My first job out of college was editor of a neighborhood weekly newspaper. I pretty much did everything from covering neighborhood meetings to reporting breaking news to layout and paste up of the newspaper. I even took the majority of the pictures with a cheap point and shoot camera. It was a low paying, high pressure job with a never ending deadline schedule screaming to be met.
One of the biggest challenges was that I would often find out a day or so before final deadline that the ad team hadn’t filled their weekly ad spots. Sometimes with just hours to go I could find myself with a page of more to fill. During these panic filled moments I would often turn to the stack of press releases on my desk (pre email) in hopes of finding something, anything that could fill the space. Chances were if it even resembled news, it made it into the paper that week. Better yet if there were pictures to go with it–another 10 or so inches filled.
Yet in my desperation for good PR that I could use, I often found myself tossing an entire stack of press releases because they were either so poorly written that I would have to research and rewrite the entire thing or they just weren’t newsworthy–no matter how hard I tried to make them so.
Journalist Need Good Press Releases
Years later when I switched to the dark side and became head of PR for a major mid-Atlantic real estate brokerage, I was amazed by what passed for a press release in the world of public relations. From my past experience with that neighborhood weekly I also knew that if I could place a well written story, a story that at least looked newsworthy in front of the right editor at the right time, it had a much better chance of getting coverage than the majority of the press releases I came across.
So that’s what I did. Instead of writing a press release, I wrote news stories. I wrote them as if I was reporting them myself for my own newspaper. Sure I added the necessary formatting, the contact info at the top, boilerplate copy at the bottom, those little ## tags to let them know where the press release ended. Strip all that away though and you had a story written in AP Style, usually following the traditional journalistic pyramid (important info at the top) complete with a strong lede, quotes from experts (which were always my company presidents or another company rep we wanted to place in the story–usually quotes I wrote and they approved), data that we wanted to present, whatever.
And you know what, they worked. Often I would see the stories cut and pasted verbatim as I wrote them. No phone calls, no follow up to see that they got the press release. Just a clip with impressions I could show to the company execs. Journalist even started to call me to see if I had anything for them. It got to the point where I just wrote the monthly column for one of the real estate editors in my area. Although nothing was ever formally said between the two of us, when she copied and pasted an informal email I sent her into her column and put her name on it, I realized I had a journalist in need. From that point on, every month I sent a special press release just for her talking about the real estate market in her area. I’d put forward the data we wanted her to see, quote the people in the offices her paper covered and she would put her name on it and publish.
Yeah, it may sound shady but it worked for me and it made her job all that much easier.
Journalist need press releases just as much as P.R. people need their stories placed. A good press release alerts the journalist to news they may have missed. They sometimes convince a journalist that a story they may have passed over really does deserve a second look.
Unfortunately, they also fill a journalist’s email with time consuming junk.
So Think Like a Journalist
Somewhere along the way public relations people got the idea that journalists really cared about their company’s top sellers or that the company was “pleased to announce” something. Not to burst your bubble but they don’t. They care about the news that is important to their readers or at least something that looks like news. And yet press releases are filled with industry speak and cliched phrases that instantly make a reporter move on to the next press release.
Shift Communications recently released an infograpahic (below) listing the most overused PR words of 2012. Although they are incredibly common press release terms, they are also the words will send even the most newsworthy press release straight to an editor’s trash bin. (Shift also didn’t leave an embed link for their infographic. If you see them, send them my tips on embedding an infographic.)
Let’s Try a Few
So let’s have some fun. Let’s try out a few of these overused terms in an imaginary press release and see if they sound familiar:
“Widgets Inc., a leading developer of innovative environmental solutions, is pleased to announce a strategic partnership with Widgets ‘R’ Us that will secure the Widget Inc. brand as we expand to meet the demands of a growing global market.
“We are excited to work with Widgets ‘R’ Us as it provides an opportunity to join forces with a widget maker who has truly made an investment in the worldwide market,” said John Doe, CEO and President of Widgets Inc. “This investment leaves us well positioned to continue to provide the latest, most effective widgets for our customers.”
I could go on but you get the point. Unfortunately, my imaginary press release above isn’t much of an exaggeration. And admit it, if you write press releases, how many times have you used the terms below?
I was in real estate P.R. when the market crashed. As we were shutting down offices, one of our company presidents insisted that I send out press releases attempting to spin the story into a positive. When I couldn’t talk her out of it, that press release above is pretty much what I sent. The idea was to write as bad a press release as possible in hopes that editors would see the fluff and pass it over. Most of the time it worked.
Amazing how easy it is not to get a story placed.
The Most Overused PR Words of 2012
Below are the most overused PR Words of 2012 as reported by Shift Communications. See if you recognize any of them from your press releases.
Even better, give me your worst press release sentence in the comments below.
And when you need a press release that works, contact me at [email protected]. I can help you get your story placed today.