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Press releases: Get it on the page By Patricia Rivera

Time travel to the era when snail mail was the main mode of sending press releases. News outlets, especially on slow days, eagerly awaited the mail with the hope that it would include something, anything that could be published as is, or bulked into a full-blown article with a few quick phone calls. If nothing else, press releases provided fodder for the datebook, the calendar or an idea to be pursued when time permitted. Well-written press releases could quickly build the writer a newsroom reputation for quality and dependability. A few duds could accomplish the opposite and relegate the release to the circular file (aka trashcan) with little more than a cursory look. Press releases are symbiotic: They help you promote your organization, they fill the gaps around the ads. You can send a release to introduce a new product or service, promote an existing service, acknowledge an employee, brag about a milestone or invite the public to an event. Use your imagination but don’t go overboard. Too many frivolous releases could get you a reputation that would relegate the release to that circular file, simply because you sent it. Here are 11 tips from editors and reporters to help you create more effective press releases: 1. Get ink: “Getting ink” dates to those time-travel days and means getting your release printed, in a newspaper. If your releases were used fre-

quently, that’s “getting good ink.” The best way to accomplish that is to write well. Releases should be succinct, timely, grammatical, relevant. Proper word use and spelling are crucial. (A PR person from a hospital in a major city sent a press release announcing that the facility had cured its shortage of vials. She spelled it ... viles, throughout.) Triple-check dates, times, addresses, phone numbers. And, Rule No. 1, spell all names correctly. 2. It isn’t rocket surgery: With a little practice, press releases are easy to knock off quickly. Follow Journalism 101 basics: inverted pyramid; who, what, when, where, how, why; toss in a few quotes; add a paragraph or two of your organization’s boilerplate; your contact information. That’s it. Easy. 3. KISS (Keep it short, sweetie): Keep releases between 400 and 600 words for newspapers and online publications. 4. PDQ, not PDF: Editors need to be able to easily copy and paste text. Use a Word document. 5. Hyperbole is the greatest thing ever!!!!!: No, it isn’t. Watch superlatives – “best,” “most,” “highest,” “lowest” – without supporting evidence. One sure way to be challenged – and proven wrong – is to claim “first” or “only.” That’s just asking an editor or reader to dispute your contention. Don’t call your client’s product or service “revolutionary” or maintain that it represents a “paradigm shift.” 6. Unless the world is ending …: Avoid excessive punctuation marks, especially exclamation points. It’s a question of degree. An exclamation point would be acceptable here: “Tsunami!” but not here: “This is a really good sandwich.” That rule applies to all caps, too. DON’T OVERUSE

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Business Report | September 2018

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ALL CAPS. 7. Eschew antiquated spacing rules: Typewriter niceties called for two spaces after a period. We no longer use typewritRivera ers, so we don’t do this, either. Editors really frown on wasting time closing extra spaces. 8. Hello, my name is …: Don’t use first names in second references, except for children. Use full names and titles only when you introduce someone. Titles after a person’s name should be lower case. That tends to ruffle feathers. It’s standard newspaper style but the titleholder might bristle because lower case might be seen as a demotion. Stick to your principles: lower case after the name. 9. Keep your perspective: Take a few steps back and read your press release as though it’s new to you. Would you read it if you didn’t have to? Is it interesting and appealing to readers outside your organization? Editors won’t waste their valuable time on a thinly disguised advertisement. Persuade at least two other people to read it before you hit the “send” button. They could catch a flub or ask a question you need to answer in the release. 10. Expect to be edited: The article that appears in print might look very different from the release you wrote. Get over it. Appreciate that you were given any space or mention. You’re happy as long as the facts are straight. Which leads to … 11. No one’s prefect: If an editor edits in a mistake, request a correction. Politely. Calmly. The mistake wasn’t intentional and the person responsible feels bad, too. You want a cordial relationship with this person. Berating an editor never ends well. This article was written with Ann Sagi Ward, a former copy editor for The (Baltimore) Sun and a reporter/ editor for United Press International, in the days when snail mail exposed her to thousands of press releases.

Morning Star Business Report | September 2018  
Morning Star Business Report | September 2018