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How to Write a News Release that Hooks Reporters

The most important part of any news release is the headline. The second most important is the first paragraph. Everything else is either background or fluff. That's why, when you compose a release, you should spend at least half your time on the headline and the lead. If you fail to hook the reporter with the headline and the lead, you have no chance at news coverage. Period.

The average news outlet gets hundreds of news releases every day. Most of these go right in the trash because the headline and the lead fail to grab attention. Now PR flacks believe you can grab attention by adding exclamation marks, or by setting the headline in all caps, or by casting the lead in boldface, italic and underline. Forget it. PR Rainmakers understand: To write a great headline and a great lead, you must start with a strong news peg. The news peg, also known as "the story hook," is simply the "reason to this news story right now." It is the piece of the overall story that makes the story timely, and thus makes the story news.

The peg is what is happening today. It is the study that you are releasing today. It is the event that you are producing today. It is the celebrity who is visiting your city today. It is the product you are launching today. Reporters are concerned only with today, and in some cases tomorrow. Everything else is ancient history or the far-flung future. The point is: When you write a news release, you must arrange all of your background information around the news peg. The headline must reflect the peg. The lead must reflect the peg. After that, you can do just about anything you want to do because it almost doesn't matter.

If the reporter is hooked by the headline and the lead, the next thing the reporter is looking for on the page is the name and number of your media contact. O.K., let's walk through an example. Let's say that you want to attract news media attention to your company's new product, a truly revolutionary device that allows doctors to transport human organs across the nation in time for transplants. Some background: About 25 percent of all donated organs are wasted every year because the donor lives to far away from the patient who needs the organ. The doctors cannon keep the organ "alive" long enough to complete the transplant. But your device will keep the organ alive for 24 hours, as opposed to the typical 4 hours. Now that's a great product with an incredible benefit for the entire nation. But if you fail to peg all that information, the media will yawn. You built the device yesterday. The media wants to know what happened today. So what do you do? Simple. You create a peg and build your news release (particularly the headline and the lead) around that peg. You could: 1. Unveil the device with a dramatic demonstration at a major trade show. 2. Set a record by keeping a human heart "alive" longer than the previous record. 3. Save a life by successfully transporting an organ across a previously impossible distance. That's just three ideas. You could easily come up with more. But all three of those ideas are "news pegs" that will give the news media an excuse to write about your product. Whichever one you choose, your headline and your lead should reflect that peg. Don't dawdle. Don't get cute. Don't hide the story from the media. Reporters are impatient. Get to the news and get to it now. The headline might read: "New world record is set for successfully transporting a human heart" The lead might say: "Scientists today successfully transported a human heart from Baltimore to Seattle to save the life of a college freshman. The effort, made possible by a cutting-edge device developed by Hart Laboratories in Miami, established a new distance record for moving a living human heart from donor to patient." You get the idea. To hook a reporter, you've got to have a news peg, then you've got to build the headline and the lead around that peg.

By Rusty Cawley

Rusty Cawley is a 20-year veteran journalist who now coaches executives, professionals and entrepreneurs on news strategy. He is the author of "PR Rainmaker: Three Simple Rules for Using the News Media to Attract New Customers and Clients," available at For a free electronic version of the entire book, visit

Copyright 2004 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

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