PR people are sometimes surprised when I tell them that I immediately toss more than 99 percent of all releases I get. Literally, many hundreds come in a week. If I do something with two, it's unusual. Aside from things you cannot easily anticipate, like someone having written about the topic just the other day and, so, unlikely to immediately cover it again, there are a handful of reasons why so many releases are destined for the electronic graveyard.

There will always be too little time and space for reporters to cover all the stories that businesspeople want to promote. You can't change that fact, other than having a story concept so hot that reporters knock each other out of the way to cover it. However, what you can do is improve your release so it stands above virtually everything else reaching the reporter. It's not a guarantee of coverage, but you will substantially shift the odds in your favor. Here are seven ways of doing it. (It's also a list of seven things to check in the releases that a PR firm writes for you--most of their work, at least what I come across, is lackluster, to put it nicely.)

Unbury the lede

A lede, in the media industry, is the introduction to a story. You want a strong lede to catch someone's attention and give them a reason to read on. An old criticism of journalists is that they've buried the lede. The real interesting point doesn't show up until several paragraphs in, and by that time readers have probably given up and gone on to something else. Find what is really newsworthy--what might make reporters and, ultimately, their audiences pay attention.

Keep it short

So many releases start circuitously. They go on, easing into the subject rather than getting to the matter at hand. It's an extreme case of burying the lede. These releases bury the entire story and leave the journalist spasmodically jamming the delete button. Keep things short. You or your PR representatives should be able to write a serviceable release in 250 words or less. In fact, you should be able to pitch the kernel of the idea in a single paragraph. If you, or they, can't, then go back to the drawing board and throw out everything that is unimportant. Answer the standard who, what, when, where, why, and how. Layering on mounds of other material doesn't make the core any more interesting than adverbs or adjectives do a verb or noun.

Have a point other than yourself

Entrepreneurs typically love to talk about themselves and their companies. You can understand why, as they put enormous effort into an enterprise and are proud of it. But others, and reporters in particular, don't care about you and your company. They care about what interest them. Figure out what they care about and see if there is a natural and demonstrable connection between the two. If not, forget getting press: You're going to have a hard time making a sale.

Cut exclamation points

See the exclamation point in the previous paragraph? It is there for a specific effect. But there is almost no circumstance under which one should appear in any release you send out. I don't care how enthusiastic you feel or how young, energetic, and recently out of college the person who wrote it is. It makes you look like a rank amateur because it conveys no excitement at all. Reporters may see thousands of releases in a single month. If you have something exciting, it is due to its inherent character. Calmly and clearly communicate that character. Reporters will figure out that it's of interest.

Remember the audience

So many releases are nothing more than a company saying, "Hey, look at us!" Unless you've just signed a big fat contract with a major company, no one (but maybe your competitor) cares about a new customer announcement. Unless you've stolen a name CEO or business leader away from a big corporation, no one cares about your new vice president of logistical smiles. If you don't have something that is inherently of interest to readers and reporters, don't send a release. If you don't know what would interest them, look at what the reporters write and what their audiences read. In other words, look at the publication before you send over effluvia that holds no interest for them.

Kill meaningless and stupid buzzwords

I remember once getting a press release so complicated and laden with every possible business and technical buzzword that it was almost impossible to read. Normally I will delete something like that, but in this case I replied and suggested that the person try a single paragraph summarizing the information. The PR rep replied that it was such a complex topic that a single graph was impossible. So I wrote one and sent it. It's always possible to simplify what you write and get to the heart of it. If you cannot, it means you don't understand what you're writing and, therefore, what you're saying. If you have a PR firm, explain everything in plain English. It really won't hurt. One of the best lessons in communications I ever had came during an organic chemistry class. The professor explained that buzzwords are terms invented to keep insiders in and outsiders out. If you keep out all but the insiders, there won't be anyone to talk to. Not good for a growing company.

Embrace some humility

Something I've seen creeping up of late is a new press release failing. Many companies proclaim that they are disrupting or overturning an entire product category or even industry. Of course, they often haven't even begun to ship product. People hate listening to others proclaiming their own greatness, unless they partake as a form of rubbernecking at the site of a verbal accident, as happens on certain TV reality shows. If you want to totally change an industry, terrific--good luck. But do it before you claim that you have. You need confidence to get ahead. But arrogance and pomposity unbacked by achievement are unattractive. Attempt some humility and you may avoid the embarrassment of explaining why your idea whose brilliance and power you proclaimed so loudly is stagnant.

Published on: Feb 21, 2015
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