To Make News, Make it Interesting

by Audrey Knoth, executive vice president, Goldman & Associates Public Relations

Few business tools are more poorly used than the press release.

It’s too bad, because the press release is the primary method for communicating your company’s story to the news media.

Ask any news editor how many press releases he or she receives in a day, and the answer, given with a sigh, is likely “a hundred, and most of them aren’t any good.”
One of those 100, at best, is likely to merit being used and result in an article. So, each day, hundreds – actually, thousands — of opportunities for businesses to gain positive exposure are going to waste.

What do editors mean when they say press releases “aren’t any good?” The most common problem is that they don’t contain news. Many press releases sound just like advertising. There are lots of superlative claims about services and products, and no actual news.

Recently, a press release our public relations firm wrote was named “Best News Release” in the annual international competition held by the League of American Communications Professionals. It was no small feat. We beat out such business giants as Sony Electronics and SureWest telecommunications.

The approach we used in writing this award-winning press release was pretty straightforward. It can serve as a guideline for any business seeking to convey a story to the news media.

We wrote the press release when we were assigned to publicize a group of senior living communities in North and South Carolina. We knew from the outset that the communities themselves wouldn’t be the subject of our release.

Why not?

Well, the communities are lovely, but the simple fact of their existence is not news. A release detailing their services and amenities would be exactly what editors dread — an advertisement masquerading, not very artfully, as a press release.

However, we also knew that each of these communities was filled with people, and where there are people, there can be news. With digging, we found that a woman residing at one of the communities had a fascinating story to tell. She had served as a World War II combat nurse and still harbored a trove of historically-significant photos that she’d snapped. We focused the press release on her and the significance of her experiences.

The senior community was part of the release, of course, both because she lives there and because it decided to hold a flag presentation in her honor. However, the community wasn’t the central thrust.

This press release landed impressive results. The daily newspaper serving her community ran a large story with photos as its Sunday local news cover article. One of the first phone calls that came in to the senior community that day was from a senior interested in moving in. It’s understandable, because our press release, and the resulting news coverage, demonstrated that interesting, vibrant people – the kind of people you’d want to have as neighbors – live at the community.

If you’re thinking about writing press releases for your company, or you want to improve what you’re already doing, do what we did. Take a fresh look at your organization. Does someone at your company have a personal story that could make a greater point about your organization? Has a customer used your product or service in an unusual way that he or she’s willing to talk about? These are just a few suggestions.

Bottom line: News stories are just that – interesting stories.