Get the most from
by Brigid Sanner
A mainstay of most communications editors want; that is, what they consider something that links into an
and marketing programs, the news to be news,” advises Mark Landsbaum, active policy debate,” states the
release allows health and wellness groups author of Streetwise® Low-Cost Communications Toolkit, created by the
to control the information they issue to Marketing. “Next, give them what they Economic & Social Research Council in
the media. Through this vehicle, an want,” he says. “Don’t forget to show the United Kingdom. “Think about
organization can decide what it wants to how their readers will benefit from your your story from the journalists’ point of
say, when it wants to say it, and to story by linking your news to their view,” suggests this resource, “the key
which media outlets it wants to direct readers’ interests. And, of course, make question to ask is ‘so what’?”
its news. Yet sending out a release does it easy for them to publish your news,”
not always lead to media interest or continues Landsbaum, “by anticipating Building your media lists
coverage. Also, once sent, a news release and answering as many of the questions Once you establish the nature of your
can sometimes take on a life of its own. that writers and editors will have.” news, you need to develop a list of the
As a result, an organization may feel a media to which you will distribute your
loss of control over how the media Reaching your audiences release. There are literally thousands of
decide to cover this news. When planning a news release, consider media outlets, including newspapers,
what news you have, who would be magazines, trade publications, wire
So what are the secrets that will help interested in your news, and which services, newsletters, Web-based media,
you place a news release successfully? media outlets to target. television and radio. To determine
As with almost all strategic where to send your release, ask yourself
communications activities, the The media are the conduit through the following questions:
effectiveness of a release depends on which you place a news release, with the
good planning, careful execution and ultimate goal of reaching specific target • Which audiences are interested in my
credible follow-through. audiences. For example, if you were news?
launching several new fitness facilities, • What media do they read, watch or
Is it news? your news might interest people in the listen to?
To get the most from a news release, business community who want to know • Who are the specific editors,
you must first understand the proper about local business growth or reporters and news directors at these
use of this communications tool. A expansion, as well as new jobs in the media outlets who would find my
news release is a timely news story that a area. Strategic targets for this release release of interest?
business or organization writes and would include chamber of commerce
sends to specific media outlets, such as publications, local business reporters, Once you answer these questions, you
daily and weekly newspapers, trade and industry trade publications. can start to build your media list. But
publications, and magazines. Above all Another audience might be potential before you leap to the step of sending
else, a news release should contain members or clients who live or work your release, be sure to familiarize
news—current, accurate information of near the new facilities. To appeal to this yourself with the different media. Read,
interest to the target audiences of these group, you might distribute a release watch or listen to the outlets, so you
outlets. to local city and neighborhood have a sense of the news they cover,
publications and offer special events their style, their editors and reporters,
Making Health Communication Programs geared to the consumer, e.g. open and the topics or issues they tend to
Work, a resource published by the U.S. houses, free passes or trial memberships, feature. The more you target the right
Department of Health and Human or free seminars. In fact, you could media outlets for a news release, the
Services, offers pointers for creating a easily develop two releases to convey greater your chances of success in the
release of interest. Of primary your news: one for a business audience competition for media coverage.
importance, the story should appeal to and one for a general consumer
the media’s audience, notes the audience. Distributing your news
publication. Also, the media especially Susan C. Hegger, assistant managing
like fresh angles or twists on topics that To garner greater media coverage, you editor/features editor of the St. Louis
will attract public interest. “must convince the press that you have Post Dispatch, receives 20–25 releases
something interesting to say—perhaps a each day. Like many metropolitan
“To get news coverage of your company, new ‘fact’ about the world, a new way
you must first know what writers and of looking at an important issue or
Continued on page 24
The Journal on Active Aging ¥ March April 2005 23
Effective news releases
Continued from page 23
newspaper editors, Hegger pays more than to on-air personalities or broadcast before the publication date,” comments
attention to a news release if she “can journalists. David Sakrison, author of Getting the
immediately see a local hook,” she says. Most from Your News Releases. As well,
“If it is not local, it is more likely to get Thirdly, send a release electronically, “Daily newspapers often prepare special
disregarded.” rather than in paper format, sections days or weeks in advance,” he
recommends Hegger. “It enables the states. Here again, a media outlet’s
Hegger offers several practical tips for person receiving the release to forward it website can give you information about
sending a news release. Firstly, find the to another reporter if needed,” she the best time to send a release.
