8 of the worst press release mistakes

Writing style, timing, editing, research and being selective all matter. Here’s how many professionals get those things wrong.

As much as I would love for the press release to die, it’s still a very effective tool when used correctly.

As Mickie Kennedy from eReleases wrote last month, Google has saved your news release. Gone are the days of keyword-stuffing to make certain you rank high in search results. Google now rewards beautiful prose again.

That said, people still make huge mistakes with their press releases. It’s not just limited to PR pros, either. Top-level executives all the way down to interns get them wrong at times.

Let’s look at eight of the top news release mistakes.

1. Your release has no style.

Refamiliarize yourself with the inverted pyramid.

Too many news releases try the storytelling tactic of “owned media” and fail. Begin with the most important information—why this story matters—and work down. Most journalists will not read too far into your release if you don’t get your news in the lead paragraph.

2. Your release has too much style.

I remember a time before email entered the workforce. We would write a press release, print it, overnight it to the client, and wait for it to be returned. It would come back with edits, we would make them, and resend for approval. Talk about totally inefficient, but because of the time and expense involved, it was rare anything went through more than one round of edits.

Today, however, it’s so easy to send a press release to a group of people and ask for comments. By the time it comes back, the news is lost, the voice is jumbled, and the quotes don’t make sense.

Not every press release needs every executive’s approval. Keep the reviews to one or two people, max.

3. What you’re sending isn’t really news.

Don’t send a press release for everything that happens inside an organization. With the exception of really high-profile executives, no one cares about your new hires. Unless you’ve won an Oscar, a Tony, or a Grammy, no one cares about the awards you’ve won. No one cares about your product or service launch, unless it’s something that is truly going to change the world or improve the industry you serve.

Think about what you read in the paper or in a magazine. If your “news” fits that same criteria, it probably is news. If it doesn’t, but your client or boss really wants you to write a news release, push back.

4. You’re using a press release when a different tactic will be more effective.

We have a client who wants a press release for everything. I’ll bet he asks us to write one a week, but the last one we actually wrote for him was more than a year ago, when his organization entered a new city to build a new facility that will create 800 new jobs.

Last month, he sent an email that said, “Get your news release writing skills out!” I pushed back and we’re writing an op-ed for a local newspaper instead. It’s not news for anyone else in the world.

5. You’re using spray-and-pray tactics.

Mass pitching does not work.

Mitch Joel always says, “If your pitch is meaningful to me, it will work 100 percent of the time.” That means if you take the time to figure out what Mitch writes about and his writing style, and pitch him appropriately, he’s going to use it every time. It also means that you may have a client or boss who really, really, really wants Mitch to cover your product or service. If it does not fit his blog, he won’t cover it. So don’t even try.

Just like I will never, ever write about Tax Day (except to mention it in a mistake post), you must customize every pitch.

Think about it this way: Would you rather send a news release to 1,500 contacts and get zero response or 50 targeted and customized emails and get 25 responses?

6. You don’t do your journalist or blogger research.

It is so much easier to do media relations today than it was 15 years ago. I used to come into the office after a business trip and find my inbox overflowing with magazines and newspapers. I subscribed to them all so I could get a good feel for the journalists I should pitch on behalf of a client.

Today, all one has to do is type the journalist’s name into a Google search bar and, in just 30 minutes, know everything you need to know about them. Do your research. Customize your pitches. Yes, it takes longer, but it works.

7. Your release is long-winded.

Just like every other person who reads things electronically, journalists scan. No one has time to read your four-page press release and your accompanying email that requires them to scroll and scroll to read it all.

State your news, why you feel it’s a good fit for the journalists’s readership, and ask if they’d like more information. That’s it.

I wouldn’t even send the news release. I’d put it on your website and I’d send the link. That way, they can get all (or as little) information as they like without having to read a long email.

8. You have terrible timing.

At Social Media Marketing World, I moderated a panel of four fine professionals. On that panel was Peter Stringer, the social media lead for the Boston Celtics. I asked him one the greatest things he’s learned in his job and he talked about the Boston bombings. He said they stopped all of their outbound efforts and only retweeted what the official police account was distributing.

Likewise, in 2001, we were with a client in the middle of Nebraska with 20 trade journalists at the Caterpillar plant when terrorists attacked. The media event had begun the evening of September 10 and, when we were about to begin the plant tour, we learned a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

Rather than go about our agenda, we all sat in the employee break room and watched the news unfold on television. Sometimes you’re right in the middle of something when a tragedy happens. How you handle it is what people will remember.

As Erika Napoletano says,

Pop culture dictates what people will hear and when. Take your industry’s pulse alongside the world’s pulse—share news when both can stand a blip on the radar and not when the radar’s jammed with other deafening noise.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. and blogs at Spin Sucks, where a version of this article originally appeared.

Topics: PR


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