Evaluating Press Releases

Press Release grade: (blue box) You will sometimes see this detailed breakdown of the three levels of your press release work -- the pre-writing (Message Planner), the attention-getting headline and lead, and the totality of the release. Notice that the headline and lead are worth more than all the rest of the release combined. Ignoring format instructions will cost you five points. A perfect release is 100 pts. This one is 75 ("C") downgraded to a "D" for misspellings and grammar problems.

Midterm & Final: (green box) A perfect grade: Depending on other elements of the assignment (in this case, a press release plus two delayed leads), the message planner will be worth 35 points; the headline and lead is still worth more than the rest of the release. Note in both cases format problems can cost you 5 points; and if there are any misspellings in the release the overall grade will drop one letter (e.g., a "B" becomes an "C").

Also check out the Press Release Checklist, and examples of "A" , "C" , and "F" work.
Also check out a sample Message Planner and the Press Release Format.

How I grade a press release: In evaluating a press release I am looking at five separate areas:

  1. 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

  2. In your headline and lead, is your news angle sharp and irresistible?

    • This is what the editor cares about
      and it's what you need to make your story news

  3. Are your 5 W's and key ideas organized effectively?

    • This is what the reader cares about...
      poor organization = unreadable copy

  4. Do you use a convincing journalistic style?

    • Press release writing is journalism... you should
      read newspapers so news style comes to you naturally

  5. Are the basics in place -- grammar, sentence and paragraph mechanics?

    • Poor grammar signals a lack of professionalism...
      misspellings = automatic drop of one grade point

Grading writing assignments 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 "scientific" letter grades -- usually, a "C" for rewarding effort. When letter grades eventually 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".

Element Best = 5 Adequate = 3 Poor = 1
Head &
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 that!" 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 government work." 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 &
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 it.
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 story forward. 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.
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 is.
Basics 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 of paragraphing.

These guidelines are useful whether I'm grading classroom work, or your finished, typewritten assignments. Also,

  1. Your release format (margins, spacing, placement of key items, etc.) is also very important. A format that ignores the guidelines will result in a 5-point drop .

  2. Spelling & grammar 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.