name and contact information for the explains. Finally, a follow-up phone call
editor of each publication or section doesn’t hurt, she suggests. “Sometimes Events outside your organization or
you are directing your release to, she things get lost,” says Hegger. “Or an business can also enhance the timing of
advises. This can be done by looking on editor or reporter has so many releases a a news release. For example, there are
a newspaper’s website for the assignment follow-up call is responsible.” But use multiple fitness-related observances in
editors. “My biggest gripe is that a lot of common sense. One call to a reporter or May:
PR people do not know who to send editor is good business; continually
news releases to,” says Hegger. calling can be both annoying and • Older Americans Month (sponsored
unprofessional. by the U.S. Administration on
Secondly, when targeting broadcast Aging);
media (television and radio), learn who The timing of a news release is also
the news or assignment editors are and important. “Many magazines have
distribute the release to them, rather editorial deadlines two or three months Continued on page 26
Successful news releases: What makes releases stand out? 4. They have no knowledge of what
an editor’s words of advice Clear writing is what it’s all about to the section writes.
Olmos. Other key factors are the quality
How do you grab the media’s of the content and the placing of Does he have other words of advice?
attention with your news releases? information in the bigger picture. Also, Wire and news releases are equal in
David Olmos, health editor of the Los a release’s scope must go beyond the Olmos’s eyes. He encourages
Angeles Times, recently gave the self-serving or any one organization or organizations to send releases by
Journal on Active Aging his take on story. Again, Olmos uses the example of email, not mail, and emphasizes that
what works and what doesn’t. the breast cancer survivor who ran the samples are unwelcome.
marathon. This woman was Hispanic
What type of story interests him? and dealing with unique problems and Unlike Susan C. Hegger of the St.
Olmos seeks the extraordinary in a with cultural issues, says Olmos, and all Louis Post-Dispatch (see above), Olmos
story. He looks for interesting, fresh these challenges made her story more prefers that organizations do not
and unique ideas—something that compelling. follow up with him after sending a
breaks new ground or advances other news release. Most of these documents
or current stories. What mistakes do organizations make? get discarded for the reasons described
Olmos lists four major missteps above, he explains, while others may
Human interest stories are big, he organizations make when sending him sit in an active file or get passed to
says, as are research and science new releases: other journalists. However, there are
stories. A truly good human interest exceptions. Something that is time
story catches his attention, he adds, 1. They do not know what the sensitive or an urgent, major news
using the example of a woman who publication has covered in the past. story warrants a call, he adds.
overcame breast cancer to run a Most publications do not want to
marathon. This type of story is rehash content. Finally, respect the editor’s or
compelling and inspiring, explains 2. Their news has no context. reporter’s time and volume, says
Olmos. And, ultimately, such a story 3. Their release exists just to gain Olmos.
may help readers improve their health. publicity.
24 The Journal on Active Aging ¥ March April 2005
Effective news releases
Continued from page 24
• Physical Fitness and Sports Month you can start writing your release. The information is embargoed, meaning it is
(sponsored by the President’s Council keys to a good release include keeping it not for release until a certain date and
on Physical Fitness and Sports); concise, direct and to the point. Here time, indicate the embargo details in the
• National Running and Fitness Week are 10 tips for developing a first-class same place, e.g. For release 3 p.m. EST,
(May 12–18, sponsored by the news release. May 22, 2005.
American Running Association);
• Bike to Work Week (May 13–17, 1. 3.
sponsored by the League of American Always include a contact name, phone Use a clever headline, but limit it to as
Bicyclists); and number and email address at the start of few words as possible. The headline
• National Water Fitness Week (May a news release. Place this information at needs to grab the attention of editors
25–31, sponsored by the United the top of the first page, before the and reporters, so they will read the
States Water Fitness Association). headline and body of the release. release.
