matt Weiner."

2) A release about a celebration of foreign-trained doctors being accepted into a residency program

The hook for this news release is actually that a celebration of this achievement took place tonight. Of course, everyone there is excited and delighted, and probably proud too. But the quote in the news release is wisely used to communicate key messaging aimed at persuading readers to agree with the decision.

"International medical graduates are extremely valuable members of our health-care system's team of care providers. These international medical graduates are working extremely hard to earn their certification in Ontario and I'm happy to join them as they celebrate this tremendous achievement," said Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care.

Make every sentence matter

In today's by-the-minute media industry, we don't have the luxury of assuming journalists are reading every release from top to bottom, or having the time to figure out why our news will be important for our audiences.

It's our job in PR to connect the dots, and the attributed quote is the one place in the news release we can provide subjective opinions that help our audiences interpret the news the way we think they should.

So don't waste your quotes on niceities that are either irrelevant or assumed; take advantage of the opportunity to position the news the way you want audiences to see it.

1 comment:

  1. My favourite part about writing a news release are the quotes! There's so much a PR pro can pack into quotes to move the story along and with some good messaging it can really add color to even the driest of announcements.