Writing Better Press Releases with Chris Penn of SHIFT Communications

The passive voice is not known for being your friend

This morning, our friends at SHIFT Communications released “Bad Press Release Bingo,” a collection of the 50 most (over)used words in your average press release as calculated by algorithm. We’re big fans of such no-no collections, even though this one MAY have been shared by another site…

chris pennFWIW, some of these words are tough to avoid — but as Chris Penn, VP of marketing at SHIFT and frequent speaker/blogger puts it, the firm designed this list and its associated game in order to encourage PR professionals to actively think about the words they’re using rather than just choosing them reflexively because everyone else does.

Sticking to the “better writing” subject, we asked Chris for his take on last week’s big debate: do PR professionals need formal training to develop advanced writing skills?

Advanced writing isn’t just about more technical rules or refinement of the word skills you currently have. Advanced writing is about becoming a better communicator.

There are lots of little tricks and tips you pick up over the years which can immediately change your game for the better. Here’s a simple example. We know adverbs are undesirable for the most part. Why is that? Something that modifies a verb is an indicator that your verb isn’t well chosen:

“SHIFT is known for being a digitally savvy marketing agency.”

What two glaring mistakes do you see? I see passive voice as the first mistake. The second is “being a digitally savvy.”

If you convert that sentence to active voice and choose a better verb, you create greater impact:

“PR professionals know SHIFT as savvy digital marketers.”

See how much clarity comes from those two small refinements?

Once you’ve mastered this level of writing, you’re ready to move onto deeper levels.

How is your writing structured in whole? Can you write with logical flow? Do you have frameworks like AIDA, P/A/GS/SS, K/B/D, and others at your fingertips?

Advanced writing isn’t just important to your PR or marketing career. I’ll be so bold to say that without it, your career is over.

We love his point on the passive voice, which is surprisingly difficult to avoid (especially in press releases).

Take, for example, these two variations:

“X firm has announced the addition of John Smith as Chief Social Media Ninja.”


“Today, X firm announced the addition of John Smith to its staff in the role of Chief Social Media Ninja.”

What tips to we follow when trying to make press releases a bit more…what’s the word…interesting?

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