Consider including an after-hours or
Linking your release to a broader cell phone number if the release refers 4.
observance can help develop its news to an event taking place on the weekend Put the most important information at
value. Keep in mind, however, that or at a time when no one will be in the beginning of the release, preferably
other organizations may also tie in with your office. Give your website address if in the first paragraph. Editors and
observances and compete for media further information is available there. reporters scan a release quickly to
attention. determine if it holds interest for their
2. specific audiences. They look for the five
Ten tips for crafting a Date the news release. If your release W’s and H: who, what, where, when,
quality release can be used as soon as you send it, put why and how. It is essential to state this
Once you have your news story clearly For immediate release along with the information clearly and concisely at the
in mind and determine your media list, date at the top of the first page. If the document’s start.
Gaining media coverage: a During the winter I am always eager to JAA: What missteps should an
reporter’s views do a story on safety while shoveling organization avoid?
snow, or signs to look for in a loved one
Lorrayne Anthony, a correspondent who may suffer from winter depression. LA: Calling me constantly. Emails are
with the multimedia news agency the welcome, but calls can be bothersome.
Canadian Press, talked to the Journal JAA: Is a follow-up pitch important to
on Active Aging lately about what your decision? JAA: What final advice would you give
attracts her interest as a reporter people about communicating with the
and what turns her off. LA: Follow-up pitches are important. media?
Sometimes I am interested in a
JAA: As you receive so many news particular idea, but get caught up in LA: Have a few stories in mind, not
releases, how do you decide which more timely stories, and I’ll put an idea just a topic. I’ll never forget someone
stories to cover? What makes a story in a file. If someone sends me a follow- who pitched a story about blind
newsworthy? up email, I remember to look at my file people. It was as if she had just
again and try to schedule a time when I discovered there were blind people we
LA: A story has to be something of can do the story. should tell the world about. I gently
interest to Canadians or of real tried to tell her that a topic isn’t good
importance to people. Aging is JAA: What steps can an organization take enough for a story. There has to be
important to everyone, as are the joys to make a news release stand out for you? something that stands out–a reason
and concerns that go with it, so if why I should write a story on blind
there is new Canadian research about LA: Include a variety of contacts, so I people now, as opposed to a month
aging, I’m interested in following it. have an alternative if one person is on from now.
Also, a timely story appeals to me. vacation.
26 The Journal on Active Aging ¥ March April 2005
If your news release
results in coverage in
5. Brigid Sanner specializes in freelance
Limit your news release to no more writing, marketing consultation and
than two pages, double-spaced, in 11- your local, regional or communications training. She currently
or 12-point type. Many editors prefer provides communications and marketing
just one page. support to the Active for Life® national
trade press, use this as program at the Texas A&M University
6. System Health Science Center School of
Write the release in the third person and Rural Public Health. She has provided
keep the style businesslike. Aim for an opportunity to build consultation and communications services
accurate, crisp, clear and factual writing. to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation;
Avoid jargon, highly technical language the National Council on the Aging; the
a stronger relationship OASIS Institute; and the American
Alliance for Health, Physical Education,
Steer clear of descriptive or extravagant
with the reporters and Recreation and Dance. For more
information, contact her at 214-553-
words, such as outstanding, remarkable, 0621 or email@example.com.
unprecedented or devastating. Remember,
you are writing a news release, not
editors who carried References
“Media relations. Placing news stories, features
your story and photos.” Communications Toolkit. Economic
& Social Research Council. www.esrc.ac.uk/
Limit the number of spokespersons or commstoolkit/media/placing.asp
experts quoted in a news release. Quotes
can help bring a story to life, but Landsbaum, M. Streetwise® Low-Cost Marketing:
10. Savvy Strategies for Maximizing Your Marketing
try to avoid quoting more than two Dollars (Adams Streetwise Series). Avon MA:
individuals in a single release. And select Use a resource such as the Associated Adams Media Corporation, 2004
spokespeople based on their expertise Press Stylebook or the New York Times
related to the topic, rather than on their Manual of Style and Usage to guide you National Cancer Institute. Making Health
as you write and edit your release. Communication Programs Work: A Planner’s Guide.
