Alright, America: what the heck happened to the press release?
Didn’t they used to contain actual news? When did they get so gimmicky? Why are they so ridiculously boring? And when did a press release turn into an opportunity to tell the world your office just upgraded its water cooler?
American businesses, I beg you, stop using the press release as an opportunity to tell the world you just hired a new intern. Unless that new intern is Scarlett Johansson, we do not care. We do not care that your line of dentures just went on sale. We do not care that you installed new light fixtures or changed the wall color from Neutral Beige to Soothing Taupe.
When you release a press release like that, you waste everyone’s time — including your own. A non-news press release brings nothing to the table except fluff. You won’t get publicity. You won’t get links. You won’t get droves of new customers. You know what you’ll get? You’ll get eye rolls. Groans. Disgruntled sighs. Facepalms. Intense hatred from bloggers and journalists all over the world.
You want to learn how to write and share a solid press release? Take a look at the following eight examples. And do the exact opposite of everything you see.
Image: Mancera via Flickr
Mistake #1: The Terrible Headline
Why It’s Terrible: I have no idea what that headline is trying to say. I have no idea why it’s news. I have no idea why it’s 22 words long. And let’s look at the big news contained within the first paragraph: an online retailer is suggesting that “young women look to their favorite celebrities to get some ideas for the perfect gown.” Thank you, retailer, for suggesting that. Because no teen girl on the planet has ever thought about modeling their fashion choices after celebrities. Killer advice. Really.
Avoid the Mistake: Your headline sells your story. It’s the most important part of any press release, because it convinces someone to actually open and read your press release. Your headline should be concise and attention-grabbing. It should also be immediately understood. And unlike this release, it should contain some actual news.
Mistake #2: The Schmooze
Why It’s Terrible: Take a look at the entire first paragraph and tell me why Mr. Mystery Realtor is a terrific real estate agent. Because he accepts challenges? Because he makes friends? I’d say that makes him an excellent candidate for a Girl Scout troop, but I’m still a little lost on what makes him such a great realtor.
That first paragraph is made up of six sentences that manage to say absolutely nothing at all. There’s no news here. Heck, there’s no content here. This release exists mainly to establish that this real estate network is “Haute” enough to send out a press release about their latest acquisition. It reeks of a self-serving sales pitch — and nothing turns readers off faster than a schmoozy sales pitch.
Avoid the Mistake: You’ve heard of “Show, don’t tell?” Well, press releases need to show, not sell. Go easy on the schmoozing sales pitches. If you’re posting a press release just because you can post a press release, you need to head back to the drawing board and dig up some real news.
Mistake #3: The Shameless Ploy for Links
Why It’s Terrible: This press release is clearly nothing but a shameless ploy to get inbound links for their targeted keywords (“debt consolidation loans,” “personal loans,” etc.). The language is vague, the quotes are weak, and there’s enough passive voice in here to make an English teacher faint.
Avoid the Mistake: Hey, if you’re just out to get links, this is a pretty shameless way to do it. But if you’re looking to gain any traction whatsoever — any shares, press, or mentions — you’re going to have to work a lot harder than this.
Mistake #4: The Too-Long Manifesto
Why It’s Terrible: Let’s ignore the terrible subject material, the sales-y text, the boring content, and the shameless promotion going on within this press release and just focus on the sheer length. It’s far too long. In fact, this release continues beyond what’s pictured here: the actual release was too long to capture in one screen shot.
The main idea here is this: do something different this Valentine’s Day with a Ikebana floral arrangement. It takes the writer six paragraphs to spell out a sales pitch for a floral arrangement. Even the headline is too long. The release may cover the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When, and Why), but it conveys nothing of actual value to the reader. Worse, it’s largely fluff: “It is very different from the European, American…and other Oriental designs” expresses nothing to the reader.
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Avoid the Mistake: Ideally, your press release should be less than 400 words. It should contain zero fluff, rambling sentences, or useless quotes. The tighter your press release, the better.
Mistake #5: The Useless Information
Why It’s Terrible: The overt sales pitch and grammatical errors aside, this release feels the need to contain an entire list of the Pashmina products sold by the retailer. The retailer is having a Pashmina sale. Great. No one cares about the specific product names.
Avoid the Mistake: With every piece of information you include, you need to ask yourself: why is this important to the reader? What benefit does it serve? If you can’t find a clear reason to include that information, cut it.
Mistake #6: The Grammatical Errors
Why It’s Terrible: This release is ridden with grammatical errors. I’ve highlighted some of the worst mistakes, but nearly every other sentence contains a notable error. It’s clear no one took the time to proofread this piece — making this already sketchy press release look even more unprofessional.
Avoid the Mistake: Recruit as many people to proofread your release as possible. Read it aloud. Go over it three times. Grammatical mistakes don’t just make the writer look bad: they make the entire company look unprofessional and unpolished.
Also? Include your sources’ real names. “Mike C” won’t cut it in the real world.
Mistake #7: The Poorly Written Release
Why It’s Terrible: Ouch. This clearly wasn’t written by a professional writer. “Funny, intimidating, and even charming” monster designs? Who wants an intimidating monster in their child’s room? And why is it “even charming?” Should we be surprised that your designs are charming? Furthermore, how exactly does printing a design on bedding products qualify as the latest technology?
The wording’s confusing. And at times, it’s downright nonsensical.
Avoid the Mistake: Hire a real writer. This jumbled mess of words is going to confuse and frustrate any reader. If you want people to take your release seriously, you’re going to have to get serious about who’s crafting your release.
Mistake # 8: The All-Around Mess
Why It’s Terrible: Did you read it? The “headline?” The subject material? The quote? The fact that they wrote up an entire release about an employee banquet? The fact that you dozed off in the middle of it? Yeah. That’s why it’s terrible.
Avoid the Mistake: Don’t do this. Any of it. I beg you. Just…don’t.
Sound Off: Got Any Press Release Pet Peeves to Share?
Who’s got some press release horror stories to share? And which release did you think was the most tragic? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Nicki Porter is a working writer, fledgling foodie, and admitted alliteration addict with a severe allergy to boring press releases. Find her on Twitter at @nickimporter. Or better yet, come hang out with CopyPress on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr!