The 13 Worst Mistakes Everyone Makes When Writing a News Release

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This is a guest post by Jonathan Rick, president of the Jonathan Rick Group.

The hard drive of every PR pro is crammed full of them. The inbox of every reporter is groaning from them. Even as pundits predict their passing, the market for them in Google AdWords is competitive and costly.

What are they? News releases. Unloved but ubiquitous, the release dates back to the founding of our industry. Of course, that was in 1906, when you needed a full-length novel to capture the public’s attention. A few things have changed since then, yet the staple of our industry resists modernization. No wonder every year brings forth those declarations of death.

But the rumors are exaggerated. The news release may be dying, but like Charles Foster Kane’s Inquirer, it still has a lot of life left—especially if the SEC has any say in the matter.

In fact, we can resuscitate our old friend with a variety of tactical tweaks. The trick: We need to stop thinking like a flack and start thinking like a hack—specifically, like editors at today’s buzziest news outlets.

For example, consider the headline. A typical release would state something like this: “Nathan’s Applauds FDA Findings on Hot Dogs.” “Sounds intriguing!” said no one ever. But what if we thought like a publisher? What if we wrote headlines to grab attention? Under this mindset, we’d use techniques like a listicle and hyperbole to create curiosity: “Nathan’s Identifies 5 Ways the FDA Just Made Humanity Healthier.”

Similarly, have you ever wondered why nobody shares news releases through social media? Consider this recent statement from the NFL: “Michael Irvin & Jerry Rice Named 2016 Pro Bowl Legends Captains.” What happens when you try to tweet this? You’re presented with the following yawn: “Michael Irvin & Jerry Rice Named 2016 Pro Bowl Legends Captains: [link].”

Is this really the best communication we can craft?

For one thing, because this is Twitter, we should use a person’s handle, not his name. For another, we should use a sentence, not a headline. Under this mindset—again, thinking like a website that lives by pageviews—we’d publish something like this: “Congratulations to @michaelirvin88 and @JerryRice, the 2016 Pro Bowl Legends Captains! [link]”

Even better, let’s tease the winners: “We just named these two Hall of Famers the legends captions for the 2016 Pro Bowl. (Hint: they’re both wide receivers.) [link]”

Sounds simple, right? It is.

And, in fact, there are lazy habits that are even easier for us to break. We can stop ending a release with the “#” symbol. We can stop falling back on shopworn adjectives like “leading” and “prominent” in our first paragraph. We can stop using the same subheadline for different categories of reporters.

No doubt, you’ve committed one of these cardinal sins—likely without realizing it. Scroll through the above presentation to discover which ones. Then… repent!

Jonathan-Rick2Jonathan Rick is the president of the Jonathan Rick Group, a digital communications firm in Washington, DC. 

You can find Jonathan on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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