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Rebecca Benison

A News Release is Not an Article and Vice Versa

By: Rebecca Benison | April 9, 2013 | 
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A News Release is Not an Article and Vice VersaThe more often we read a news release in our job every day, the more we find journalists have transitioned into the PR field.

This is great news for all involved because it is advantageous for a professional to understand both ends of the spectrum.

But, while former journalists often make wonderful PR pros, the two career paths are very different.

The same goes for the style of writing required for each industry.

A news release should be written as such, rather than as an article. There is a clear distinction between the two, which will be explained below.

Mastering article-writing does help when it comes to writing a release. The basic rules of style and grammar apply, but one must always remember a release is not an article. For those who have never been journalists, now is not the time to start channeling one, at least not completely. For those who have been journalists, a few adjustments are necessary.

News Release Title

Similarities. All titles should grab attention and make people want to read what this is all about. They should also accurately represent the pieces they’re headlining without relying on shock value, especially if the rest of the story doesn’t deliver.

Differences. A news release is always coming from a company or person representing his/herself. While not a requirement, it is a good idea to include the company or name of the person in the title so readers know where this news is coming from. It should also plainly state what’s newsworthy. Make it clear something is being launched, published, or planned by you or your organization.

Quotes

Similarities. Just as quotes strengthen articles, they also add to news releases. In both instances, they require attribution to the source (who’s saying this?). They should also come from people directly involved with the news. Upper-level management at the company adds credibility, while consumer reviews serve as valuable testimonials. Even if the quote is coming from a company spokesperson, it’s still best to give the person’s name and title. Too many quotes are attributed only to “the company spokesperson.”

Differences. Journalists and other writers are storytellers. When they report on something, it’s their job to create a picture with their words. This is why in an article it’s appropriate to use more descriptive attribution such as, “he said confidently,” because it puts readers into the story. A release, on the other hand, is a statement of fact. A simple “he said,” is all you need once the person has been introduced.

Structure

Similarities. Following the inverted pyramid structure of having the important details first is a good rule of thumb in both articles and releases. You want to demonstrate value early on, creating the hook that will keep your audience reading through to the end.

Differences. News releases often include a boilerplate at the end, as an “About” section for your company. They must also include contact information. If a journalist wants to cover your story, they better know who to call or emai. Don’t make them search for this information, because chances are they won’t. Include a full name, phone number, and preferred email address. Including links to social channels will also help your customer-base find and engage you online.

Agenda

Similarities. Both are published to spread news.

Differences. One of the main tenets of journalism is to remain an unbiased source of information. The main agenda of a release is generally self-promotion. Many writers will attempt to veil the news release as if it’s being reported by a third-party. This is not only unethical and misleading, it doesn’t make sense as per what a press release is.

Don’t ever hide this is coming directly from your company. That is what is expected of a new release. When quoting someone, rather than writing, “We asked Company Founder John Smith for his input,” just go directly into the quote and remember to attribute it to the speaker. Writing, “We asked…,” suggests you’re unrelated to the person in question or the organization, which isn’t true. A simple “he said,” is all you need.

News releases should be written with numerous audiences in mind. Keep it simple for consumers, incorporate natural keywords for search engines, and include all relevant information and attachments for members of the media. When optimized for each of these roles, a news release opens the door to enhanced publicity, customer engagement, and a stronger online presence.

About Rebecca Benison


Rebecca Benison is a media relations professional at PR.com, a leader in news release distribution. You can follow PR.com on Twitter at @PRcom or visit www.PR.com.

36 comments
Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

This is great stuff @rbenison89  

When you discuss media outlets with the smart people some are known for reprinting press releases as Articles. @Mashable  is a HUGE example and why I am banned from pointing out this in their comment sections. It is also why when I bring up Mashable with smart people they tend to laugh. It is actually how I bonded with @ginidietrich when we first got to know each other. 

I find a lot of content on the web that seems to be reprinted and it is pretty sad.

