Everyone has to do something to get your attention
FACT: Press releases are a necessity in this business. We know it. The media tolerates it. Clients love it. And that’s why we do it.
FICTION: Media outlets will print your press release as-is. Child, please. If that was the case, do you know how many reporters would be out of business because some fat-fingered flack misspelled a myriad of words and didn’t really care about spell check because lunch and stuff.
That’s why it is always nice to provide a public service announcement for a few niceties on you may want to either instruct others to write a press release to get read, or just do it right yourself this time. Regardless, they work and maybe your last release didn’t, so we love you.
Get your pencil and Moleskine. Here we go…
1. Stop it with the Synergy! Jargon. Generic Bullsh. Marketing speak. Buzzword Bingo. We all have a name for it and they all suck out loud. Your friends at PR Newser have even tried to warn you about those much-maligned morphemes here and here, but we understand some talking head insists. So how about this for a rebuttal: Google frowns upon it too. You really should write the way you speak, and if you speak like that, well, God help you. As for the rest of us who don’t wish to sound like Mr. Spock, search engines prefer real words, natural language and all that 8th grade reading level you hear so much about in English class. At any rate, consider that next time you are told to retrieve “the low-hanging fruit” and “move the needle.” Mmmkay, thanks.
2. Do not bury the lede. First, yes, that is spelled correctly. Do you know how annoying it is to read a press release and because your client has a case of the big head, media folk have to get through his polysyllabic quote about the ether and hrmph hrmph hrmph to understand what the actual news could be? It’s terrible and that is the most certain way to get blacklisted by a reporter or even a blogger. I’ve done the blacklisting, I know. Protocol, for one. A knowledge of how to do your (and their) job, for two. What about they don’t have time to read your release all the way down to the boiler plate? You have time to write a great headline and a lead graph. If — and this is big IF — you get someone’s attention there, they could read on. So, news is news. Your client’s feelings about the news is the commercial, and we all know what happens to those (outside of the Super Bowl).
3. Think like a journalist. You really want to be good at this PR thing? Understand what they do to write stories, and then, write for those stories. Unless you have walked a mile in some pretty cheap penny loafers from Famous Footwear, you don’t really understand what it takes, how they have to pitch to their editors, and what they really search for in a story that complements their readers/viewers/clickers/listeners. Consider this: Reporters are first audience. Forget the shareholders, consumers, shoppers and folk who think they are important. The media is your first audience. As flacks, they need to be considered as such because if what you write on a release (or a note card when you pitch) doesn’t appeal to them, who cares about anything else? Write it factual, concise, error-free and chock-full-of-newsworthy information. Save your cutesy turns of speech for something like, blogs. Just sayin’.
4. Google is your little buddy. I have said it many times, “Google is making decent flacks better writers.” The owner of the Interweb has created algorithms that are so complex, Albert Einstein would look at the chalkboard saying, “Really?!” However, learn the Google Zoo — penguin, panda and hummingbird — and understand why it’s okay to feed those animals. Learn not to add too many links in a press release or you may as well be writing code for porn spam. Don’t bold or #hashtag or underline or italicize or
jack with the copy too much or Google will place it gently on page 19. That, and journalists will put your press release on the bulletin board near the cooler where they hang all that legal, laminated HR crap. And do you really want to be there? Probably no more than page 19 of Google.
5. Your release is NOT a story. No matter how many times it is said in boardrooms across this country, your press release will not become a byline for some reporter. And really, this is the best advice many green flacks never get — your press release can become the base of a story. And that’s it. The press release is used to strike a chord, turn on a light bulb, provide an epiphany. You will not do their job. If your release is good, it will get your phone to ring or your inbox to ding. That feedback is where you can discuss a greater trend, a story that instigated the release or even the method behind your madness. Become the journalist’s advocate and you could make a friend. Become that proverbial thorn in the side of said journalist and the best you will make is someone pissed.