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Professional's Guide for Online News Releases
By Forrest Wallace Cato

News releases on the "digital information highway" are one of the most effective ways to drive potential clients to your website, newsletter, e-zine, store, office, conference or seminar. You can inform and educate prospects about the benefits of your services and reap major publicity at little cost, effort, time, or trouble. However, don't use online news releases to excess, as most idiots do with e-mail; I am now deleting 400 to 500 e-mails a day, a nuisance and huge time waster. I block e-mail from good people because they abuse their e-mail ability.

Often, after your online news release is posted or distributed via the Internet, all or some of your copy may be picked up by the news networks like MSN News, Yahoo News or Google News. In a few days, your online news release might appear in the results of the major search engines. Do not rush into submitting online news releases without first paying attention to the following 14 rules; many of these rules are loaded with additional tips to further assist you.

1. Do not be a clown. Be honest and accurate; do not lie or exaggerate. Avoid boasting or appearing pompous. Do not follow the advice of "in-your-face" consultants who urge you to "promise anything to get an account." Avoid exploiting fears, over-promising, hard sales tactics, and other less than honorable techniques many self-proclaimed gurus and consultants highly recommend. Unfortunately, there are so many clowns that professional journalists remain skeptical and cynical. Imagine having to urge professionals to be honest, stick to the facts, and avoid fluff. In many cases, you may be competing with dishonest people in your market.

2. Lew Nason, LUTCF, RFC, is highly respected in the financial products and services industry as "The nine out of ten guy." He earned this title when he was selling insurance and closed nine out of ten prospects. Nason has two rules he considers of supreme importance for online news releases. "Make certain that your online release is a news release and not an attempt to get a free advertisement! Remember, especially if you are creating news, that your online news release must be qualified on an information, news, educational, or entertainment basis." Nason adds, "If possible, attempt to provide content of immediate interest and/or lasting practical value for your intended audience(s). Your excitement does not mean your subject is newsworthy. Respect the intelligence of your readers. Do not scream BUY ME! Or gush with praise about how wonderful you are. Again, do not try to cheat or abuse this opportunity to communicate. Resist the temptation to give your sale pitch! You do not want media people to think of you as just another clown."

3. Start with a strong beginning. Your headline and first paragraph should tell as much of your story as possible; the rest should provide the necessary details. You only have a few seconds to "hook" your reader's attention. Do not fail to get the reader's interest by starting with weak copy that is dull, confusing, mundane, self-serving, etc.

4. Write for one person. You are not writing for "all you folks out there." Never say, "I am sure most of you agree." Always write as if you are communicating with one person.

5. Never use all uppercase letters. When in your headline, your subheads or your body copy, do not use all uppercase letters!

6. Don't fall in love with what you write. Even a super-fantastic writer like you can benefit from the help of a responsible editor. Clichés never help your case! If you are making obvious writing mistakes, you are not a very effective writer. Unnecessary adjectives, flowery language, lack of originality, or repeating the same word or words are all writing mistakes.

7. Always obtain proper permissions and indicate that you have them. Dispute resolutions will favor the other person or source, if you failed to get and display proper permission(s). Always give proper credit where it belongs. Do not cheat on this. Do not steal other people's words and take credit for them yourself.

8. Do not include hype flags. This is the mistake that "shoots down" some of the clowns. A hype flag is anything that challenges the credibility of your press release. An obvious lie is a hype flag. Too many exclamation points or exaggerated product or service claims can trigger editors or spam filters to intercept your online news release before it reaches its destination or is even posted. You must have credibility. Suspicions kill your reputation and practice.

9. Focus tightly on one theme and stick to it! Do not cover seven topics. Give your online news release enough thought and preparation to ensure that you "stick to your subject." Do not go off into unrelated advocacy, opinions, reporting, or self-aggrandizement (a habit of clowns). An editor at the Internet's largest online news release wire service told me, "We reject about 20 percent of the submitted news releases from financial planners because of a lack of worthy content."

10. Use your common sense. Make your online news release interesting. Don't be overtly self-serving. Appeal to the reader's self-interest. If you are announcing a new software program, no one will care unless you quickly reveal the benefits to the reader! Do not be long-winded. Use only the words you need to accomplish the job. Be simple, clear, easy-to-understand, and brief. You can always do multiple online news releases, so do not write a book. It is not necessary to include your life story. Do not strive to impress by embellishing. Avoid puffery or filler. Ask yourself "Why should anyone care about what I am writing?" Remember to invite interested people to follow-up in various ways for more free and no-obligation details.

11. Here is Lew Nason's other "supremely important" rule for successful online news releases. Use appropriate keywords so your online news release will be easy to place in the search engine results for Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. Your keywords should be obvious and appropriate. You can test this by doing a keyword search and seeing how many websites will compete for the same keyword. Note if the keyword is used in the title and if the website(s) has the key word(s) in the domain name. You improve your possibility of getting ranked in the top ten (search engine results) if you use a key word that is not highly popular. Your goal is to get your online news release properly indexed.

12. Create and use effective headlines. An effective headline is one that attracts attention, creates interest, and (hopefully) stimulates reading of your entire message. Effectiveness is often increased if your headline can promise something of use, benefit, or value, or if your headline asks an appropriate question that your message answers for your readers. Your keyword(s) should be used in your title.

13. Even though you are a professional, you do not get to create the rules as you go along. You must "play the game" by well-established existing rules. This means you are required to format your online news release correctly. You can't bully your PR person or Media Advocate into violating these rules and expect to achieve the results you want. In your online news release, always adequately cover the "who, where, what, when, why, and how" aspects of your subject. Spell correctly, structure sentences properly and avoid grammatical errors. This is not rocket science. Proofread your copy before you send it; do not compose your copy as you are submitting it!

14. Use a professional online news release service; using a less than professional one can cost you more in initial expense and lost opportunities. There are services that will submit your online news release at no cost to you. Never pay a large fee for having someone submit your online news release for you. Paying a modest service fee to established online news release services can generally provide you better results (wider coverage with more hits or responses) and fewer problems. Online news release services I recommend include webwire, prwire, 24-7 and pressbox.


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