Why this PR agency owner despises press releases

The former TV journalist offers crucial insights into the terrible yet common practices that land pitches in the recycle bin and earn the sender nothing but derisive laughter.

I own a public relations firm, and I hate press releases. Sounds crazy, right?

Well, I spent almost a decade deleting them, so there’s that. When I was looking to leave the TV business and start working at a public relations firm, so many wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have any PR agency experience.

I would say, “No, I don’t, but I do have experience deleting just about everything you’ve ever sent me. Would you like to know why?” Honestly, not one of them wanted to know why, but they still continued to send me terrible press releases to earn their clients publicity.

So, why do I hate press releases and didn’t read most of them?

No one was putting themselves in my shoes. I’m the reporter. I’m the one you’re asking to cover the story, so put yourself in my shoes. Is it what I usually cover? No. Does it pertain to the area I cover? No. So, you’re sending it to me why? Because it’s what you should do?

It wasn’t newsworthy. Most press releases I received basically screamed, “Please, give my client a free commercial. There is nothing really newsworthy here, but I need to get this on TV.” Unless the news day is so, so, so very slow, local TV news doesn’t do free commercials. Instead, educate me. Entertain me. At least attempt to make it newsworthy. There’s gotta be a story in there somewhere. In addition, why should I do your story when I’m one of dozens, if not hundreds, getting this exact same press release?

They are just too long. Do you know how many press releases news outlets and journalists get in a single day? It’s a lot. If you don’t keep it short and sweet, all your time and energy writing that press release was wasted.

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It said “Press Release” in the subject line. That equals automatic deletion. Seriously, you could have the solution to all the world’s problems in that press release, but with that sort of subject line, no one will read it.

It said “Breaking News” in the subject line, and it was about an art show—the same day a mass shooting occurred. This gets you not just deleted, but also shamed and ridiculed in the newsroom and in online industry groups. I’ve seen it. As a journalist, I laughed. As someone in the PR industry, I ask you to stop, please. You are embarrassing me.

It didn’t give me what I needed when I needed it. If I’m in TV, what would I do with high-resolution pictures or quotes? Nothing. I need an interview—and not a Skype interview, but an in-person interview, and that person had better be available from the second you send me that press release. Anytime I did respond to a press release, this was a follow-up problem. In TV, we do things that day. Unless it’s a special report, the story is started and finished within hours, so don’t send me something to cover, then tell me to wait because you aren’t ready. You just lost your chance.

I don’t think all press releases are pointless. I bet everyone jumps at the chance to read one from Apple. I would; they put out some pretty good stuff.

I still write press releases for clients. I definitely think they have a time and a place, but I do not believe press releases should be a go-to thing each and every time you want to reach out to journalists, though many PR pros do. If you do, please avoid the horrible habits listed above.

Christina Nicholson is the owner of Media Maven and More, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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Topics: PR

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