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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Press Here: Freelance Writing Tip#14

Whether you're publicising your own services or doing a writing job for someone else, as a freelance writer you're likely to be asked to write a press release at some time. Here are the basics of what you need to know.

What is a press release?
A press release is essentially a news story written to interest a specific publication or audience. It consists of three main parts: the headline, the introduction and the body. There may also be a note to editors at the end of the story which contains extra information for those not familiar with your organisation or product.

As with a news story, the intro (lead) is crucial and the facts that you want to organize should answer the who, what, where, when, why questions, right from the start. The press release should sound like a news story, with short sentences and paragraphs. Your story needs a clear angle, and no loose ends.

How do I decide what to put in a press release?
News is essentially about people, as Harold Evans says in The Practice of Journalism:

"news is people. It is people talking and people doing. Committees and cabinets and courts are people; so are fires, accidents and planning decisions. They are only news because they involve and affect people."

It is therefore important to stress the people aspect of your story.

Four other techniques you can use are:

  • controversy - examples could include attacking a government decision, making a prediction about the future or suggesting a new policy
  • conflict - examples include price cuts, fighting for an elected office or a battle for market share
  • novelty value - describe a coincidence, a chance event or a surprising statistic.
  • empathy - show how your product can help the reader, a survey on issues that concern people, provide tips to handling a common problem.

A successful press release should be:

  • relevant to the people it is sent to
  • focused: that is, correctly targeted
  • timely: fitting in with the publication deadlines of the organization you’re sending it to
  • readable: if it bores the person who does the initial read, the chances of getting it published are slim
  • presented in the right format.

Most of all a press release should be news.

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