Query Letters: Bringing Public Relations and Journalism Together

An in-depth feature article can be a priceless source of publicity for any organization or industry. But such an article rarely results from the standard one- to two-page press release drafted by most public relations firms. And who has the time to write an in-depth article when there’s only a small chance it will be published? So how can a public relations company get this kind of premium exposure for its clients? A query letter may be the answer.

A query letter essentially allows you to propose an in-depth story idea to an editor without actually writing the story. That doesn’t mean that you can get away with presenting a half-baked idea based on little solid fact. A query letter simply allows a shortcut for both you and the editor.

Keep in mind that, unlike a press release, a query letter is a tool typically used by professional independent journalists, not public relations professionals. If you want a serious chance at getting a story published, you must follow the query letter format and maintain impeccable journalistic writing standards. You should refer to the Associated Press Style Manual for guidelines. A query letter should be no longer than one page and should take the form of a standard business letter. (Use the editor’s name rather than “Dear Editor.”) Dispense with any cover letter or opening remarks; go directly into the story idea.

In a query letter, you have approximately two paragraphs to explain your story idea, express why it is newsworthy, and describe the facts on which the story will be based. To top it off, you must do this in a creative and eye-catching way. It’s certainly not an easy task, but the public relations results can be well worth the effort.

The last two to three paragraphs of your query letter should provide the following information:

Length of article. Give a range so they know you can be flexible. Use the number of words for measurement.

Art you can provide. Describe the type of artwork you have or will be able to provide if the article is published (e.g., photos, graphs).

How long you will need to produce the article. Be realistic about how long it will take you to produce the article. You don’t want to damage future opportunities with an editor by breaking timeline promises. Two to three weeks is usually a reasonable length of time to produce an article.

Your credentials as a writer or an expert as it pertains to the subject at hand. Include only relevant information about education, professional experience, and previous publications.

What you expect in return for the article. Again, independent journalists use query letters to sell their articles. Remember that as a public relations professional your objective is exposure, not money.

Make it clear that, in exchange for an information line at the end of the article about you and your company–never ask for free advertising–you will provide the First North American serial rights. That means they will have the right to print the story once, then the serial rights revert back to you. If a contract is drawn up, you can agree on how long you should wait before allowing the story to be published a second time.

This article, written by Rebecca Whitlock, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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