How to Break News…and When to Apply the Brakes

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  • ” Whitson, Journal News.”
  • “Jamie, it’s Phil, how you…”
  • “Phil, whataya got? On deadline. Can’t talk.”
  • “I’m following up a press release I sent late yest…”
  • “Yeah, got it. Not news. Call me when you have news.”

Ah, the life of a public relations neophyte, Top Stories navigating the mine-filled corridors of our nation’s newsrooms…armed with more nerve than news sense. One of the first rules of thumb is knowing when information becomes news. And knowing that what’s news to one editor or publication is not news to another.

Sustaining a steady drumbeat of company communications is an important–indeed indispensable–part of raising broad awareness. But if your goal is to spark editorial interest that leads to a story, you need to be selective in discerning what is truly newsworthy. You are not only competing for an editor’s attention; your success going forward depends on your public relations representative’s credibility as a reliable news source.

On any given day, editors are bombarded with hundreds of press releases and story queries (i.e., pitches) that vie for their attention. Ultimately, your press release or query will either be lost in the daily avalanche of e-mails or land a coveted spot on a publication’s editorial calendar as the focus of a feature story, the subject of a product review, or with a company representative slated as an expert source to be interviewed.

But how exactly do you get editors to sit up and take notice of your message? You need to put the “news” in news release by providing editors with timely and targeted information that they can rely on to fulfill their obligation to their readership to deliver relevant and practical articles that help them succeed.

But, on the other hand, not all press releases are newsworthy–consider the release that announces the appointment of a key individual in a company. In all likelihood, the announcement will be relegated to the back pages of a publication with other similar items.

So why bother sending it out? Because you have to keep your eye on the big picture. Press releases serve as a way to boost company recognition among your target audience–editors. You need to build and maintain awareness of your company and its products and/or services. In other words, make sure that the media knows that you’re a “player.” Consistent communications is the building block of every public relations campaign. As we illustrated earlier, you need to apply the brakes and resist the urge to call the editor to see if he or she received your “announcement.”

When it comes to following up on a newsworthy release, reciting the contents of the release to an editor over the phone or asking whether it has been received is likely to lead nowhere–at best it will end with a polite brush-off. If you’re going to call an editor to follow up, you need to have a plan. Treat your release as a jumping off point–a channel to offer to arrange an interview, send additional information, or schedule a product demo.

Securing success (i.e., placement) requires patience, persistence, and–well, to be honest–the right connections. Successful public relations does not happen overnight. It’s a process of relationship building over time. Making one wrong call insufficiently armed with even the most basic information is enough to stall a relationship before it begins. Your reputation is always on the line. Editors need to know that they can depend on you to consistently deliver–whether it’s a bylined article or an expert source to comment on an industry trend–on time and on target.

When it comes to results, an effective news release will…

  • Establish and enhance your reputation
  • Affirm your company’s authority in World News its given industry or field
  • Profile your company’s brand, services and/or products among target audiences
  • Create new business opportunities
  • Improve staff morale
  • Promote sales

Public relations is about knowing how to break news and when to apply the brakes. Develop a core message, communicate that message creatively and consistently, and understand that success comes over time.


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