Do your press releases pass the smell test?

Any good journalist has ‘a nose for news,’ and it’s acutely conditioned to sniff out BS. Follow this guidance to keep your missives credible and avoid wasting everyone’s time.

There’s a maddening trend in media relations.

Time and again we’re seeing press releases that are either vapid or unbelievable (in the worst way).

A press release isn’t supposed to be an advertisement. Even if it were, you still want people to believe what was written.

Journalists and bloggers are gatekeepers to an audience. Like the security at a bar or club, they filter and curate who comes in based on the brand and audience they want to cultivate.

Ever wonder why your press releases don’t result in your getting beyond the velvet rope at certain clubs? If so, ask yourself these two easy questions:

1. Do you believe your own PR?

2. Do you think journalists are stupid?

Your answers should be “yes” to the first and “no” to the second.

However, a quick search of the newswires (and an informal survey of journalists) reveals a different answer.

Think about those friends who overshare the mundane on social media—the constant updates on Facebook or incessant foodie pics on Instagram. Like those annoyances, frequently distributing press releases that lack merit or plausibility can alienate journalists and cause them to hit the unfollow button.

No one wants to know that you’ve had tacos for dinner twice this week, even if Thursday’s tacos were 5 percent better than the tacos you had Tuesday.

To make the most of your media relations efforts, consider these tips before you start crafting that press release. The journalists you’re pitching will appreciate it.

Hit CTRL+F, and put your competitors in your own shoes.

If you swapped out your brand’s name with that of a competitor’s, would you be jealous the news wasn’t about you?

If your response is “meh” instead of “yeah,” then go back to the drawing board.

Be realistic about what your news is.

Not everything your organization is doing is a game-changing innovation, and that’s OK.

If something isn’t shifting the paradigm for your industry, don’t say that it is. Instead, explain why it’s important to your brand or industry, and target only relevant media outlets and beat reporters. Don’t overstate its importance, either, or you’ll risk alienating them—both now and later, when you have something earth-shaking to share with them.

Also, leave the jargon and descriptors du jour out of it. Sure, buzzworthy hashtags will get you some automated traffic on social media, but when approaching journalists, write in plain English—and follow AP style.

Don’t write your press release like an ad.

Journalists at more discerning, influential media outlets aren’t dumb.

If you want your press release to be an ad, that’s fine. Post it on your company’s blog and LinkedIn profile, because it won’t get past any journalist’s sensitive BS filter.

To gain a journalist’s interest, it has to be genuine, significant news.

Bill Byrne is the director of Remedy PR. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.