Would your press release pass a journalist’s smell test?

One of the hardest parts of being a public relations professional is educating your clients about what constitutes news and what does not. One of the most annoying parts of being a reporter is sifting through all the bad press releases that clog up your inbox.

I tend to be an enthusiastic champion of my clients and their products. I work with women-owned businesses, as well as campaigns and nonprofits that align with my values. But just because a company is doing good in the world, doesn’t make it inherently newsworthy. To be a good advocate for my clients, I have to be honest with them. Even if I sound like a Debbie Downer sometimes, it’s my job to them to tell them if their “news” sounds more like a press release than an actual news story.

Here are five warning signs that your press release won’t pass a journalist’s smell test and is likely to die on the wire or better suited to the company’s blog.

  1. It’s boring. Do your eyes glaze over after the first graf? Does the lede sound like some corporate robot wrote it? If you feel that way (remember, you’re an enthusiastic advocate for your client), guess how a reporter or editor is going to react?
  2. It’s too long. Face it, we live in a get-to-the-point culture where many platforms are competing for our attention. If you can’t draw a reader in with a compelling lede followed by what journalists call a “nut graf” that addresses the “why should I care” factor, don’t bother. No one is going to read on to solve the mystery of what you are trying to say, because frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that. Don’t be afraid to use bold fonts and bullet points to make your news stand out and easy to skim.
  3. It sounds like PR. Get creative on who is the best messenger for a story. For example, holding an event is not a story in and of itself. A quote from your CEO about the event may not be interesting to anyone (other than maybe your CEO). Can you tell the story of an actual person who now has a dramatically better life thanks to your product or service? Can you concoct a panel discussion of industry insiders who can speak more broadly about the trends and opportunities in your sector? Is there a leader of a nonprofit who is working with your business in unique and impactful ways? Think outside the box on what’s the best vehicle to get your story in the news.
  4.  It’s irrelevant. A stand-alone press release with a quote or two from the usual suspects is rarely news. You’ll have better results if you weave your timely content or expert source into a larger regional, national, or global trend. Connect the dots for the reporter. Show how you are adding value to the conversation (hint: this means you have to actually monitor the conversation). The less work you make a reporter do, the more they will appreciate you and be inclined to read – and maybe even respond to – future pitches.
  5.  It contains dumb mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, typos happen to everyone. We’ve all had that one time we meant to write “public” but instead wrote “pubic,” which slid right through spellcheck. Or was that just me? :) But seriously, egregious errors should be few and far between. Get another set of eyes on your stuff before you publish or distribute it, and install Grammarly or a similar tool on your computer to minimize errors, and never, ever use passive voice (because zombies!). Always triple check subject lines, headlines, dates, as well as any math or figures stated as facts in your release or the “boilerplate” language at the end.

What warning signs would you add to this list? Post it in the comments or tweet me @caitlincopple.