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

I have only worked on the PR/marketing side of things although I do have a journalism degree. So here's my two cents...it's much more fun to write a news release as an 'article.' News releases can be REALLY boring, and I've had to write my fair share of those boring ones, but I've also been able to do some fun news releases where I can tell a story. Not just ABC announces xyz blah blah boring snooze. So I guess I do treat them as articles, even though they aren't, because it's easier for me to write them that way, and it turns out to be a much better news release in the end. 

ClayMorgan
ClayMorgan

Commenting from the news side, a well-written news release, targeted to my audience, and written as a news story (multiple sources, well written and edited, AP style, great hook, not "promotiony") will often get used with few changes on our part.

And we just delete the boilerplate.

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bradmarley
bradmarley

Great post, Rebecca. 

Too often, press releases that are written like feature articles make their way to journalists. That release is bound to find its way into the digital trash.

When it comes to quotes, I find that it's a good idea to have the quoted executive make some kind of news in their quote. This will increase the chances that the quote gets picked up in the coverage. (And there is no greater high for a PR pro than seeing the quote they developed make it into print.)

rbenison89
rbenison89

@yvettepistorio Thanks for your perspective, Yvette. One issue that I would like to put across is that when writing in the form of an article, the announcement can easily get lost in the story - and if journalists can't figure out your angle, they might not cover it in the way you want them to. So there is a bit of a risk involved.

I do agree that press releases don't have to be boring though. In fact, they should get attention and be engaging, but it should always be clear that this is coming from a company, and not an unbiased source, like a journalist. A lot of press release writers like to hide that they're writing on behalf of the company, and that can be confusing for journalists. As long as you strike a balance, feel free to be as creative as you like :)

bradmarley
bradmarley

@yvettepistorio Press releases are meant to be boring. 

 Dear Journalist: Here are the facts in inverted triangle form. Please call me to learn more.

rbenison89
rbenison89

@ClayMorgan If you can make it work and are able to verify all the information with minimal work, that's great...As long as you perform due diligence before publishing. There are too many cases where people have shared "news" that was fabricated - and we always want to avoid that (this goes for PR and journalism). As long as you have all the bases covered in a nice, balanced piece, definitely do what works for you. I don't think bylines should be added in this case, however. That seems to be toeing the line.

belllindsay
belllindsay

@ClayMorgan Clay Morgan hush your mouth! No self respecting journalist would ever do such a thing! (ex-journo). ;)  

rbenison89
rbenison89

@bradmarley Thanks for the positive feedback! Totally agree with having an announcement of some kind in the quote. All text needs to provide value.

belllindsay
belllindsay

@bradmarley I really think that any journalist who runs a press release - verbatim - as an article is treading on some dangerous waters. With the utmost respect to Clay above me - I worry that wow - so much could slip through the cracks without all the proper checks and balances in place - fact checking, sources researched, yadda yadda. That said, and again as a person who's been on that side of things facing crushing (often impossible) deadlines day after day - the type of well crafted release that @ClayMorgan mentions above will definitely get used *before* a crap one, if only because of the time it saves the story producer or journo on the other side. 

rbenison89
rbenison89

@HowieG This is actually an interesting case. A lot of media points have relationships with newswires like the one in this case, 24-7, but technically this isn't an article. They're just giving space to press releases submitted via their partners or subsidiaries (not sure of the actual relationship between 24-7 and EIN, although it looks like one big distribution network/newswire to me).

belllindsay
belllindsay

@rbenison89 @yvettepistorio Wow. You know you've been out of the media business for awhile when you forget about that crucial "unbiased" thing. LOL Great point Rebecca. Though IMHO, are new orgs truly unbiased these days...? My cynical old self says no, but that's a whole n'other topic of discussion, isn't it? :)

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

@bradmarley Maybe, but the industry is evolving and news releases don't have to be an inverted triangle anymore. There's a story to be told whether it's a new product/service, personnel changes, or a new office location. It could be a boring topic, but if you're a good story teller,  the news release doesn't have to be boring. If you want to be boring or traditional, so be it. I had a client who was very traditional with their news releases, and that's fine. But personally, I like to be and try to be creative with the news releases I write. 

