I missed out on a lot of publicity opportunities when I was in PR. Sending a press release to a journalist scared me to death. I felt like that overbearing person that nobody wants to be around. I’ve since realised that the relationship between journalists and PRs are mutually beneficial and offered a few tips here.
In this article I will address one of the issues I didn’t deal with in the previous article, namely compiling a good press release. While I perfected writing about my clients and their products, nobody ever taught me how to present this information to the press.
A press release contains information to help the publication understand what it is about. Typically a press release contains information like the date, where the company is based, when the information can be used, where the press release ends and where information about the company begins. There are a number of templates available online that will help your pressers look more professional.
I’m going to address some common mistakes PRs make in press releases by using a real life example. It’s not my intention to embarrass anyone, so I changed the presser here and there to protect the company.
Below I offer solutions to improve your chances of getting publicity.
“Tassel Mermaids Evolves Mobile Security Solutions, Elevating Capabilities for Combating Cyber Threats and Data Loss for Businesses, Consumers.”
Problem one: The heading was an afterthought.
Solution: Journalists and PRs are often told to hook readers with the heading. To do that, you have to solve a problem for your reader. If you send a press release, the journalist is your reader. What problem can you solve for a journalist with your article? The answer to that question should be the starting point for your heading.
Problem two: The heading is too long. An eighteen word heading tells me you’re not sure what is important.
Solution: Try to get to the crux of the matter in as few words as possible while still making sense. This heading could have been: “Mobile security solution combats cyber threats.” That’s six words to your eighteen, and I know exactly why you’re writing the article.
Problem three: You capitalised every word in the heading, making it difficult to read.
Solution: Capitalise names and the beginning of the sentence, nothing else. Seriously. Stop capitalising everything that seems important.
Problem four: You mention the name of the company in the heading.
Solution: The first issue is that you assume a journalist knows about your company. If you don’t know every single company in the country, odds are I don’t either.
Secondly, unless the article is about the company’s annual results, the company name isn’t relevant in the heading. What matters is what problem the company solved. I swear, if the company did something awesome, I will mention the company name in the article.
The first sentence
“Internet security company Tassel Mermaid Incorporated has revealed a set of solutions to combat the unprecedented array of cyber attacks that are continually victimising individuals and enterprises via mobile platforms.”
Problem one: The sentence is too long.
Solution: Write one thought per sentence. It makes it easier for me to follow what you’re saying.
Problem two: The problem isn’t evident.
Solution: It’s true you have to answer five questions in your opening paragraph (or in this case opening sentence). You might have heard the mantra: Who? What? Why? Where? When? How?
This opening paragraph answers three of those questions, which is pretty good. The problem is I still don’t know why it matters. This paragraph could have read:
“Mobile users continually fall victim to cyber attacks. Statistics show that one in three South Africans have been victims of cybercrime. In an attempt to create a safer mobile environment, Internet security company Tassel Mermaid devised a series of products to protect mobile data.”
This paragraph contextualises the problem for the reader. I might not cover cybercrime or know anything about it, but if you can convince me that cybercrime is a problem, I will look into it.
Only in the third paragraph does the writer answer how exactly this is done. That’s too late.
“Mobile threats continue to grow in intensity and sophistication, and Tassel Mermaid is committed to utilising our proven expertise to address these challenges,” says CEO Burt Bacharach.
Problem one: You are not giving me information.
Solution: As a journalist I assume that you want publicity for your company, which is why you’re sending me a press release. I’m okay with that. That you’re committed to something is implied. I need to know how you’re going to do it.
Problem two: It’s not an advertorial.
Solution: If you would like a publication’s readers to hear from the horse’s mouth that you are committed to things, buy advertorial space. If not, assume that the journalist is going to remove quotes like this.
You’re a robot
“Trend Micro further identifies and blocks repackaged Android apps before they are sold on the BlackBerry® World™”
Problem: You think the journalist cares about registered trademarks.
Solution: Stop thinking the journalist cares about registered trademarks, and don’t include trademark signs. If you’re unsure, imagine you have to tell me face-to-face what you’re writing about in the presser. Will you say, “BlackBerry, registered trademark”? No. Don’t do it in your pressers.
A colleague of mine is writing an article about networking. In his research he came across the concept of selling your business thirty seconds. I think this is also true for a press release. The heading and the first paragraph is your opportunity to grab my attention. Don’t squander it.