5 questions to ask when writing news releases

February 28, 2013

If you were to ask any of my students if they know the two golden questions, they would most certainly respond:  “So what? Who cares?” 

These are the two essential questions that every journalist must ask each time they receive a press release from a PR professional. They need to put their readers, viewers and listeners first.

There isn’t anything revolutionary about the concept that journalists must examine with each press release that they receive and determine whether it is newsworthy enough to pursue a story. That’s why it has become increasingly important that we, as PR pros, do our homework.

Press release writing takes research, time and skill.  We all strive for a message that drives results and catapults our clients into mainstream media.

Coincidentally, this also requires effective writing.

Throughout my tenure in the PR profession, I have developed five basic questions that every practitioner must answer when drafting and editing press releases:

1. What are we announcing?

While this may seem simple, many professionals do not ask this question prior to writing a press release. What are we trying to convey through the press release? Why is this new or different? What makes our announcement important and newsworthy?

Newsworthiness is based on how, if and to what extent the story will affect a specific audience. Something isn’t news just because we, as PR professionals, say that it is.  As much as our clients like to think everything that their company does is newsworthy, it simply is not.  That’s why a press release must define that impact.

For example, we should ask ourselves: Is what we are announcing different than an existing product? Is what we are announcing new to the marketplace? Does the message enhance or augment past products and services? If the answer is, “yes,” then how so?

Additionally, we need to ask why our company would make this announcement now. Does it have to do with a market need, competitive advantage or a new partnership?

2. Who is the target audience?

Who are we trying to reach with this press release? Is it a certain industry, region or demographic? Sending a blanket press release to every contact on your media list will probably not get you as far as you had hoped, especially in today’s minute-to-minute news cycle.

Now,  more than ever, it is critical that we focus our messages. We should target them to the publication that we are sending our release to, the journalist who is receiving the announcement and the audience who will eventually receive the announcement.

3. What are the impacts or benefits?

A company press release should explain in detail what the target audience would gain.

As we write a press release, keep these questions in mind:

How will this announcement impact or benefit our customers? If we are launching a new product or service, then we may want to explain the overall highlights of the product or service. If the product or service has implications for our business, then it may be important to emphasize how the news will grow the business, enable a new skill set or even add jobs to the economy.

There are times when a company must overcome crisis or damage to their reputation. In that case, we may want to examine how the message we are sending mitigates negative perceptions that might exist in the market.

4. When and where is it available?

If your company is launching a new product or a service, then consumers will want to know about its availability or when they can benefit from the service. It is up to us, as PR professionals, to give our customers a time frame. Even if our product won’t be on the shelf for a month or they can’t yet take part in a new program that we’ve developed, it’s good to make consumers aware of an availability date.

Put yourself in your consumer’s shoes. When will this product be available? When can I sign up for the new service? Will the product or service be available or relevant only to customers in the United States? Does the product have a global audience?

Though you can try to think like your customer and anticipate what they may ask, you should answer their questions before they ever have to ask them. Taking the time to think about the audience who can benefit from the product or services can go a long way in helping you determine whether you send the release to a local news outlet, trade publication or national news outlet.

5. Who will be the spokesperson?

The CEO isn’t always the best spokesperson. It is up to the PR practitioners to find the right person to speak about what the company is announcing in the press release.

We should ask ourselves which higher-level executive would be the correct individual to quote in the press release. It may not be any of the C-level executives.  And that’s OK.  There are many experts within a company, but it is the PR professional’s job to identify the experts on this specfic  topic.  Ask if he or she is available to speak with reporters about the announcement, and find out if this person is media savvy enough to speak to the press.

For example, if your press release focuses on a new software product, then you should look to the department that developed the software because they understand the intimate details and can easily take part in an interview.

Don’t forget about your customers either. Review your customer base to see if there are any customers or business partners that can serve as spokespeople and press references.  We all know that third-party validation is always positive for press.

One key to success is to provide the receiving journalist with a release that includes as many details as possible. If you make it a practice to answer these five questions prior to writing your next press release, then I’ll bet journalists will be more receptive to your pitches. 

Give it a try — you don’t have anything to lose!

Regina Luttrell, Ph.D.

Regina Luttrell, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of public relations and social media in the department of English Language and Literature at Eastern Michigan University. Follow her on Twitter @ginaluttrell.


Breyon Hert says:

Great article! Excellent advice and much appreciated information. Thank-you. :)

March 10, 2013

Lydia Szyjka, MA says:

Great advice. I especially like #5 - finding the appropriate spokesperson is vital (even if it's just a quote for the news release). Thanks.

Feb. 7, 2014

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