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Avoid these 10 big mistakes with media releases

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

Enticing a journalist or blogger to write about your company or client remains an achievement in the PR profession. So make sure you’re doing it right.

But someone else writing an article about your business does more for its credibility than your writing an article about it - especially if they work for a reputable publication. So if engaging the media is still part of your strategy - and it should be—here are 10 media release mistakes in far too many pitches. Do your best to avoid them.

1. You didn’t check the facts or get someone to proof read

After you have written a draft, check all facts you have mentioned for accuracy. Some howlers and lost accounts have resulted from careless fact checking.

2. It doesn’t contain news

Your CEO winning an award is not news—not unless the award was for a revolutionary medical device that saves people’s lives or software that reduces waiting times at hospital emergency rooms. When you’re writing a press release, always ask: Why should the publication’s readers care about this product/service/milestone? What value does it provide to readers? What problem does it solve? If you don’t have an answer, then it’s not newsworthy.

3. Too much sales speak

Media releases are not sales letters. They’re not ad copy. So take out the “you” from all text. Don’t use hyped words such as “leading,” “breakthrough,” and “cure.” Refrain from peppering it with flowery adjectives to describe your service. Just stick to the facts. You can—and should—accommodate opinions by adding quotes, but don’t let them leak into the narrative. A media release style should be written as an article. If you are not familiar with that format, check out the publication you are targeting and copy theirs.

4. Lacking a story

You might have something worth reporting, but if it’s all facts and figures, your readers won’t see it. Their eyes will already have glazed over. Always tell a story. Complement facts with quotes that express insight or convey an emotional reaction to the data. Frame your release around a challenge that was or can be overcome, a problem that was or can be solved. That’s how you portray your company as a hero—by showing, through storytelling, how it has helped or can help others, and not by indulging in self-praise or dry statistics.

5. Lacking a focus

Focus on just one thing. One project. One product. One campaign. Save the others for separate releases. You can talk about them if they’re related and build on each other, but only one can be the star. Having multiple angles will run you into all sorts of problems. Not only will your press release be too long and your headline incomprehensible—which will confuse and annoy editors—they also won’t be search-friendly. Search engines see content that’s about too many things as content that’s about nothing.

6. You have buried the key angle

If you don’t state your point in the first paragraph of your pitch, editors will toss out your release before getting to the second. Sometimes you might want to lead with an anecdote. That’s OK, as long as it’s related to the point of the release. It should also be interesting enough to make readers want to know what happens next. It should flow smoothly to the second paragraph, where the big reveal takes place. And it should be short. If your release is about an anti-stroke campaign, you should hit the campaign after three or four sentences.

7. Headline lacks news

A headline can make or break a release. Advertising executive David Ogilvy once said that on average, five times as many people read the headline as they do the body copy (in ads). So if you don’t sell something in your headline, you’ve wasted 80 % of your money. It’s the same with a press release. A good news-headline communicates direct benefits that are relevant to your target audience. It’s not cryptic, promotional, or overly clever.

8. Too long

Stick to a single page if you can: no more than about 400 words, if possible, and stay strong against others trying to pad it out with marketing hype. Begin with an anecdote or a reference to a high-profile issue or event; immediately connect it with the product, service, or cause you wish to publicize; put in a paragraph with statistics from reputable sources for credibility and context; energize it with a quote or two; and then end with some boilerplate text about your company. That’s it. Length should not be a problem if you avoid mistake No. 4.

9. No quotes

Quotes make opinion, insight, and emotion possible in a press release. They take readers beyond the traditional five Ws (who, what, where, when, and why plus “how much”) to the hows. To answer questions like, “How do employees feel about the change in overtime policy?” Or, “How can you explain that concept using a metaphor or analogy?” Emotion is at the core of storytelling. Avoid quotes that simply state facts and figures, because they're a waste of space. Also, don't use quotes that blatantly promote your product, unless they're from impartial sources.

10. Full of puffery and hype

Don’t write “myocardial infarction” if you can write “heart attack.” Don’t write “remunerate” when “pay” works just as well. Unless you’re writing to colleagues (and sometimes even if you are), jargon makes you sound pompous and difficult to relate to. It also forces reporters to look up certain terms (in which case they might not bother). It’s also not search-friendly, because search engines favor natural language.

The media release is still the workhorse of many PR campaigns, even after social media allowed businesses to engage directly with customers. Knowing that a journalist wrote about you, that his or her article was vetted by at least one professional editor, and that someone else's money was spent to publish it, lends credibility to the publicity that your own blogging, newsletter-writing, and Facebook and Twitter posting just can’t match. You know it, and so do your customers. So do your best to get it right.

Adapted from an article by Maggie Holley, a marketing writer who helps healthcare companies tell stories that show and sell their science.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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