Bad Press Release 101: How to Kill Your News pt 1

A poorly written press release will burn you. It’s so easy to write a bad one, and there is so much information on the Web about writing effective press releases. Unfortunately, skimming the Web shows that the general skill level of press release writing at the bottom end hasn’t improved much in the last ten years, though at the top end we’re seeing great and interesting things due to the Darwinian pressures of social media.

One of the most common mistakes I see in badly written press releases is simply that the news of the release has been so watered down during the edit cycle that it’s no longer very interesting. I’ve watched companies with real, exciting news do their level best to guarantee no news coverage comes of it and no one talks about it, by throwing the release down the rabbit hole of sequential corporate executive edits. Each exec has his or her own spin, own concerns, and own pain points. Unfortunately, as a result of this the actual news is lost. Even worse, the levels of technobabble and industry jargon goes up exponentially with every edit.

This is all very understandable, of course – the executives (and the PR pro) tend to live inside a bubble filled with those terms. But it potentially makes the release moribund.

The tension between PR pros, who want to offer news to get covered and discussed, and executives, who want to ensure their “message” is first and foremost, is an age-old conflict. We went through the same drill when press releases were often faxed as we do now, when some PR pros may never have sent a fax in their life. In such a conflict the client rightly wins, of course, which is but one of many contributing factor leading to so many bad press releases out there.

The “survival strategy” for the PR pro in this situation is to pitch the news, not the release, if the press release is turned to vanilla pudding during the edit cycle. Keep your eye on the ball! There is not enough time in the day for a journalist to dig into why that story matters to that journalist’s audience, so do it for them. In my experience a good press release that showcases the news value will still be more effective for this than a bland one in which the news value is buried under a mountain of corporate-speak.

In an ideal world the PR team and the client’s execs have such a relationship that the client listens to the PR imperatives and the PR team understands the message the execs need to see in all corporate communications. At that point, it is the job and the joy of the PR pro to write a press release that meets both needs. Maybe then journalist in-boxes wouldn’t so greatly populate their trash bins. I’ve had the joy of working with some clients who embraced this approach, and it resulted in fun and exciting media outreach that got some great results.

Who cares about the press release if no one really sees it?

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