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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 somepeople 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 timesince 1972, and that means I've seen thousands of pressreleases.

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 ifyour press release doesn't have them, it will probably windup 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 theoverall appearance.

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

Is it readable? Does it look cramped, with block paragraphsthat suck up most of the white space? Will the screenerhave to search through a lot of print on the page to figureout what's newsworthy?

Is there any bold print emphasizing important points?

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

Flunking the Instant Eyeball Test doesn't mean the releasewill immediately drop into the trash can. But if yourrelease is poorly formatted and visually unappealing, it'sdefinitely a strike against you.

2) The Headline Test

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

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

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

3) The Hot Button Test

The next question in the screener's mind relates to thesubject of the release. Actually, there are probablyseveral questions running through the screener's mindsimultaneously:

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

* How much of a potential audience is there for thisinformation?

In other words, how newsworthy is it?

There are certain universal themes, story lines, and anglesthat make something newsworthy. I call them news "HotButtons," and they're the subject of a Special Report I'vewritten, available free at

4) The "Medium Matching" Test

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

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

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

TV news wants visuals of people doing something.

TV/radio talk or "magazine" shows look for engaging gueststo 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 newsrelease *really* all about?"

Sometimes it's obviously written from the perspective ofsomeone who wants to sell a product. They talk mainly aboutthat product or their company, and they offer little or no"news value." (see the "Hot Button Test" for more on themeaning 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 apromotional flyer or sales copy.

Sometimes a news release is written from the perspective ofsomeone who wants to pat themselves on the back. It's thekind 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'saudience in mind.

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

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

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

In other words, news organizations don't want you to "touchthat 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 onesthat get attention -- and coverage.

To see a line-by-line critique of two press releases I think are excellent, go to

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

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

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