The explosion of information we need to deal with each day is making it harder to find new products, services, or people who can help make our jobs—and lives—easier.
This is why the bar for PR distinctiveness is high, and getting higher. It’s harder to stand out from the crowd.
Social media may be the hottest new channel for distributing ideas and breaking through the clutter. But the timeworn press release — distributed to traditional media and “new media” alike — continues to be the workhorse for many PR practitioners.
Like the art of writing itself, writing an effective press release is a craft that must be learned and honed. Some get it right. Others don’t. Much has been written about what makes for a successful press release, so here are some tips for writing one that will likely end up in a reporter’s email junk folder:
1. Ignore your audience. This should be considered a cardinal rule for press releases that don’t generate coverage.
There are several audiences you need to ignore. First, you need to disregard what the reporter you’re pitching to wants. Second, you should completely disregard what their editors are looking for. Above all, be sure to exclude anything in the press release that would be relevant to the customers you’re trying to reach.
2. Have nothing new to say. Reporters are looking for something new (they don’t call it “news” for nothing).
The last thing you want to do if you hope to avoid getting news coverage is offer genuinely fresh insight on an issue that is trending in the news. Don’t provide information about a new product or service that will meaningfully change how your customers do business or lead their lives, either.
3. Leave out specific examples. Keep your messages at a general level and don’t illustrate with specific examples or data points. They could end up motivating a reporter or editor to actually file the story.
4. Don’t tell a story. Just dump your facts into a list of bullet points. Make sure the facts are listed with no prioritization or logical sequence in mind. This will make it that much harder for the reporter to craft a coherent story.
5. Bury the most important messages. Never put the key finding in the headline or the first paragraph if you want to ensure it’s overlooked. The farther down the press release these facts are, the better.
6. Use plenty of industry jargon. The more terms you can use, the better. Using words that are likely to be cut by the reporter or his editor substantially decreases the amount of coverage you’re likely to get.
7. Disregard the unique requirements of local markets. Make sure your cultural sensitivity radar is completely switched off. This is especially important in a market like China, where most media are still either formally censored by the government or “self-censored” by their editors.
There are many ways to accomplish a cultural awareness void, but that’s for another post.
Follow these simple rules and you’ll substantially reduce the chance of getting news coverage from your press release. Over time, and with ample practice, you’ll eventually get no news coverage at all.
Glenn Leibowitz leads McKinsey & Company’s corporate communications, publishing and digital marketing in Greater China. He also blogs about PR, writing, creativity, and other topics on his website, where a version of this story originally appeared.