Most news releases are a waste of time.

That may seem like a strange way to begin an article that’s going to explain how to put a news release together, but the truth is that people who receive releases usually put them directly into the circular file.

If you don’t use a public relations or marketing firm to promote your business, you need to know the tricks and tactics of creating an effective news release. A small investment of time can turn into a large reward: nearly free publicity.

To create an effective press release, you need to know:

  1. What to say.
  2. How to say it.
  3. Where to send it.

Read on to find out how these steps can help you create a news release that will get your firm noticed.

What to say
Don’t issue a news release unless you have a genuinely newsworthy announcement to make. If it seems to the editors and clients who receive your releases that you’re issuing one every time you successfully tie your shoelaces, they will figure out that you’re just trying to generate publicity, and you soon will get a reputation as the consultant who cries wolf. Then, when you do send out a genuine announcement, editors will be even more likely to ignore you.

Following are some newsworthy announcements:

  • Starting a big project
  • Finishing a big project
  • Forming an important partnership or joint venture
  • Hiring someone to fill an important position or creating several new jobs
  • Playing a significant role in a business or community event
  • Opening a new office
  • Helping a charitable organization
  • Speaking at a conference or doing something notable at a trade show
  • Hosting a seminar

Other ideas: A Web site you’ve helped to develop is about to be launched. A book you’ve written is about to be published. One of your projects is part of a national trend or can be linked to a hot contemporary issue. One of your projects is unique, unusual, or just plain weird.

A good way to test the newsworthiness of a release is to have someone read it and tell you if he or she would be interested in reading a newspaper article about it. If not, consider rewriting it from another angle or waiting until you have genuine news.

How to say it
Use a professional tone, but stick to everyday words and short sentences. Don’t write more than one page unless you’re making an earth-shattering announcement. Editors expect press releases to follow a fairly standard format:

  • Print “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” at the top left of the page. Then, type your contact information: name, title, address, phone number, and e-mail address.
  • Print your headline in bold type and center it just above the first line of the body of the press release. Make sure the headline includes a verb and, if possible, note how the news benefits someone (e.g., The Smith Group’s Latest Project Makes Web Shopping Easier).
  • Create a dateline that includes the city where the release is generated and the date of the release (e.g., LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—December 1, 2000).
  • The lead paragraph should address the five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why. The paragraph also should include a “hook” that catches the reader’s attention and tells him or her why your news is important.
  • The rest of the release should include interesting details about the information in the first paragraph. Include quotes from clients, partners, or even yourself. Break up the text with subheads or bullets. Press releases should be formatted in block style, so you don’t need to indent paragraphs.
  • End the last paragraph with a “for more information” line that includes a URL or phone number.
  • Center three closing marks (# # #) after the last paragraph.
  • After the closing marks, include a paragraph that provides a standard description of your company (e.g., The Smith Group is a Los Angeles consulting firm specializing in…).
  • Print your release on letterhead or other high-quality paper using a laser printer. If you photocopy the release, make sure you get high-quality copies.

These guidelines apply to traditional news releases, but try to follow the format even if you’re sending electronic releases. Also note that you should put the release into the body of the e-mail instead of attaching a file. According to a survey of Future Media Organization members—journalists who have developed a media database for the public-relations community—receiving releases as attached files or demos is a pet peeve.

Where to send it
General-interest magazines and newspapers, publications covering high-tech topics, newsletters, trade journals, online-only publications, clients or potential clients, and even television and radio stations are all potential targets for your news releases. You need to decide where you will get the biggest bang for your PR bucks by determining which of the targets are most likely to pay attention to your release and provide the best exposure.

Notice that I said the “best” exposure, which isn’t necessarily the widest exposure. It’s better to get noticed by 100 IT decision makers than 1,000 people who have no interest in your services.

If you truly need regional, national, or international exposure, you may want to consider a service such as PR Newswire. The length of your release and the geographic area you choose will determine your distribution cost. For national distribution of a 400-word release, for example, the company charges $605. Statewide dissemination is as low as $90. PR Newswire also offers writing services.

Instead of using a service, however, a less expensive option is to build your own mailing list, especially if you primarily need local coverage. Check the Web sites of your local publications to see if they offer guidelines for submitting releases, or simply call the publications, ask if they prefer paper or electronic releases, and find out to whom you should send them.

Try to get an actual name instead of just a title, because people are more likely to read mail addressed specifically to them. (Of course, you’ll need to keep your mailing list current by checking periodically to make sure the names are valid.) You also might want to visit the Press Release Resources page at Profnet. It provides links to contact information for many online and print publications.

Should you make follow-up phone calls after you send out a release? Follow-up calls are a common PR practice, but be forewarned that calls were also voted the editors’ biggest pet peeve in the survey mentioned earlier.

For more tips, visit It’s a site hosted by a company that provides news-release services (i.e., writing the release for $275, distributing it to 9,000 news outlets for another $275), but the site also offers a free newsletter that focuses on how to put together effective releases. Other resources include content basics, tips, and a sample press release.

Thomas Pack is a freelance technology reporter.

Got a sure-fire tactic for getting a positive response to your news releases? Start a discussion below or send us a note.