Even in an age of instant communication and 280-character tweets, a well-written press release remains one of the best means of communicating directly with your target audience and telling your commercial story via the media.
We’ve written previously about the press release, and its continuing role as a cornerstone of media campaigns.
Conversely, a poor-quality press release can do more harm than good. Not only will it likely fail to gain much traction and coverage, but, if a journalist has a hard time reading or making sense of it, then they’re less likely to make the effort with your next attempt.
As in life, so in press releases: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. We see dozens of press releases every day – some good, some less so – and also write our fair share of announcements every week. As a result, we’d like to share some of the common mistakes that are made time and time again, and how they can best be avoided.
A weak headline
“John Smith Renewables announces multitude of advanced new wind turbine, solar farm hydro scheme renewable energy products for owners and operators”
As the first element anyone will read, a press release’s headline needs to succinctly sum up what the announcement is about, capture a journalist’s attention and encourage them to read on. For a number of reasons, this fictitious example achieves none of these aims.
For one thing, don’t stuff a headline so full of keywords that it becomes unreadable or grammatically flawed (more on that below). Equally, a strong headline needs to be specific: answering the question of ‘who is doing what and why?’ should usually cover it. And be sure to deliver the facts in an objective way – this isn’t the time to go over the top with self-promotion.
Above all, keep it punchy and specific. While a clever pun can work in your favour and help to attract a reader’s interest, make sure it doesn’t obscure what you’re trying to say.
Even “John Smith Renewables launches suite of new clean energy products” is a marked improvement on the above.
Painfully poor grammar
This might seem obvious, but grammar matters; famously, it’s been known to save lives.*
Bad grammar can not only make your release difficult to comprehend, but can actively dissuade a journalist, who is often strapped for time, from reading to the end. After all, if you didn’t take the time to proof-read the announcement before you released it, how important can it be?
Instead, your press release should be written in a style that is ‘ready to publish’ as-is – and that includes the correct use of punctuation. You’ll be doing journalists everywhere a favour, as they won’t have to spend too much time double-checking and can more easily use your own words in their published article.
And this in turn can increase the chances of your key messages being conveyed exactly as you wrote them.
* At least in the case of ‘Let’s eat, Grandma’ versus ‘Let’s eat Grandma’.
Confusing marketing for news
In the rush to get a press release drafted, this can often be overlooked. Before you put pen to paper, take a step back and decide whether what you want to say falls into the category of ‘news’ or ‘marketing’. To qualify for the former, two criteria will normally have to be met:
- Does your announcement have a wider market significance – what does it mean for your customers or say about your industry?
- Are you saying something new?
If these two criteria are met, go ahead and begin drafting. But, once complete, consider whether it reads as a balanced contribution to wider industry conversations, or does it push your own products or services without any additional context or relevance to the market?
While obviously promotional, press releases are not advertisements, and need to be written in a more objective and restrained style than your marketing materials. This can mean using fewer exclamation marks, steering clear of sloganeering, and being more judicious in your choice of adjectives.
Failing to make the most of quotes
Too often quotes are dull, repeat what’s already been written earlier in the release, and do not sound like something a real-life person would say. Indeed, while direct quotes often present the best opportunity to tie in company messaging to a new announcement in a compelling way, too often this is an opportunity squandered.
Consider the following:
“We’re delighted to have completed our work at the New York wind farm to the high technical standards that our clients have come to expect.”
“According to the US Department of Energy, US wind capacity is expected to grow strongly over the next 20 years. By 2030 it will have increased by 49% to 224.07GW. Our services will be crucial to driving this growth.”
The first is bland, self-satisfied, and contributes nothing that the reader wouldn’t already know or expect. The second is full of statistical detail that has been added in an attempt to demonstrate the speaker’s knowledge, but instead sounds robotic.
A good quote will subtly tie your business to the issue at hand – reaffirming the significance of your release to the market in an engaging, original and personable way. As an example, take this recent analysis of the prospects for wind energy in New York:
“For years the US offshore wind industry lay dormant, but it is now beginning to wake up and stands to benefit from greater cost efficiencies and technological advances.”
“But it’s also becoming increasingly clear that strong political buy-in at the state level will have a make or break effect on overcoming potential regulatory and economic stumbling blocks. New York in particular has pushed itself to the fore in terms of its commitment to creating a profitable environment for US offshore wind, and this will be crucial to the success of the wider industry.”
Like any other communication medium – be it an interview, contributed article or social media post – press releases have certain dos and don’ts that need to be observed if you’re to ensure your release has the desired impact on your target audience. These are just a few of the most common mistakes made when drafting a press release and how they can be rectified – and should serve as a handy checklist to make sure your story is good to go.