PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
Working with the media:
Issue news and feature story releases
© 1998; 2018 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations main page About the author


"Most of the flood of news releases and statements and long-winded speeches we editors get is sheer trash-bait. They're issued more for the greater glorification of your powers-that-be than for serious consideration for space in the paper or time on the air."

-- Frank Martineau, editor emeritus
Association Trends, speaking to PR practitioners

News releases are the most recognized aspect of media relations.

When an organization issues a news release or a feature story release it's putting its own story in words and delivering it to the media in a format the media can, in turn, disseminate to its audience. The oldest, and still most common, form of release remains words on a page. However, today, most of those pages are electronically displayed on the Internet or transmitted via some other communication network rather than being printed and delivered as hard copy.

Additionally, there are non-text-based news and feature releases that are essentially mini-productions in audio or video form. They were originally produced and recorded on tape and distributed to the broadcast media as hard copies. By the late 20th century, they were being distributed through telephone lines or by contracting with a wire service or a satellite transmission network. Today, almost everything is transmitted over the Internet, although some organizations still duplicate and distribute CD or DVD copies of their electronic releases.

However, when organizations post their ANRs and VNRs on their websites, they're as likely to be seen by the general public as by reporters and editors.

Releases tell your story in your way.

The ideal from a public relations' perspective is for the media to use a release exactly as submitted without changing anything. When that happens, the organization is being allowed to tell its own story in its own words instead of having it interpretted by a third party -- e.g., a reporter -- and having it told from that person's perspective. However, that won't happen unless the editor who receives and reviews the release thinks it fully measures up to the media's standards and style.

For this to happen, public relations people who write releases need to be thoroughly knowledgeable about the specific needs, preferences, and style of the media whom they want to use their release. And, they have to be more focused on writing a release that conforms to those expectations than writing exactly what client wants to hear. That can be a tough balancing act.

The ultimate fate of a release lies in the hands of the receiving media, not its creator.

Make no mistake: the media who receive a news release under no obligation to use it. And, even if they do choose to use it, they are under no obligation to publish it in its entirety or as it was written and submitted to them. What, if anything, they do with it is entrely up to them. -- That's the essence of freedom of the press. -- American news media have almost complete discretion in what they report and how they report it. Large or small, local or national, the media control their own content, and public relations practitioners cannot demand anything be included -- or excluded -- as editorial content.

Fortunately for all of us, most of the major news media do make a sincere effort to report "the news," at least as they see it. And, there are plenty of credible sources online and in print that define and explain what news is and how it ought to be reported.

If a news release contains actual news -- information that is relevant and important to the media's audience -- and presents it in a relatively objective or balanced way that does not appear to be self-serving, it's likely that any editor who receives it will give it due consideration. In some instances, if it's a really well-done release, it may be published in its entirety.

What's more likely to happen, is that a news release perceived as newsworthy will be edited and/or rewritten in some way. That will make it the media's version of the story rather than the version presented by the public relations person who wrote the release, and there are lots of reasons why that might be appropriate. Among the goals of such a rewrite could be:

And, much to the chagrin of public relations practitioners who write news releases, many are simply discarded by the media.


"I must have sifted through thousands of press releases and fielded hundreds of phone calls from local business owners and their public relations people... Most of the press releases end up in the trash. The reason: They just aren't news."

-- Rosalind Resnick, former business writer
The Miami Herald

Selective rather than blanket distribution of releases has become the norm.

In the past, some public relations practitioners operated like news release factories, churning out as many releases as possible and distributing all of them to all possible media, even to the extent of sending copies to several reporters who worked for the same medium. For many it was just a matter of playing the percentages and thinking that the more the sent out, the more likely they were to have at least some of them used. Others justified blanket distribution as a matter of fairness, saying they didn't want to appear to be playing favorites by sending releases to some media but not to others.

But, as increasing numbers of practitioners matured beyond the publicity and explanatory phases of public relations and began thinking in terms of building meaningful relationships, even with the mass media, the use of news releases also matured. Practitioners began thinking in terms of tailoring their releases to fit specific media.