roles within your organization. For (Also known as “the Pink Book.”) Bethseda MD:
example, if a release focuses on a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
fitness program at your facility, a Proofread your release carefully before National Institutes of Health, National Cancer
credentialed exercise physiologist who you send it out. Often, when you have Institute, September 2002. Available free
written and rewritten a release several online in both HTML and PDF versions at
can address the program’s health and http://cancer.gov/pinkbook, or in print or CD
wellness benefits usually makes a better times, you are apt to miss typos, format by calling the National Cancer
spokesperson than the chief executive misspellings or grammatical errors. So Information Service toll-free at 800-422-6237
officer (CEO). But comments from identify someone in your organization
who is a stickler for detail, and ask this Sakrison, D. Getting the Most From Your News
the CEO would be appropriate for a Release. Ripon WI: The Corporate Writer™,
business-related announcement, e.g. the individual to read the release for you as Sakrison Communications, 1995
opening of new facilities. a final check for accuracy.
Continued on page 28
9. If your news release results in coverage
Back up facts with reliable sources. An in your local, regional or trade press, use
example: “Despite the obvious value of this as an opportunity to build a
leading an active lifestyle, almost 57% stronger relationship with the reporters
of adults ages 55–64, and 64% of adults and editors who carried your story. Send
ages 65 and older, do not meet the U.S. each one a short thank you note and
Surgeon General’s guidelines for include your business card. And ensure
moderate physical activity, notes the you offer to act as a resource for future
Centers for Disease Control and articles that relate to your business or
The Journal on Active Aging ¥ March April 2005 27
Sample press release
For additional information contact
For immediate release
r e l e a s e
Lack of Physical Activity Contributing to “Super-Sized” Older Adults
(College Station, TX. September 22, 2003): A good deal of national attention has focused on the epidemic of childhood
obesity in the United States, and certainly it is a serious public health concern. But children are not the only group suffering
from the consequences of enormous portions of food, high fat snacks, and sedentary lifestyle. “Too much food and too little
physical activity is contributing to an epidemic of “super-sized” older adults in the United States,” says Marcia Ory, Ph.D.,
MPH, director of the Active for Life® National Program Office at The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center.
October 1, 2003 is the International Day of Older Persons, and Ory sees this as an opportunity to focus awareness on the
importance of engaging in healthy behaviors, including physical activity.
According to U.S. government surveys, 27.1 percent of adults age 50–64 are obese and 19.8 percent of adults 65 and older
are obese. “Over the last ten years we have seen an alarming increase in obesity among all adult age groups,” Ory notes.
“Among adults age 50 to 64, the number of people who are obese increased from 16.9 percent in 1991 to 27.1 percent in
“If you look at other health behaviors, specifically physical activity, you begin to see an even grimmer picture—60 percent of
adults are not engaging in enough leisure time physical activity. And older adults are the least active of all Americans,” says
Ory. “The irony is that we know regular physical activity can help people maintain ideal body weight, as well as help prevent
or control other chronic diseases including heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, and some types of cancer.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show that one in three adults older than 65 report no leisure time
physical activity, and more than one in four adults age 50 to 64 report no leisure time activity. The U.S. Surgeon General
recommends moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day on most days.
With funding from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ory is heading up Active for Life, an initiative based at Texas
A&M’s School of Rural Public Health. Active for Life is integrating programs that have been proven effective in helping older
adults become more active into community settings such as churches, hospitals, senior centers and fitness centers.
N E W S
“People understand they need to be more active,” comments Diane Dowdy, Ph.D., deputy director of the Active for Life
program. “Yet the majority of people remain sedentary. We hope to learn how a group-based behavior program and a
telephone-based coaching system might be used to help motivate mid-life and older adults to increase the amount of physical
activity they do.”
The Active for Life program is being implemented in community settings in California, Illinois, Metropolitan Washington,
D.C., Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.
The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health is the first school of public health to focus
on the often-unique health issues and needs of rural populations.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health
and health care.
28 The Journal on Active Aging ¥ March April 2005