ClayMorgan
ClayMorgan

@rbenison89 The idea of due diligence is interesting.

Very very very few newspapers have fact checkers, so it comes down to what can an overworked editor do combined with trust.

Yesterday, we received probably 200 press releases and pitches. All but probably five went in the trash.

One was from a team mom who sends us scores and one graf game capsules from a youth soccer league. One was from the police department's PIO about a crime that is "too small" to spend reporter resources on, and one was from the university's communications department.

The releases were edited to be sure, but there was no checking of facts in these cases. Trust has been gained.  

Now, like every paper we've been burned. There are firms and individuals who will never get another press release published with us as long as I'm there. It isn't vindictive, it is just that they've proven to be untrustworthy and I just don't have time to verify through independent sources everything they send.

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ClayMorgan
ClayMorgan

@belllindsay @bradmarley @ClayMorgan There is a development of resources. And it isn't that the press releases aren't read before publication.

Here's an example. Our local university has two former journalists - from our paper - on its PR staff. You cannot tell the difference between many of their press releases and a news story prepared by a member of our staff. You simply can't tell the two apart.

If we've done due diligence, which includes evaluating the "promotiony value" of a press release, why waste the time to rewrite the release if it is actually a news/feature article?

And how is it really different from entrusting a freelancer (who admittedly is paid)?

This is an area in which companies can truly partner with a news organization to help them provide meaningful content to their readers.

Latest blog post: Livefyre Conversation

bradmarley
bradmarley

@yvettepistorio I guess I look at it this way: If it's not boring, don't write a press release. :) Create a video. Record a podcast. To me -- and this puts me in the old school camp -- a press release is purposely boring because it's just a vehicle for information. *shrugs*

belllindsay
belllindsay

@yvettepistorio @bradmarley I like the cut of your jib Yvette! Why not change things? It's evolution baby. My only caveat is that  the receiver of said release must be aware that it *most likely* wasn't written by an actual journalist ( though that too is changing! Wheee!) - and that it must be fact checked, etc., before running with it. 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@yvettepistorio @bradmarley I'm with you on this Yvette, the thing is, watching the wire business evolve (I just spent 5 years with one) it's become obvious that the traditional press release isn't the only game in town, and that's a good thing. Some of the agencies we worked with were experimenting with using the wire to share their thoughts and/or blogging on trends, with great success.

belllindsay
belllindsay

@bradmarley @ClayMorgan I don't agree Brad - as I mentioned in my comment to Yvette above, I think with the crossover happening with many many journalists (like myself) switching into the digital side of things, writing and communications, you can certainly have a well crafted "tell a story" press release. That said, as @rbenison89 mentions above - one must always consider the source - no matter how beautifully crafted, the 'release' is not an unbiased article - it's definitely a plug for the company or brand. 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@ClayMorgan @bradmarley @belllindsay Agree w/ you on that Clay. I think the bigger question is always, "is it good content?" and the truth is that plenty of times the answer is no. That's a separate and much more serious problem, because the people writing awful press releases are the same and/or same kind of people writing awful articles. 

belllindsay
belllindsay

@ClayMorgan @belllindsay @bradmarley I completely agree Clay, and most definitely these things can always be taken on a case by case basis as you mention here. In my case, back in TV days, you had certain sources or connections that you KNEW you could trust. You would run with a story or a tip because of that trust. And again, as you say - after due diligence. Certainly with the cross over between journalism and the digital side of things that's happening nowadays, this is going to be seen more and more often - these types of trust partnerships. Would you mind emailing me at LBell@armentdietrich.com? I would like to ask you a question! :)