Piss-poor press releases: a remedy

I’ve been meaning to post about Wadds’ Tech PR Blog for the past two days but haven’t been able to.

I think it’s a great idea for an intern to go through press releases and figure out what’s going on with them. The findings confirm what I think I already know: there are certain words – concepts even – that good copywriters avoid like the plague no matter what clients tell them.

Most of them are absolute superlatives, and Stephen Waddington lists some of them: latest, largest, biggest, fastest, hottest. If you use these words, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Sooner or later – actually, sooner in tech – something will be larger or bigger, faster or ‘hotter’ (although tech PR is tending towards ‘cooler’ in terms of economy vs ecology.)

Likewise, superlatives such as ‘revolutionary’ and ‘cutting edge’ just don’t work. We used to have ‘leading edge’. Then someone thought up ‘bleeding edge’. These claims carry little influence now.

So what are copywriters to do? Adopt industry jargon or try something daringly new? 

We think about what the product/service offers that will improve the lives of the people using it. We write about this in a way that people can relate to, which inspires or interests them, and which points the way towards what the client wants to achieve. It’s not simple. But there’s a simple way to think about it.

Imagine you’re telling someone about it in a bar: you wouldn’t just launch into it and use corporate bollock-speak. You’d built it up, give a preamble, introduce it, and tell your audience – or your friend next to you – why you think this thing is so great. If you really like it you’ll tell them what to look out for in the future.

This is how conversations work. This is how communication works. 

So next time you write something, put yourself in the place of a friend listening to you in the bar, or yourself telling a friend about it. Really, go through it in your head. Listen to what you’re saying. Listen to your internal dialogue and the words you use. I’ll bet my bottom Euro it’s not corporate bollock-speak – because that just doesn’t work. People respond to people, and that’s what you need to get across in a press release.

Just tell it like it is.

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5 thoughts on “Piss-poor press releases: a remedy

  1. Fair point friendly ghost though the (rather limited) experience i’ve had so far suggests otherwise. Journalists never read more than they have to and if it starts off as ‘this really average company is being bought by an equally boring company’ the journalist won’t give a toss. MAybe that’s where the social media release is going, but even then it requires more work from the journo’s side – something that they only really do for the really juicy stories. May be i am wrong, like i said i’ve very limited experience, or maybe it’s because i’m northern and pessimistic but that’s the way it has been for me so far

  2. Ah, but telling it like it is doesn’t mean being boring – quite the opposite in fact. As I said, if you were telling someone about something in a bar you wouldn’t just say “I did X the other day.” You would ramp it up, try and get interest first. You’d say “You’ll never guess what happened to me the other day.” Actually, that could be a good title for a press release!

    If you provide a journalist with something sparky and interesting but with newsworth content in the heading and first para (or even first sentence) then you’ve done your job properly – journalist/editor fills space and client gets mentioned.

  3. In yesterday’s Cision e-newsletter (which it sends to clients), The Navigator (“Your guide to successful communications”), there was a decent article by a Bill Stoller called “The 10 Commandments of Press Releases.” This was the “commandment” that rang the most true:

    9. Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness.
    This may seem an obvious point, but it always bears repeating.

    Tell the truth.

    Don’t inflate, don’t confabulate, don’t exaggerate. Don’t twist facts, don’t make up numbers, don’t make unsubstantiated claims. Any decent journalist will be able to see right through this. If you’re lucky, your release will just get tossed out. If you’re unlucky, you will be exposed.

    It’s a chance not at all worth taking. Make sure every release you write is honest and on the level.

    The full article can be found here: http://navigator.cision.com/current/The_10_Commandments_Of_Press_Releases.asp

    Last fall I had the opportunity to attend an in-person session (sponsored by my home chapter of the Canadian Public Relations Society) with three of the editors from The Canadian Press. Registrants were invited to submit a news release in advance to be critiqued by the editors—which I did. End result, I got it “in the neck” from one of the editors for my “first-of-its-kind” line. Apparently it was “disingenuous” (even though I swear it was, was, was “first-of-its-kind”…and I believe is still, still, still). Anyhow, I’ve taken my cue from that “lesson” and will never even hint at something being a “first” in a release. (And the happy side of the tale is that I made a point of phoning that CP heavyweight the next morning and saying “thanks for the feedback, even though it was brutal.” Now I am comfortable calling up the individual and discussing article ideas in advance of a release.)

  4. Pingback: Some Damn Good PR Reading : Naked PR

  5. The real issue is that we tend to rely on the press release to do the work of actually cultivating contacts and pitching accurately.

    The press release really should be for providing back-up afer you’ve done the pre-amble and build up with a conversation or pithy, personal email. To aid selling the story, not sell the story on it’s little ownsome.

    Obviously it still should be written in English and not corporate bollox but it shouldn’t try to replicate a conversation either

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