The media release remains a staple of communications for organizations. But you’d cringe if you could see the behind-the-scenes view in media outlets. Blue boxes literally overflow with releases by the end of each day. The piles of paper in each recycling box are dominated by releases. It’s usually a mish-mash of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good are usually used and then recycled. The bad and the ugly risk a one-way ticket to RecycleVille.
It’s perplexing that organizations will spend fortunes on advertising, marketing material, direct mail and events, yet the media release is somehow relegated to a lower class of importance. How else do you explain the ugliness that is so prevalent in so many releases?
Here are 10 reasons your media releases suck:
1. Your opening paragraph tries to use the 5 Ws approach. This horrendous writing style plagues media releases. Example: The Johnsonville Parents Association is hosting a pancake supper in support of literacy this Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Community Recreation Centre and the public is invited. This isn’t news release style. If you use this approach media will stop reading and put your release in the coming events scrap heap. You’ll be lucky to get 40 words of exposure.
2. You’ve failed to include a photo, podcast snippet or video clip. Today, media needs more than text. Media wants a package. In this era of media cutbacks, you have to do some of the leg work to facilitate having the ‘package’ ready. You will dramatically increase your odds of receiving more prominent play of your release in media when you include photos, podcast snippets and/ or video footage.
3. The writing is bad, bad, bad. Your words create a first impression. If you blow it with sloppy spelling, run-on sentences, bad grammar, you are damaging your image. Imagine what consumers, donors or potential partners are thinking: If your writing sucks, what does that say about the rest of your products and services? Ouch!
4. There’s no human voice. Again, this is about making your release as media-ready as possible. But let’s think beyond media. It should be about making your release as audience-ready as possible. Adding quotes into a release helps to ‘people-ize’ your organization to your audience. Don’t hide behind the words. Allow your key people to have a voice in releases too. Just make sure the quotes are qenuine. Nothing sucks more in a release than rhetoric-filled quotes filled with big words that speak above the readers’ heads. Spin sucks.
5. You’ve failed to drive people back to your website and/or social media. Believe it or not, it’s still common to see organizations overlook the power of releases to increase web traffic. Don’t forget to include links back to websites and social media pages. Linking to a report on your website is about merging your release and online presence to drive up news value and increase traffic. It works.
6. Your focus is too narrow. If you’ve just included media as the recipient of your ‘media’ release you’re missing an exciting new world out there. A media release that’s strategically filled with keywords aimed at your target audience should be submitted to sites that publish releases: PitchEngine.com, PRlog.com, PR.com,. etc. Your media release can live far beyond the daily cycle of the media business, if you think about the web too.
7. Your headline is not tweetable. Yep, Twitter is huge today (even if you scoff at it). You need to make your headline easily tweetable in much less than 140 characters. The best brands think about how they can ‘twitterize’ their headlines to encourage viral circulation by other users. Think catchy. Think concise. Think about your main point.
8. Too much self-congratulatory crap. Who are you writing for? Your audience, or your own board members? . Take a look at the opening paragraph of this real-life, jargon-laced, self-indulgent, ego-catering release: “_____________ Corporation announced today that total (Corporation) cleared volume in July reached 279,245,228 contracts, representing a 9% decrease over the July 2009 volume of 307,085,331 contracts. However, average daily volume for 2010 is 15,816,927 contracts, a 9% increase compared to last year’s average of 14,552,341 contracts. The (Corporation’s) year-to-date total volume is up 8% with 2,293,454,442 contracts.” Huh? It sucks. It’s written for shareholders. Blech.
9. You’ve failed to think like a journalist or an audience. What is the story? It’s the simplest question that should be easily answered by anyone reading your release. If the person is left scratching their head, you’ve failed. Before you type any release: 1. Know what your story is. 2. And make sure your release answers the ‘why should I care?’ question that every reader wants to know.
10. Forget the fancy titles like media release, press release. Really, it’s a ‘news’ release. You’re ‘reporting’ news that you want to be picked up by media and bloggers, and spread through social media. So, go back to #9, and then come to #10. Ask yourself this question: What the heck is the news? If you listen to radio news, TV news, read online news, or susbcribe to a newspaper, you should have a good sense of what makes a news story worth listening to or reading. If you don’t have ‘news’, why will anyone be interested? And, hello, using a news release for blatant advertising sucks too. Few people will be fooled.
The reality is that media releases can be among your most versatile and cost-effective methods for keeping your organization in the news spotlight. There’s just one caveat: They have to be done right.