The problem with most news releases is that they’re not newsworthy. But presuming you actually have something to say, the next problem is how to say it to get an editor’s attention. First, you have to write a great subject header and headline. If you’ve gotten that far, congratulations: You’ve gotten the editor to open your email.
Then comes the next big hurdle: the lede.
The lede, or first sentence, has to fulfill the promise of the headline. If it doesn’t, the editor won’t bother reading further, and your news release will end up in the trash with the other 99 percent that didn’t make it.
Here are 10 ways to give your news release lede a fighting chance:
1. Think. Writing is thinking. Use the 5 Ws and H—who, what, when, where, why and how—to decide what is most newsworthy. This exercise should inform your subject header, headline and subhead as well.
2. Focus. Limit your lede to the one most important point. If you have other points to make, make them in later sentences and paragraphs.
3. Keep it short. Columbia University recommends no more than 35 words. Other editors say keep it to 15 or 20 words.
4. Keep it simple. Say it with a simple declarative sentence: subject-verb-object. If you can’t say it simply, that could indicate a problem.
5. Keep it active. Use active voice with strong verbs to add zip to your lede.
6. Be specific. While your lede summarizes the news, it should use specificity to provoke interest. Overly broad or abstract ledes are buzz killers.
7. Think like an editor. Editors care about their readers. So should you. Write the lede so that it shows why your news is important to them.
8. Unstuff it. I recently had a well-meaning associate edit my initial draft of a news release and stuff the lede until it sagged with nearly 50 words, three parenthetical phrases, and the names of two companies and one very long public agency. All those names and titles add clutter. Chisel out extraneous words and phrases to reveal the news. The names and titles can come later.
9. Think like a storyteller. Good stories use conflict and tension to pull in readers. Editors (and their readers) don’t want to read about things that come easily. Show them the struggles and setbacks along with the triumphs.
10. Read it aloud. If it takes more than one breath to say, revise. If you have time, record it and listen back. Does it sound like something you’d pay attention to if you heard it on the radio?
Of course, there’s more to writing a news release than writing a lede. But once you’ve completed this task, the rest of the writing should come more easily. Developing a good lede requires you to think hard about what you’re trying to say and why it’s important. Invest your time and thought in writing great headlines and ledes, and you’ll succeed in getting more of them published.