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Questions to Ask Before
the Press Release Goes
Out to the Media
Here are key questions to ask once you have completed a press release and received necessary approvals, but before you disseminate it to the media. Your answers will help you to assess to what extent your release can capture the attention of reporters. (Note: The 'News Release Audit' document included in the manual for coaches for The Public Relations Society of America's Accreditation Review Study Course inspired this article.)
1. What aspects of the information you want to present in your release are newsworthy? In other words, how does your release meet criteria generally used by reporters to determine news value? (i.e. the unusual or odd element; something new; timeliness; size; common interest; a local angle; celebrity involvement; disagreement or conflict; human interest; reputation.)
2. Does your release highlight these newsworthy elements while at the same time clearly and concisely communicating your organization's relevant key messages?
3. Does your release focus on one subject, issue, or topic?
4. Does your release concentrate on presenting information as opposed to interpreting or selling?
5. Does your letterhead identify the source of the release (i.e. organization or cause?)
6. a. Is a contact person(s) identified?
b. Is this individual available to answer questions during the period immediately after the initial dissemination of the release? Credible in the eyes of the media? Willing to be contacted? Possess the skills necessary to answer questions and represent the point of view of the organization?
c. Is the following information available for listed contacts: name, title, and affiliation (i.e. company/organization, public relations agency); phone number (work and home, with the latter offered if calls are expected outside of typical working hours); e-mail; cell phone/pager numbers?
7. When should the release be disseminated (i.e. day/date and time of day)? Is this timeframe the optimal one for gaining media attention?
8. Is the dateline (the place where the news originates) appropriate?
9. Is the title accurate, newsworthy, and concise (two lines maximum)?
10. Do the lead sentence (and paragraph) summarize the subject of the release? Are they newsworthy? Will they interest readers? Does the lead paragraph include the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your story? Is it void of positioning, marketing language, and other unnecessary words?
11. Does the remainder of the body of the release amplify the lead sentence and paragraph?
12. a. Do quotes amplify or substantively support information presented in the release? Or should you provide a quote from a representative of your organization as a matter of going on record on a particular issue? Or is it important merely to quote a particular individual in your organization?
b. Should you quote anyone outside your organization (e.g. elected official, celebrity, industry analyst, customer)? Why? What process do you have to follow to obtain such a quote and have it approved for use in the release?
13. Is the inverted pyramid used to organize release material (i.e. the most important information is presented first, then in order of descending importance)? Can you defend the order of information as it is? Could an editor chop it off your copy after any paragraph and still have a story that communicates the essence of the release's main message?
14. Does the last paragraph of the release (referred to as boilerplate) provide a brief (two to three sentences, maximum) overview of what your organization or cause does, including contact information?
15. Are the sentences of an appropriate length? (10 to 12 words, at most). Paragraphs? (4 to 5 lines, at most). The release itself? (two pages, maximum).
16. Is the copy in your press release double-spaced? Have you left sufficient space around the copy (at least one each margins on each side and at the bottom of the page)? Do you clearly indicate the end of the release (with ### (three number symbols) or -30- (dash followed by the number thirty followed by a dash)? Do you indicate that a release continues on a second page by putting -more- at the bottom, and do you include the release title and page number at the top of the second page?
17. Have you eliminated unwanted jargon, technical terms, adjectives/adverbs, and use of the passive voice? Are acronyms spelled out when you use them for the first time, for the benefit of all potential readers?
18. Is the information in the release appropriately documented? Would a skeptic question any assertions or statements made without attribution, such as statistics or a quote from a reputable third-party?
19. Have you anticipated in your copy possible questions raised by readers?
20. Is your release written for an audience that does not have previous knowledge about your subject?
21. Why should the potential audience for your release (i.e. readers or viewers of the media outlet(s) you are targeting) care about what you've written? What is in it for them?
22. Are you writing the release for the editor of the publication(s) whose attention you would like to attract?
23. Have you confirmed the accuracy of all information in your release? (e.g. spelling, grammar, statistics, phone numbers/e-mail addresses, titles).
24. Have you confirmed that your press release is e-mail friendly by checking formatting and eliminating to the best of your ability any unusual characters that may not translate intelligibly when the document is distributed?
25. Have you identified ways to Web-enable your press release, specifically by identifying key words or phrases that might be linked to additional information of interest to the reader? Do you have this additional information, or does it need to be developed?
Many more articles in Public Relations in The CEO Refresher Archives