September 24, 2017
 
Practices to Avoid When Issuing News Releases

By Peter Lowy

News releases remain an effective way for nonprofits to broadcast their message, even in the age of social media, but they need to be mindful of the needs of the editors and reporters they want to reach. Here’s what not to do.

Some of the most common shortcomings include the following:

Misunderstanding media interest. Send the type of news that publications want. Most news organizations clearly state the type of news they publish. Taking the time to find out will help you target your news and increase the possibility of getting picked up.

Misunderstanding your news. Not every event is worth a news release. Alternatively, you may have news worth telling, but your main point—the lead—is buried deep in the news release.

Writing for the wrong audience. Many organizations usually need to complete an internal sign-off process before sending out a release and, along the way, news releases can end up being written for an internal audience, e.g., satisfying a board member’s pet peeve instead of writing for an external audience.

Using misleading headlines. Headlines should unambiguously present your main point. Proclaiming, for example, that a funder has given your organization a $150,000 grant when in reality the funder just provided the third installment of a three-year, $150,000 grant is poor form.

Making unsubstantiated claims. Your program may indeed be a leading model for the nation, but it’s better to demonstrate that by citing, within the release, a relevant independent authority who says so.

Failing to follow up on your promise. When submitting a news release, many people include a cover note that says “Let me know what else you need” – and some then fail to respond to questions put to them via phone or email messages. This undermines their credibility and diminishes the likelihood their news will get published.

Failing to keep editors or reporters informed. When you plan to respond to questions, let the editor or reporter know you’re tracking down the information, even if it will take a day or two. A non-response to a phone or email message will often be interpreted as lack of interest on your part.

Disappearing. On the day you issue a news release, be sure you’re available by email or phone to answer questions. Better yet, make yourself available over the next few days, as the editor or reporter may not respond immediately.

Recording inaccurate voicemail messages. If your voicemail recording says you will get back to the reporter or editor, make sure you do.

Avoiding questions. When you reach out to the press, you are submitting your organization to scrutiny, and you therefore should be prepared to answer questions. If you don’t want to answer questions, which gives you another opportunity to tell your story, don’t issue a news release.

Avoiding the press. Sometimes the press will call you, even when you haven’t issued a news release. The best policy is to respond promptly, even if the question concerns bad news. Remember, at some point you will want coverage, and editors/reporters will be positively inclined to you if they know you work with them through thick and thin.

Peter Lowy is publisher of www.massnonprofit.org. Email him at peter@massnonprofit.org.

February 2014

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