Press Releases Need ‘Write’ Stuff to be Effective

Posted by Garfield

When public relations types gather to navel gaze about the future of the profession, the topic of press releases often arises.

Some people (usually the ones young enough to think of “Lost” or “24” as classic TV shows) claim the press release is an anachronism because of the growing impact of social media. Why bother with a clunky release when you can get the main point across in 140 characters or less?

Well, it doesn’t work that way. While a tweet or Facebook post may pique a reporter’s interest, they’re going to want more than @PRrules: XYZ Corp Q4 earnings rock, beat estimates by 2 cents per share!

So, that means the press release is here to stay.

That said, the corporate press release needs help. In fact, many are so convoluted that it’s easier to read James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” or the never-ending John Galt speech in “Atlas Shrugged.”

Here are some of the biggest recurring flaws in press releases today:

• Using big words instead of little words. Press releases are competing for the time and attention of reporters, so remember KISS (keep it simple, stupid) and put away the thesaurus. “Use” is better than “utilize.” “Buy” is better than “purchase.”

• Proust-ian paragraphs, especially the leads. Marcel Proust may be a classic novelist, but don’t emulate him. For one thing, it’s difficult to read long blocks of copy. More importantly, keep paragraphs short by sticking to one main point. In fact, many paragraphs can (and should) contain only one sentence.

• Too much jargon. Speak in plain English. Most news people aren’t experts on every subject and likely won’t know what you’re talking about.

• “Solution.” This is probably the most overused word in corporate press releases. Why say “processed cellulose-based biodegradable personal hygiene solution” when you can say “toilet paper?”

• Quotes from everyone. Reporters don’t care about pre-manufactured quotes, especially those that begin “We’re so excited about …” Reporters interested in a release will likely want to interview a company official and get their own quote, which assuredly will be better. If you must, have one quote from the CEO or most relevant official and leave it at that.

• Quotes from everyone, part 2. Sure, it’s good to mention partner companies and other contributors. But not everyone needs a quote.

• War and Peace. A press release isn’t supposed to be a definitive document. Stick to the high points and keep the release brief. Reporters who have questions after reading a release will get back to you.

The moral of this story?

Press releases will continue to have value, but remember that less is always more.