Some of the most needless words in press releases are also the most common.
Many wasted words are holdovers from the early days of PR, when press releases were written on stone tablets. Others are borrowed from the corporate jargon that emerged since the advent of the corporate website.
It’s not just the words but also the number of them that are strung together to say so little. The elements of a bad press release are so familiar that they seem obligatory. And therein lies the problem. Like a virus, they never die.
Here are five common flaws to avoid.
For immediate release. Stop the presses! A company just issued a press release. This line often tops releases. In most cases, the sense of urgency is a bit overblown. It’s an old joke in newsrooms to hold a printout as if it’s hot coal, saying “hot off the press” or something silly like that. You can get off to a better start by removing this piece of old furniture.
We are excited. We’ve all seen the “we are excited” quote so many times that it is easy to fall into the trap of sounding just like all the other excited people quoted in press releases the world over.
Whether you are thrilled, delighted or ecstatic is beside the point. Instead, make an appeal to the emotions of your readers. Why is your news interesting, important or beneficial to them?
Innovative solutions. This corporate phrase has done its duty and has earned its retirement. It conjures stock images of smiling office workers pointing at computer screens in a brightly lit office on the homepage of a once stylish website that’s due for an update.
If you think about it, all companies are in the business of providing solutions. Except for companies that are in the business of creating problems. And we know how well that goes. Instead, tell people what your company does and why it is good for them.
The self-aggrandizing quote. “We are thrilled about our exciting innovation, which is just the latest example of our company’s preeminent position in the solutions industry. It is no wonder we are the market leader in the thing that we do,” said Brag Toomuch, CEO of Boring & Bland.
Don’t be that guy. Use quotes as an opportunity to explain the big-picture significance of your announcement. Why does it matter to the world outside of your headquarters?
Continued on page three. There is no page three. The optimal length of a press release is one page. Two pages is a pardonable offense. Press releases are often written by committee. Passages get added as the work moves up the chain. Aim for one page. Accept the reality of two. Save page three for the “urgent, exciting, solutions” that you’ve “proudly” avoided.
Our firm just completed one of the highest profile projects in our 15-year history – it’s a 30-story residential tower – and it’s also one of the best projects that the firm has ever done. As the design partner on the project, I want to get as much coverage in the press as we can. In particular, I’d like to get the project on the radar of architecture critics and the design press. So, my question is, how do we make these connections? Do we go to one person first, or should we submit it to everyone and see who writes about it? Our internal marketing and PR team has varying opinions on our best approach, and I need to make a decision. Can you help?
Well, Mr. High-Riser (or Ms. High-Riser, as the case may be!), first, I want to congratulate you on a job well done! As you know, the Doctor is not an architect, but she knows how hard you and your teams work on your buildings. It is no small feat. Look, I am currently renovating my apartment, and you would think it was as complicated as building the Burj Khalifa – and it seems to be taking just as long (sigh!). Ah, but I digress. The good Doctor wants to talk about YOU.
So, look, there are a number of ways to connect to the design press. It’s important to have a good project, as you do – so, you are already starting off on the right foot! Also make sure that you invest in good photography, because you want to show your project to best advantage. For more tips on that subject, check out architectural photographer Brad Feinknopf’s post on our blog.
As for reaching out to the press, you should certainly send out a press release, which can get you great coverage. Put together a smart, targeted list of contacts in the design press (print and online) and also make sure you include all your different audiences. For example, you want to send out the release to residential publications and real estate reporters as well as design reporters. If there is a sustainability story, put those publications on your list as well.
But! Remember that press are people, too. How would you like to get a mass e-mail? Believe me, the press gets tons of them. It’s like getting a recorded phone message from a political candidate right before an election. That fools no one! So, if you really want to connect with a critic, then the Doctor suggests that you handpick your favorite or favorites. And I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you that all critics are not created equal. For example, you will want to reach out to local critics who have written about tall buildings and/or residential buildings – these will probably be most receptive to your project. Target one person first. Give the writer a quick overview of the project and highlight the most important things. Be clear, compelling and succinct. I mean, in this day and age, who has time to read?
If he or she doesn’t bite (give your first choice a reasonable amount of time to consider the project), then go onto the next. You don’t want to promise the same project to two publications. I know this can be tough, but it’s really the right thing to do. It’s often the same with design magazines, such as Architectural Record and Metropolis: they’ll want an exclusive story – and you can’t blame them for that, especially if you have a great project! On the up side, make sure you build a good relationship from the start and then keep the good work coming!
When you give reporters what they need, you get more and better media coverage.
It sounds simple. But we become so focused on what we want from the media that we sometimes forget to consider their needs. If you help them do their job, yours will be easier, too.
You can’t cater to every request. Reporters often want access to information they cannot have.
What they need is a good story.
Every day, sometimes every hour, journalists must “feed the beast.” It could be a magazine article, a news story, a blog post or a tweet. They are forever filling an empty space.
Here are five ways you can help journalists cover your organization.
Be a Source. Reports rely on sources for several aspect of their job. A source can be someone who keeps journalists informed of the latest developments on the topic they cover. A source can also be someone who offers background information, or shows a reporter where to find it. Or, a source can be a subject matter expert they call upon to provide analysis and commentary for their stories.
Offer News Tips. There is a difference between a news tip and a pitch. It comes down to intent and delivery. If the information is valuable and its publication would be mutually beneficial, you are providing a news tip. If you push a self-serving story that is of no use to a journalist, it shows a lack of concern or respect. As an analogy, a professional sales person helps customers make wise choices. And then there are the cold callers. Don’t be a PR telemarketer.
Provide Quotes. Every news story needs quotes. They are hard to get. A reporter has to find someone with something to say and then convince that person to speak on the record. Quotes are statements that journalists hear with their ears, in person or over the phone. Or, in some cases, quotes can be taken from a digital conversation. Press release quotes don’t count; journalists have no easy way to verify that the person quoted actually said that. Let your people talk.
Share Your Data. Reporters always need facts to back up stories. Data-driven journalism is on the rise. Data you gather on industry trends, for example, could be repurposed for media consumption. Not everything is a trade secret. Sometimes, it is worth more to share information than to hoard it. Being the source of valuable data, builds your influence as an industry leader.
Facilitate News Gathering. Facilitators are the people who help reporters get all of the above. They come in many forms: the mayor’s press secretary, a friendly courthouse clerk, a CEO’s administrative assistant, a political operative or a corporate communicator. You can be that person.
Don’t be a palace guard, but don’t become a concierge either. Your relationship with journalists should be a strategic alliance: mutually beneficial, sometimes guarded, and always professional.
To borrow from the Rolling Stones, you can’t give reporters everything they want. But if you try, you can give them what they need.