For some, this meant paring down their distribution lists to selectively targeted media and distributing fewer copies of each release. For others it meant preparing and distributing multiple, slightly different copies of each release that could be selectively sent to different media without reducing the total number of media to whom they sent releases. At its most basic level, the latter approach meant preparing a print media version of the release using AP style guidelines and a separate broadcast version using RTNDA style guidelines that might also include sound bites and/or B-roll video. It also meant preparing several localized versions of a release instead of a single version meant for nation-wide distribution.

Practitioners who conscientiously and effectively applied targeted approaches found that they really worked. They experienced a marked increase in the percentage of releases they issued that were actually used by the media, and they often found that the media's stories were longer and more favorable. For some, personal relationships with reporters and editors were also enhanced.

Some of the best and most experienced public relations practitioners had used this tactic for years, but it hadn't gotten a lot of attention. Then, during the mid-1990's there was a flurry of trade journal articles, workshops, and conference presentations touting its success. In one of those oft-quoted articles pr reporter urged practitioners to quit gambling on getting media coverage and "to consider creating a surgical media strategy."


"Surgical" means precisely what the term implies: placements in exactly the right media for your purpose.

  • It requires knowing which media your target stakeholders actually read, watch, or hear. Assumptions are dangerous, so intelligence work is needed.
  • In issue cases or legislative support, it may mean targeting a single key person and placing a story in the medium he reads -- or has clipped for him. A single such placement is worth a folder of untargeted clips.
  • Deal with key reporters ... face to face. Build lasting relationships that serve the journalists. Call, make personal contact to place stories -- and never use computer address labels on anything, since it signals that "10,000 other reporters are on the same mailing list."
pr reporter (5/04/98)

The term "surgical media strategy" was rarely used by anyone other than pr reporter, but the practice which was already fairly widely adopted even before pr reporter wrote about it, certainly took hold. Today it's a standard best practice. Few, if any, practitioners now believe it's a matter of fairness to send identical copies of a release to all media in any given area to get as much publicity as possible. Instead, they carefully select specific media they want to carry their story and develop a specifically-tailored version of their release for each one of them. It's more demanding than the old way, but it's much more effective.

The critics are wrong; news releases are neither dead nor obsolete.

But, this is the 21st century. They need to be handled differently than they were in the 20th century. Forget about the old-fashioned shotgun approach that fired dozens of identical news releases in a broad, sweeping pattern that might hit several targets at once; adopt a sniper-style approach that fires a specifically styled and precisely aimed release at each carefully chosen target.

These and other service help prepare and distribute news releases.
Cision PR Web

PR Web came into existence in 1997, just few years after the creation of the World Wide Web. It served public relations practitioners and also journalists by offering Internet-based distribution of news releases. Initially PR people submitted finished releases to PR Web which distributed them to some or all of the media companies and individuals on its distribution list. Over the years, it began offering additional services such as preparing releases. In 2014-15, PR Web and several other firms that served the public relations and communication industries were bought out and consolidated into Cision, a multi-national, multi-media communication services provider with roots that go back to 1867 in Sweden. Its website claims it now covers all aspects of communication to help its clients reach, target and engage audiences.

News Broadcast Network

The News Broadcast Network (NBN) has been producing and distributing audio and video news releases and providing media relations assistance to clients who want to tell their story via radio or television for more than three decades. In that time, its range of services steadily expanded and became more sophisticated as new technologies became available and gained acceptance. It now offers direct satellite distribution of video news releases (VNRs) and webcasting, as well as other alternative methods of distributing clients' messages over the Internet and/or broadcast and cable media.


PDF tip sheet:
How to write news releases
Announcing upcoming events to the media
Issue media advisories and alerts
Announcing really important news:
Host a news conference
Can you spot PR efforts in the news? Keeping pace with changes in journalism Return to overview:
Working with the media

5 Dec 2018