How ‘why?’ can inject life into your next news release

We’ve all heard the expression of “raining cats and dogs.”

In the arena of news releases, however, there is an all-too-common experience: yawning cats and dogs. That’s an expression for the lifeless, bland collections of words that do a disservice to the word “news.”

This came to mind a few weeks ago, when a college friend asked for advice on creating a news release for an upcoming art exhibit featuring his work. At my request, he sent me a release he’d used previously.

It read like so many other so-called news releases–written without any creativity, imagination or sense of story-telling. For those looking to develop as a publicist, or in any way as someone seeking to attract attention from the media and your target audience, my response to my friend (below) should be helpful.

“What you sent is a very common style of release. What, who, when, where. What it lacks is “why”. And that’s the heart of great story-telling.

Why do you paint? Why did you paint the pieces that are on exhibit in July? Why should people care? Why is it different from others in your genre?

Here are some questions I’d ask you, to elicit a story that the media would gravitate to more often:

What your earliest memories of painting? As a 1st grader? When was it, and what parallels between then and now? What’s different?

What other hats have you worn in life—professionally and personally, and how do those roles play a part in your art?

Who are your biggest influences—in life, in your art?

What are the adjectives that you would ascribe to your work? What have others said? Where are you headed with your art? What do you want to spark in those who view your art?

Tell me about a recent piece that you finished and that will be part of your show in July–what was the journey you took with it? What inspired you to do it? How did it change as you created it? How did YOU change as a result of having created it?

The key is to have a story that weaves in the facts of your show, but it does not make the show “the thing.”

You, and your journey and your impact on those around you via your art—that is the real thing. The show is simply a vehicle to tell the broader story.”

Looking for more guidance? At Inside Edge, you can find plenty of samples of news releases that I’ve written.

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In News Releases, Less Is So Much More

There’s a reason why telephone numbers are only so long. When it comes to retaining a series of digits, we tend to max out at four.

Likewise, do you think of your social security number as a 9-figure monster, or a three-figure beginning, a two-digit middle, and a four-figure finale?

The same is true in writing.

Think Ernest Hemingway (right), not William Faulkner (below), as you craft stories, including those in news-release form. Hemingway was a master of brevity. Faulkner once whipped up a 1,287-word sentence.

I don’t mean you should write Twitter-length releases. Some of mine are more than 600 words long, like the one I recently wrote about an 80-year-old patient of chiropractor/acupuncturist Hiroya Nakamura.

But keep the sentences short enough that they don’t require three readings to attain comprehension.

A confused mind says “no” and 40-plus-word sentences tend to be much more confusing than those phrases that don’t journey beyond a 25-word landscape.

Publicists Must Anticipate, Address Conflict

I just read an engaging piece (“The Redundant Journalist Guide to PR: Things To Be Considered Before Jumping Careers”) by journalist-turned-publicist Craig McGill.

In a humorous, been there-done that address to journalists considering a move to PR, McGill makes plenty of on-target points. As someone who has made the transition, however, I have to differ with at least one of his five key messages:

“You write press releases, not the story.”

In that section, McGill writes, “If you do get a topic or issue that you can sink your teeth into, remember you aren’t looking to give all sides. You aren’t writing the row (Matt’s note: “row'” is Brit-speak for “conflict”), just your client’s side of it.”

In my experience, writing a release that is limited in scope (confined to the client’s perspective, for example) simply limits its potential to spark interest from credible media.

With the media more short-staffed than ever, it’s vital for publicists to offer written content that not only anticipates the conflict inherent in a story, but offers rock-solid facts (statistics, maybe even contrary viewpoints) that make it all the more tempting for the media to say “yes” to coverage.

Here’s one example from a news release I recently developed for Scheck & Siress.

Rather than simply tell the story about what the company is doing to help care for children who have plagiocephaly (flat-head syndrome), I expanded the release to include fuller context and conflict–in this case, with the successful “Back to Sleep” campaign that has drastically reduced Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

So far, five media outlets have expressed interest in the story, including two that have published it.