Not all press releases are created equal

by Shannon Paul on June 25, 2008

The press release gets a bad rap, and many have been calling for the death of the press release for at least three years.

Despite that fact, I still write and distribute a fair amount of press releases and people are still willing to pay me for this service.

To be fair, I’m a proponent of the use of social media in business communications and am very involved in my workplace in helping to integrate the use of new tactics into our PR plans for clients, but the press release as a tool has been unfairly maligned for the simple fact that not all press releases are created equal.

Unfortunately, many of the characteristics people point out as good reason for the death of the press release simply exemplify bad press releases.

What a press release is NOT:

  • Hyperbole — A post on Copyblogger by Muhammed Saleem dismisses traditional press releases as “spammy” since they rely on hyperbole to “shamelessly promote a company’s product or service.” If a press release has to rely on hyperbole, excessive adjectives and exaggeration to communicate something, then chances are good that what the company is trying to promote is not newsworthy and should be advised against issuing a press release.
  • Entertainment — Sorry, but the first priority of a well-written press release is to inform — and inform quickly. The old joke that newspapers are written at a 6th grade level should also hold true for press releases. They should have tight word economy and rely on what my journalism teacher referred to as power verbs — most any verb other than is, was, are, were, etc. (These are examples of plankton verbs — bottom of the verb food chain :)
  • Repurposed marketing speak and/or sales pitches — Ugh. Marketing collateral and/or a sales pitch dressed up like a press release isn’t just blogger repellent, it’s journalist repellent, too. Nobody wants to see your sales pitch cloaked as a press release; it’s just embarassing. As with the use of hyperbole, if you find yourself relying on fancy adjectives and one too many visits to, scrap the release and write up another marketing slick, company newsletter article or e-mail blast. But for goodness sake, leave the media alone.
  • A Formality — A good press release should obey some basic formatting and style guidelines, journalists obey these same rules, and glaring violations of style will just make it look like you either don’t know what you’re doing, or you’re phoning it in. Adherence to AP (Associated Press) style also deserves a bit of attention and will help secure media coverage since it reads like actual news. Pay special attention to AP style guidelines regarding proper use of abbreviations, datelines, headlines, titles, etc.

While I’m intrigued by new methods of communication, I would hate to think that there are businesses positioned to benefit from implementing a basic PR/media relations strategy avoiding the practice in fear of losing some kind of imagined, cool-kid social media street cred.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

June 26, 2008 Malayna 1

Hi Shannon, great post. You make some excellent points but as a proponent of multi-media digital releases, I would also suggest that the goal of any release should be to give journalists (and bloggers) everything they need to cover a story: a well written honest release plus images, links to background info/quotes/relevant data, video/audio if applicable. Given the decreased resources in today’s newsrooms, and the need for web friendly content, release should be loaded with goodies. We see incredible response to the New Media Releases we put out and get a lot of “thank yous” from journalists for making it easy on them. Obviously, easy access to media rich elements won’t compensate for bad writing, excessive spin or poor targeting but if added to a good release the results soar. Just my two cents as a digital release geek!


June 26, 2008 shannonpaul 2

Thanks, Malayna, I know I still have a lot to learn :) but my major mental hurdle when it comes to digital/multimedia releases has to do with e-mail distribution.

In my mind, I can’t help but think that digital/interactive/SMNRs will be subject to the same limitations as old-fashioned text since they are both dependent on the receiver opening the e-mail without first clicking delete.

Journalists that I have talked to complain about receiving 100s of pitches everyday. And, while they express gratitude when they receive hi-res images they are looking for, they don’t like receiving unsolicited files that have the potential to crash their mailbox. There’s no shortage of things to cover and the more clicking they have to do to get the information, the less likely they are to cover the story.

I love the idea of incorporating interactive elements into press releases and spreading the message through social media, but my skepticism lies with the effectiveness of e-mail as a distribution method… and don’t even get me started on wires.

Maybe I’m approaching the subject from the wrong angle, but I’ve really heard a lot of theories on the subject and I’m looking to understand — and to help others understand *tactics*. What are the tactics? How do the distribution tactics differ with digital releases?

Thanks again for responding — I’m sure we’ll be in touch very soon :)


June 26, 2008 Malayna 3

You put your finger on the real challenge we face Shannon. (Although I am wondering, how do you get your releases to people if not via a wire or email. Snail mail? Just curious…)

Hope you’ll forgive the novel, but I just can’t help myself, gotta respond to a few of your points…

First, if an HTML email is done correctly it is much smaller and less problematic than a text email with attachments. Journalists do not like attachments but HTML with embedded links, etc, is very small. If well organized (for fewer clicks), they make it easy for journalists to view, click and grab what they need.

Second, you are right about the challenges getting journalists to check out your info rather than click delete. There is no cure-all solution but, IMHO, a press release that looks good through the preview pane–which is replacing the subject line as the way people decide whether to open or delete–will be much more tempting especially if the journalist can see at a glance that it includes all the key elements: good headline, compelling first sentences, links, images, video (which should all be labeled as plain text links, in case images are blocked). Newsrooms are swamped so anything you can do to stand out from clutter in a positive way can help (and few are doing this well).

I’m a bit torn about the idea that journalists don’t like emails. I think–and my opinion is based on on going surveys and conversations with journalists and bloggers (which are on our site if you want to check them out)–that journalists don’t like IRRELEVANT emails. I know some PR people are arguing that it is bad to email journalists you don’t know. As an email vendor to many PR firms, large and small, we do see journalists opt out of list, almost always with a “thanks but no thanks” or “just send me things about food” and very rarely with any anger. But for every opt out, I see about 20 “thanks for sending this to me… great story… so glad to see this… using it…” etc. Although we suggest to our clients that they keep their lists highly targeted, some do and some don’t. One would think the tight lists would perform better but in all honestly there are pro’s and con’s of either approach. And, we have some clients who don’t email it at all but use the link as needed just to give journalists an easy place to access whatever they need. Also, some email marketing techniques can be employed to make releases more relevant to recipients–we see that work very well.

Finally, if I might make a totally self serving comment (and I’m gunna) this is why PR professionals should get real email experts to work with them on their releases. Seriously, I’m watching the “wire” services offering multi-media releases and NMRs which they claim are being delivered via email but they are loaded with all sorts of things that will trigger firewalls and spam filters (bookmarks for ex) but since the wire services don’t know much about how HTML works, they don’t seem to realize that no one will actually get the releases and, if they do, they’ll look bad and work worse. (The common alternative is to hire web designers who create stunning emails that won’t get delivered and don’t function!)

Anyway, that’s my two cents or, as the case my be, 72 cents. (Whew, I feel a bit better after that little rant. Thanks for listening!)


June 26, 2008 shannonpaul 4

Please don’t apologize, you’re teaching me something I want to know more about.

I do use e-mail to send releases but I am frustrated by the limitations of e-mail even though it’s the best option available.

I will often make phone calls and talk to journalists who are *glad* I called to follow up, ask me to resend the release and ultimately end up covering the client.

The HTML techniques you talk about are also quite good and address some of the questions I’ve posed to wire services with little resolve.

So, please know that I appreciate your 72 cents and am glad you could spare it for me :)


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