Editing your Press Release
“Collective Feedback” – comments on your Westland assignment for Lesson 2
… your first "real" press release … and your first message planner.... "collective feedback" makes sense because so many students make the same types of mistakes on their early assignments. Soon you’ll be ready for more detained individual comments on your work. Beginning in Lesson Three, you should use the Press Release Checklist, (see below) so you can take responsibility for self-editing.
These were the main problem areas with the Message Planner, which represents the pre-writing, the planning, that you do for all your PR writing. Most students did not do a good job on this. The biggest problems were::
The Media Alert
New PR students often make the mistake of writing a press release that announces an upcoming press conference, instead of "reporting" on the press conference. Keep these distinctions in mind:
· A media alert – the difference between a Media Alert and a Press Release is more than a question of format. The basic principle is this: a Media Alert is mailed out in advance of a press conference. It gives just enough information in one page (not more – don’t confuse reporters with a second page that can get detached)… to convince a news director to send a reporter and camera crew (or a newspaper reporter and photographer).It will trumpet an upcoming event (press conference, grand opening, groundbreaking, significant speech, photo op, etc.). Naturally, you would never distribute a media alert at a press conference -- the media is already there with you!
· A press release is is not a news alert. It does not say "there will be" a press conference. The press release is, essentially, the story that you want to open the paper tomorrow (the day after the press conference) and read, as a result of your successful press conference. It is not about the story, it is the story.written in the style of news coverage, as the story you would like to see written after your media event has taken place. Its lead is, essentially, the sound bite you'd like to hear on the afternoon drive-time radio... and on the TV news tonight. If you could have your wish, the press release is the story that would be featured on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper, with a big fat photo. It is always written from the point of view that the announcement has already taken place, or that the news event is now ongoing. Thus --
§ Mayor Cline today announced a new initiative ... or
§ The Cline administration is taking legal action to ... etc.
· A press release is always wrong if it says something like, "Mayor Jimmy Cline will appear at a press conference today where he will announce..." Remember, the press release is what you distribute at the press conference -- the reporters are already there in the room with you.
There are several examples for you to look at in Lesson Three. Study them carefully and take them to heart. They are your models for the kind of work I expect as we move forward. They set the standard, and provide the answer to that urgent question, "What does he want from me?"
The Press Release Checklist
There are twelve problem areas for press releases, … take your time and read these pages carefully, because they'll save you a lot of time later.
There are other pages that will be a big help. Like the online chart on Evaluating Press ReleaseS. Notice that there are samples of "A," "C," and "F" papers. There is also a sample of an "A" quality Message Planner.
I expect you -- and your client or boss will expect you -- to take the initiative in perfecting your work. Your client, or boss, will often suggest changes in how you approach your assignment. But they will expect that all the basic problems will be solved before you present your draft.
I've already mentioned that editors are looking for Timeliness and Proximity ... but when you're trying to come up with a good, sharp angle , that's not enough. You're competing for the editor's attention with hundreds of other stories -- you need to be more than timely and local.
The next few
pages (text in blue) contain
information that we did not have time to discuss, as we substituted a
Timeliness... Thirty men, women and children were killed in cold blood on the lakefront, near the site of McCormick Place. This fact is not news, since it happened in 1832 -- Chicago's "Dearborn Massacre." Editors want to know that your story is news -- that it's all about what's happening now.
Proximity... That flash flood that killed five people -- if it happened in Schaumburg, it's news. If it happened in Sri Lanka, you probably won't read about it in the Chicago Sun-Times. Editors want to know that your story is local -- that it's all about what's happening here. (How can you make a national story local?)
· Eminence or prominence ... If you get stopped for driving while intoxicated, it probably won't make the news. If the governor gets stopped, you can look for it on the TV news tonight, and the front page of tomorrow's papers.
· Impact... If your story affects 1,000 people, an editor will find it more interesting than one affecting only ten people -- but it's likely to be bumped by a timely local story that affects a million people. Big money talks, too -- not to sound too much like Dr. Evil in "Austen Powers," but "$1 million" will catch an editor's attention.
· Unusualness ... Editors are always willing to pay attention to the unusual -- because they know readers want to read about the unusual. Sometimes you can frame a story in the context that it's a departure from common assumptions, or business as usual.
· Conflict ... News reporting thrives on conflict. Often this hook will seem counterproductive -- why would you want to emphasize conflict in a positive piece about your client? -- but there may be ways to use conflict, especially if your release is about a service or product or event that will appeal to the majority while protecting them against adverse interests.
· Human Interest... This is a catch-all that covers a multitude of attractions -- children, kittens and puppies, love relationships, humorous or ironic complications. Hard to describe, but you know them when you see them because they're so much a part of our human nature. Different editors will have different definitions, of course.
Other things editors look for include such things as stories that reflect the interests of their publisher or owner... stories that flatter major advertisers... stories that adhere to a political or ideological point of view... etc. These are specific to certain editors more than others, but should not be overlooked.
You also need to know about