Before moving into a full-time writing career (with some consulting on the side), I ran a small PR firm. So I’m no stranger to using press releases. They’re still one of the most popular services I offer clients.
In addition to being hired to write releases, I’m often asked to give feedback on releases business owners tried to write for themselves. And I still see the same nauseating mistakes today that I saw 15 years ago.
Some of those mistakes are silly matters of oversight. Others come from business owners getting bad advice from marketers. (Tip: Never get PR advice from marketers.)
Fortunately these problems — whether based in laziness or ego — are fixable. So the next time you write a news release hoping for attention from the media, give your release a once-over. If you find these issues, clean that wreck up before you waste journalists’ time.
7 Press Release Problems That Make You Look Like an Amateur
Let’s look at seven problems I often see that lead to godawful press releases unworthy of media coverage. If you want your story out there, make sure these don’t describe your news release.
1. Your press release headline is so “cutesy” no one could possibly tell what your news is by looking at it.
Remember that headlines need to be descriptive… think catchy, not cutesy. And make sure people know the gist of your news just from the headline. Your job is to tell the reader what the release is about, not make you look clever.
2. You neglect to leave your full contact information.
Journalists don’t give a rat’s behind that you’re worried about spam. If you want significant news coverage, you’d better include an email address and phone number. If spam is that big of an issue (an excuse I’ve often heard from clients who want to leave this info out), then create an address or number reserved only for media contacts.
A journalist’s job isn’t to simply re-publish your press release. You want them writing their own story about you, and that can include additional research and interviews. Make yourself available.
3. You don’t tell us why your story is newsworthy until the end.
No journalist is going to read to the end of your release if you don’t hit them with the news up front in your lede (the first sentence or two of the press release body).
You need to get their attention early. Don’t start off telling background stories. Follow the “inverted pyramid” style — the most important information first (ideally answer “the 5 Ws” in your lede), then work down to your background info at the end.
4. Your news release resembles a novel.
Huge blocks of text and multiple-page press releases just aren’t practical for a busy journalist. It’s rare your press release needs to go beyond one page. Keep it short, to-the-point, and don’t get lost in the swamp of news releases journalists and bloggers can find themselves drowning in at any given time.
5. Any 6th grader could tell you were too lazy to proofread your press release.
If your release is littered with spelling and grammatical errors, don’t count on it being read. If you want someone to take the time to consider your story, respect them enough to take the time to proofread your release before distribution.
Not much of a writer or editor? Hire someone to write your releases for you or look over your copy with fresh eyes.
6. Your press release reads like a testimonial.
Despite what some business owners and marketers think, a press release is not an advertising or marketing tactic; it’s a media relations tool.
Journalists don’t give a damn about what your customers say, or how great you think you are. So don’t add customer testimonials or boastful quotes from yourself or your staff. If you have to say your product, service, or company is great or “the best” in some way, do it elsewhere if you need to satisfy your ego. But really, that’s not for you to say or decide. It’s like someone referring to themselves as a “guru” or some nonsense. It just makes you look like an ass.
If you want to run an advertisement where you can brag, buy advertising space.
7. You clearly think you deserve a front page story.
This ties into my last point. You might think you have the best thing since sliced bread. But so does the guy down the street with his own business or launch… and the guy across town… and the guy across the country… and all their brothers.
You might think you have a high quality, solid news angle that journalists should be fighting over to break. They might think your news is a total yawn. No amount of manufactured excitement will convince a journalist to agree.
Run your news angle by unbiased parties when possible. And if they’re not impressed, don’t dismiss them. Find out why, and fix it before you waste a journalist’s time. Getting giddy about “nothing” news doesn’t make it any more important in anyone else’s eyes. But the best way to fix this? Make sure your releases are written for (and sent to) the right people. A journalist with a consumer magazine might not give a damn about your new product, whereas industry-specialized writers might totally geek out about it alongside you.
It’s amazing what a solid news angle, a carefully written and edited release, and something as basic as contact info can do. Yet, you’d be surprised at how many press releases are distributed every day violating these and other press release writing sins. As someone who’s worked on both sides of this fence — both as a PR professional and someone who gets bombarded with shoddy press releases as a writer — I have one piece of advice for you: