I recently penned an article for Ragan’s PR Daily titled, "The 5 Mistakes Press Release Writers Make," and followed that up with a more detailed post here titled, “The 6 Mistakes That Can Sink Press Release Visibility.” I shared these on several PR discussion groups and solicited additional feedback from my fellow members, asking what other press release tips they would offer.
Newsworthiness was a prevalent theme, and was, in fact, echoed in a video interview by Steve Farnsworth (@steveology on Twitter) in which he asked EE Times Editor-in-Chief Junko Yoshida for her opinion on press releases (see the video at the top of this post).
F. John Sbrana, communications coordinator at Vineland Public Schools near Philadelphia, noted, “I try to write short, interesting news stories, not 'press releases.'"
Tonya Hayes, a Bay Area PR pro, said, “I say 'no' to some press releases. That means having the energy to say 'no' to a CEO. If there is no news, it’s better to put the brakes on than to tick off the media -- or, worse, have them ignore your next one."
Tracey Paleo, blogger and editor at Gia On The Move, noted in a comment on the Ragan story the importance visuals play when she’s evaluating a story: “When receiving press releases, I almost 100% will follow up with a PR rep or whoever is sending when photos are included. Online readers are visual. So am I. Especially when talking about non-corporate content, i.e., arts & culture, events, etc., it’s essential. Often what I see also are embedded links to internal host sites/pages (other than press release sites) where photos or video can be downloaded with a password. It’s a great alternative to getting caught in a spam blocker, and completely helpful."
Kim Stevens, publisher of State Aviation Journal and Arizona Aviation Journal, concurred: “I believe in running photos with every article or brief we use in our aviation journals. I'm amazed at how many releases we get that don’t include any photos or even company logos -- and this from major companies or organizations. Fortunately, we’ve built up quite a library, but it is frustrating to send an email asking if a photo is available. Although not my first choice, I find myself hitting delete more often, rather than going photoless or holding a story while we wait, and wait, and wait even longer for a photo."
In an interesting twist, many of the participants in the discussion highlighted issues that could be best described under the header of “Press Releases 101.” The PR Newswire Content Services team would agree -- through the end of the first quarter 2012, they found (and fixed) 27,414 client mistakes in press releases. In particular, numerous people noted that spelling is a prevalent problem.
Gwen Watkins, the Botswana-based director at Entrepreneurs for Africa Ltd., was adamant, saying, “Learn to spell! I sub 10-15 press releases every night for an online marketing magazine and am horrified at the careless spelling. The cardinal sin: misspelling your own client’s name, or company name, followed by misspelling an internationally recognized name or brand. It’s not as if Microsoft doesn’t help -- more than half the mistakes are picked up for me by its Word spellcheck.”
Brevity was also a recurring theme. From a user (and search engine) standpoint, a 400-word release is more effective than an 1,800-word tome.
Yassir Islam, a Washington, D.C.-based communications professional, talked about how to combine brevity but still offer detail to those who need it: “I like to keep press releases to one page, if I can. You can always add links to fact sheets for those who want to dig deeper.”
Tactics for keeping the key messages of the press release front and center were also discussed, and to the points I made about developing focused messaging in both articles, I think these tips are particularly important.
Caryn Starr, NYC-based owner of StarrGates Business Communications, noted the importance of having a boilerplate about the company to keep too much ancillary information from creeping into the release. That’s an excellent point, and segues nicely into some advice about the lede (or “lead,” as some prefer).
Staci Harvatin, interactive communications and media melations coordinator at Saint Louis University Hospital, said, “One of my favorite press release tips is 'don’t bury the lede.' Part of this falls under the 'don’t lose focus' point, but I think it is important enough to restate. Also, I still write down my top three key messages before writing the release. I know many people do this in their head, but I like checking them off as I go along.”
When combined with the tips offered earlier that were really geared toward driving social interaction and online visibility, I think these suggestions will really help communicators produce more effective content.
Do you have a favorite tip we missed? If so, share it below!