Thursday, March 15, 2007

PR and press releases: does anyone care about what you're saying

Here's Carole Theriault, senior security consultant at Sophos, on the humble press release…

So, you are a company with something to say, and you think the best way to spread the word is through a press release… 

Now, in my job, I get to see quite a few press releases from a variety of sources, and the difference in quality can be quite simply astounding.  It makes me feel for the journalists who have to scour through these things each and every day searching for something worthy of a story.

How can you tell if your release is going to cut the mustard? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

Is it really news?

Forgive me if this sounds like an obvious question, but considering the number of releases that seemed best designed to inspire the widest and deepest of yawns, it seems this question is not being asked enough.  In the word 'news', you can clearly see the word "new" - that means that something is happening or is about to happen, or that you have a fresh viewpoint on something that has very recently happened. 

The point here is that timeliness is everything, so don’t waste effort on something that’s already past its sell-by date.

It's news, but will anyone care?

Of course, inside your company, everyone might be thrilled to bits about the latest upgrade or version of your product, but the point of a release is to try and appeal to a wider audience.  Answer the question in the first paragraph of why the journalist should give two hoots about the subject matter.  Back it up with independent views as to why this is important information.  Offer proof that this has a significant impact on your potential readership. 

By pretending to be the recipient of the release, you stand a better chance of writing a story worth publishing.  And bear in mind that some news is best kept for the internal company newsletter…

Is the piece punchy?

The point of a release is that journalists can read it and grab the info they need for a good story, but that doesn't mean that you should clutter it with tidbits of unnecessary peripheral information that complicates the release and confuses the reader.  The KISS rule - yes, that old chestnut - is invaluable here.  One main point and a maximum of three supporting points is good advice to follow. 

Another thing to remember is to be clear in your sentence construction.  I cannot tell you how many releases I have seen with loooooooong, convoluted sentences that take me back to my days of studying Latin.  Press releases shouldn’t be littered with modifiers and marketing speak.  Just say what you want to say.  A good trick here is to read it out loud.  Does it sound interesting and, well, punchy?

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