5 Critical Tests Every Press Release Must Pass

You've heard "them" say it, haven't you?

By "them" I mean the experts. The teachers. Even some people from advertising & PR agencies.

They'll tell you there's only one way to do a press release "right."

Single page, double spaced, 12 point type.


I've been working in radio and TV full time or part time since 1972, and that means I've seen thousands of press releases.

I never threw one away because it didn't fit the "classic" or "standard" format you hear about so often.

A journalist -- especially a journalist working on deadline -- doesn't care about that stuff...

There are, however, five things that *are* important, and if your press release doesn't have them, it will probably wind up in the trash in seconds.

I call them "The Five Tests Every Press Release Must Pass."

1) The Instant Eyeball Test,

The person reading the release takes a quick glance at the overall appearance.

Does it have a catchy headline, or is the top of the page crowded with unnecessary information or big graphics (like PR agency/company logos)?

Is it readable? Does it look cramped, with block paragraphs that suck up most of the white space? Will the screener have to search through a lot of print on the page to figure out what's newsworthy?

Is there any bold print emphasizing important points?

And maybe the biggest factor of all: can he/she figure out in five seconds or less what this release is about, and what action the writer would like the news operation to take in response?

Flunking the Instant Eyeball Test doesn't mean the release will immediately drop into the trash can. But if your release is poorly formatted and visually unappealing, it's definitely a strike against you.

2) The Headline Test

Even if you've just flunked the Instant Eyeball Test, you'll probably still get a chance to redeem yourself by offering a great headline.

In my opinion, this is the most important part of the release.

Give the reader a catchy, attention-grabbing, interest- provoking headline, and the battle is half won.

For a quick primer on headlines that motivate journalists to "bite," see http://www.publicity-pro.com/articles/headlines-publicity.htm

3) The Hot Button Test

The next question in the screener's mind relates to the subject of the release. Actually, there are probably several questions running through the screener's mind simultaneously:

* Is it information people need to know, or would like to know?

* How much of a potential audience is there for this information?

In other words, how newsworthy is it?

There are certain universal themes, story lines, and angles that make something newsworthy. I call them news "Hot Buttons," and they're the subject of a Special Report I've written, available free at http://www.publicity-pro.com/hotbuttons.htm

4) The "Medium Matching" Test

The first question you should ask yourself is "Who's going to be reading this, and what do they need to know from me?"

Very few people take the time to tailor a release to the medium they're pitching, but those who do tend to be more successful.

The decision-maker looks for opportunities that are characteristic of their medium.

TV news wants visuals of people doing something.

TV/radio talk or "magazine" shows look for engaging guests to interview or topics to discuss at some length.

Newspapers and magazines look for depth.

5) The "Perspective" Test

"Perspective" answers the question "What is this news release *really* all about?"

Sometimes it's obviously written from the perspective of someone who wants to sell a product. They talk mainly about that product or their company, and they offer little or no "news value." (see the "Hot Button Test" for more on the meaning of "news value")

Remember, a news release is supposed to be about n-e-w-s. It reads like an announcement or a newspaper article, not a promotional flyer or sales copy.

Sometimes a news release is written from the perspective of someone who wants to pat themselves on the back. It's the kind of self-glorification that you see in annual reports.

These news releases come off as boastful and self-serving, and usually offer little of interest to journalists.

The best news releases are those written with the media's audience in mind.

They say to the decision-maker, "Here's something you can offer your viewers that will keep them from reaching for the remote..." or

"Here's something you can give your listeners to keep their fingers away from the pushbuttons on their radio..." or

"Here's something that will compel your readers to look at the page long enough to notice the deodorant ad to the left of the column."

In other words, news organizations don't want you to "touch that dial" and switch your attention elsewhere.

Give them information that keeps their audiences tuned in, and you've got a winner.

News releases written from that perspective are the ones that get attention -- and coverage.

To see a line-by-line critique of two press releases I think are excellent, go to http://www.publicity-pro.com/pressrelease1.htm

Both these release announce product rollouts, and both pass the "5 Critical Tests" with an A+ grade.

Award winning TV anchor George McKenzie offers a free 7-part email "Publicity Crash Course," which shows you how to turn the mass media into your personal publicity machine. Register now at http://www.publicity-pro.com and start getting powerful, profitable, and priceless free publicity on TV, radio, and in newspapers and magazines.

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