Frequently, clients send me press releases that they’ve written but which have been rejected by the press release distribution company. They want to know why their press release was rejected and if there’s anything I can do to “fix” it. Here are the common problems…
A brief history of press releases and why it matters to you
A press release is supposed to be a news announcement. Originally, they were meant to entice reporters to write about the business that submitted the press release. When I was a reporter at a daily newspaper (many years ago!) we’d have reams of press releases roll off our fax machine every day. We’d grab a few, rifle through them, and find something newsworthy to report on.
Thanks to the internet, the potential audience for press releases have grown. They’re no longer strictly for reporters, the “general public” can now read them, too. And there are search engine optimization opportunities to take advantage of. Although the audience has broadened, the concept of “newsworthiness” has not.
Rules of thumb to remember while writing press releases
The following are the key issues that frequently appear in rejected press releases.
- Have one point. A news story will be about something. One thing: A promotion, a marquee customer, a huge deal, a completed project, a new hire, a new office, a new product or service. Press releases that aren’t about anything are bland and will be ignored… because they’re essentially really boring advertisements.
- Avoid the word “you”. Advertisements talk TO the customer with phrases like “you can get the product for free”. Press releases, instead, should talk ABOUT the customer with phrases like “customers can get the product for free”.
- Avoid the words “I” or “we”. Press releases were meant to make a reporter’s job easier (perhaps even to be published verbatim in a newspaper), so they shouldn’t be written in the voice of your company, like: “we do this and we do that”. Instead, they should be written ABOUT your company, like: “the company does this and the company does that.”
- Avoid exclamation points. Press releases should have the feeling of neutrality, as if a reporter is writing about the business. An explosion of exclamation points throughout a press release makes the press release seem less neutral.
- Keep it short. Press releases should be 300 to 600 words; no longer! They’re meant to be your audience’s initial foray into the information and the call to action at the end of the press release should be “for more information, contact…”. I’ve seen press releases that were 2,000 words long or more. Guess what: a reporter (or any other audience member) is not going to get past the first 400 words. People are busy and they want to get the gist of the information and then dig deeper if they prefer.
A really easy way to review your press release
Pretend you’re a newscaster on the nightly news and you’ve just been handed your press release to read. Words like “I” and “you” don’t make sense in this context and exclamation marks will seem out of place. The newsreporter should report the news. If it sounds too much like a glowing endorsement of your business then the press release should be revised.