Does Your White Paper Pass the News Brief Test?

By David Burda  |  July 13, 2017

If you can’t write a 300-word brief about it, your earned media potential will suffer.

If you can’t write a 300-word brief about it, your earned media potential will suffer.

I’ve been writing news briefs since designers were running columns of copy through waxers to lay out magazine pages. It’s not quite lead type, but it’s close. I’ve written news briefs from every kind of source material imaginable, from live events to 1,000-page sets of proposed federal regulations. The deadline for each news brief I ever wrote was yesterday.

With that experience in mind, I can safely say that if you can’t write a 300-word news brief about your brand’s white paper or webinar in less than an hour, the chance of you getting media coverage on your insightful content is slim to none.

I recommend that brands test the earned media potential of their survey or ebook before releasing it publicly. They should assign a junior copy writer with journalism experience and with no involvement in the creation of the original content to write a 300-word news brief about their groundbreaking report or informative slideshow.

If the writer can do it and produce a publishable news brief, great. If not, then the brand should go back and rework the original content to make it more user friendly to time-strapped reporters and editors.

In no particular order of importance, I put together a list of 15 things that often have me working harder than I should have to write a news brief about something of interest to my audience.

  1. Include the date. At least give me a month and year.
  2. Tell me what city your corporate headquarters is in. Don’t make me guess from a list of cities where you have offices.
  3. When was the survey or poll taken? Taking it before or after a major industry event could put the results in context.
  4. Tell me how many things or people were surveyed and who they are. When that information is missing or hard to find, it tells me you’re downplaying it and the results are suspect.
  5. If you have statistics or numbers, you can display them in a nice infographic. But somewhere I’ll need the data points you used to make your infographic. I need to know exact numbers rather than guessing by running a ruler across the top of a bar and through the X axis.
  6. What are the major findings or takeaways from the content? Give me a summary that will encourage me to dig deeper into the content.
  7. Tell me why the major findings or takeaways are important. Do they rebut conventional wisdom? Do they advance the conversation about a hot industry issue? In-other-words, why should my audience care?
  8. If you e-mail me a press release, make sure the same press release is on your website. I want to link to it from the news brief as a service to readers who may want more information or who may prefer to read the original release, not my interpretation of it.
  9. If your press release touts an original piece of content, then link to the original piece of content on your website. Why a brand sends out a release about something but doesn’t have that something available online is beyond me. But I see it all the time.
  10. Whether it’s a release or original content on your site, let me print it out. Let me print it out without web page headers and footers so I don’t run out of toner. Most reporters even today prefer to write news briefs from hard copies of source material. We want to mark it up, highlight things, write questions on it and save it for future use long after it disappears from your site.
  11. If your original content is a webinar, let me download the presentation slides immediately. Don’t send me a thank you e-mail with a link to the presentation slides a week later. I’ll be on to other news by then.
  12. If your original content is proprietary market research, I’m not going to pay $1,500 for it nor am I going to just use the press release, which leaves out the best stuff. A better option is giving me free access to a short version of the full report.
  13. If any part of the content is attributable to a person at the brand, I need their full name and title, all spelled correctly. Names, titles and their spellings should match what’s on the website when I double check them.
  14. Give me a short list of SEO-friendly keywords that I could consider using in a headline, deck or lead. That will help me fend off digital general managers who want me to work Katy Perry into every story.
  15. Tell me what your social media channel handles and links are so I can cite them in the brief or use them to distribute my story. Don’t make me click on icons to find out where you are.

If your brand isn’t getting much media pick up for your original content, you may be making it too hard for reporters and editors to knock out a 300-word brief in less than an hour by doing or not doing some of the things I described above.

The best way to check is the news brief test. Have a writer in your office take it and see if you pass or fail.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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