The Real Trouble with Press Releases


The debate on press releases in the last few years has centered on whether companies should issue them or use the rather poorly named “Social Media Release” instead.

Let’s ignore that debate for the moment and focus on the real problem with press releases.

They are terribly written.

Press releases have become unreadable strings of passively written techno-babble and marketing-lingo cobbled together by feeble verbs and clusters of adverbs.  Adverbs are weeds, and should be yanked out of most sentences by the roots.  Good writing is clear, concise and colorful.  But most importantly it needs to be active and specific.  Good writing is also about storytelling.

Here, for example, is the opening paragraph from a recent press release from a technology company in Massachusetts.  I’ve taken the liberty of changing the name of the company to ACME (apologies to Wile E. Coyote). The goal here is not to embarrass anyone, but to improve press release writing.

Here are the offending first two sentences:

“Acme, Inc. (NASDAQ: ACME) today unveiled ACME Wild™ MatterManager 4.0, a solution for broadcasters looking to simplify multi-channel news workflows and create more revenue opportunities by broadening the delivery of content to the Web, wireless devices and other IP-based distribution points.  ACME Wild MatterManager 4.0 allows broadcasters to efficiently and effectively build Web and mobile audiences by enabling automatic creation and repurposing of broadcast news content (audio, video and graphics) with minimal effort and cost.”

Huh?

Kudos to anyone who could actual muddle through the paragraph without resorting to skimming.  It’s an amazing labyrinth poor writing.  ACME seems to be announcing an upgrade to an existing product for broadcasters, although who really knows?

Let’s see what happens if we purge all the adjectives and adverbs:

“Acme, Inc. (NASDAQ: ACME) today unveiled ACME Wild™ MatterManager 4.0, a solution for broadcasters looking to simplify workflows and create more opportunities by broadening the delivery of content to the Web, devices and other points.  ACME Wild MatterManager 4.0 allows broadcasters to build audiences by enabling creation and repurposing of content (audio, video and graphics) with minimal effort and cost.”

The writing remains clunky without the modifiers, but there is better clarity without the excessive word litter.  Now let’s wordsmith the existing paragraph to fine-tune the language – the goal being to make the sentences active, concise and clear.

“ACME, Inc. (NASDAQ: ACME) today unveiled ACME Wild™ MatterManager 4.0, a solution for broadcasters that automates distributing content to the Web and wireless devices. At a minimal cost, the solution creates new sources of revenue for broadcasters looking for new audiences.”

Better still.  But think about how improved the press release would be if we added specifics and real examples.  This is what happens when companies begin to think in terms of storytelling.  Then we could possible get something like this:

“One of the biggest challenges for broadcasters is how to grow a wider audience for their content on the Web and through wireless devices. ACME, Inc. (NASDAQ: ACME) today introduces ACME Wild™ MatterManager 4.0, a solution that allows broadcasters to automatically distribute existing content on these new channels.

NEWS-TV, the 24-hour cable news station, has been using ACME Wild MatterManager 4.0 to convert video of breaking news from its television broadcasts and immediately distribute them on its Web site. NEWS-TV is able to do this at a minimal cost and with little effort.

“Because the content on our Web site is fresh and updated so quickly, we’ve been building a larger Web audience,” said John Smith, Web Master for NEWS-TV.  “That has translated into additional ad revenue from the Internet.”

We’re now on the right track.  Now the press release might have a chance of fulfilling its true purpose: communicating with potential customers and, hopefully, enticing reporters to write about the new product.

2 Responses to “The Real Trouble with Press Releases”

  1. Amen. I highly respect PR professionals for their ability to divine a newsworthy story from any situation, and I envy them for their connections with the media. The quality of many press releases, however, drove me to satire (http://atomictango.com/2008/05/20/pressrelease/) — which may have been unnecessary, since most press releases are already self-satirical.

    — Freddy J. Nager, Atomic Tango LLC

  2. Well, very true. What if a press release was so appealing that people wanted to share it with others, retweet. If it’s not the cause itself that can be appealing so much then maybe at least some fresh approach, wording could be used to make it worth spreading.

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