How I grade a press release: In evaluating a press release I am looking at five separate areas:
In your headline and lead, is the PR message
clear and compelling?
This is what your client cares about
and it's key to the success of your PR strategy
In your headline and lead, is your news angle sharp
This is what the editor cares about
and it's what you need to make your story news
Are your 5 W's and key ideas organized effectively?
This is what the reader cares about...
poor organization = unreadable copy
Do you use a convincing journalistic style?
Press release writing is journalism
you should read newspapers so news style comes to you naturally
Are the basics in place -- grammar, sentence and
Poor grammar signals a lack of professionalism...
misspellings = automatic drop of one grade point
Grading written papers is less scientific than teachers like
to admit. Here is a guide I use in evaluating your press release.
Ultimately, "5", "3" and "1" correspond to "A", "C" and "F", but
in the early classes I don't assign letter grades. When letter
grades finally are assigned, a release that does not quite measure
up to the top level, but is better than the middle level, will
earn a "B" -- and similarly for "D".
Best = 5
Adequate = 3
Poor = 1
Head & Lead (message)
The PR message is clear and compelling. It's not simply informative,
but charged with interest and a sense of importance that involves
the reader. A great lead will make the reader say, "I didn't know
The PR message is identifiable. A reader already interested in
the subject will keep reading. The essential 5 W's are there.
It's informative rather than compelling. "Good enough for
The PR message is absent. The lead does not convey the 5 W's.
There is no reason to expect a reader to keep on reading.
Head & Lead (news angle)
News angle is sharp, irresistible. Clearly a story of real news
value, written with editor's needs in mind. He or she might well
spike another news story to make room for this one.
Technically, this is a news story, not just PR puffery, but the
news angle is merely identifiable, not dominant -- an editor
might well say "So what?" The writer has not fully exploited the
news potential in the material.
The basic information may be in place but the story has no news
value. It's written not for an editor but for a teacher who
doesn't have the option enjoyed by the editor -- to simply toss
The story's best 5 W's have been exploited, and the other key
ideas have been assigned their place in the marshalling of points
to support the message and validate the news angle. Paragraphs
methodically develop the argument, in descending order, with
effective use of quotes.
The story's 5 W's can be identified. Other key ideas are present
but could be arranged more effectively in support of the message.
No (inverted) pyramid of argument in the paragraph order. No
quotes, or they're bland, or poorly identified, or don't move the
The writer does not seem to have definitely decided on all 5 W's,
or has otherwise left out key information. Poor organization.
Repetitiveness. No quotes. Release too short.
Journal- istic style
Release is written in cool, crisp journalistic style. The tone
is ostensibly dispassionate and objective, even when enthusiasm is evident.
No way it could be confused with advertising copy.
Release attempts journalistic style, but other influences invade,
including newsletter chattiness, or promotional puffery, or Comp
I narrative. Likely the writer doesn't read newspapers, but is at
least making an effort to imitate a formalistic style.
The writer apparently does not understand what journalistic style
Spelling, punctuation & grammar consistently good. Sentences
effectively and pleasantly varied, with few subordinate clauses
-- rarely more than three typewritten lines. Paragraphs are each
based on one dominant idea, and rarely exceed three sentences.
Occasional spelling errors. Unclear on punctuation rules.
Minor difficulties with grammar amounting to awkward structure or
poor choices, not glaring errors. Sentences too long or too
choppy. Paragraph structure does not reflect organized thoughts.
Poor spelling AND poor punctuation AND poor grammar.
Run-on sentences, fragmented sentences. Poor understanding of principles
These guidelines are useful whether I'm grading classroom work,
or your finished, typewritten assignments. Also,
format (margins, spacing, placement of key items, etc.) is
also very important. A format that ignores the guidelines will result in an automatic drop of one grade point
Spelling mistakes on your typewritten work -- and be especially careful about the spelling of people's names -- will result in an automatic drop of one grade point. It is impossible to earn an "A" in this course if your final assignments contain misspellings.
On graded press release assignments and remember, your first draft of an assignment is usually not graded you will sometimes see this box with points awarded for each aspect of a press release assignment. Depending on other elements of the assignment (in this case, the assignment calls for a press release plus two delayed leads), the message planner will be worth about 25% of the grade for the release itself; the headline and lead will be worth more than that; the rest of the release will be worth about 25%; format problems will cost you 5-10 points; and if there are any misspellings in the release the overall grade will drop one letter (in this case, a "D" becomes an "F").Just to clarify further, the second box at right shows a "perfect" grade on an assignment, assuming every element of the work is perfectly accomplished. This second example is provided just to make sure that you understand the "math" behind the grading system. I will sometimes use this detailed numerical grading system to help you understand exactly what works and what doesn't... and sometimes it's sufficient to use the five-point "Best/Adequate/Poor" rating grid above.