In some ways, writing is a little like home DIY. Many people can do plenty of jobs around the house themselves without needing a professional. However, if you’re anywhere near as bad as me with a hammer and a screwdriver, you may have to resort to paying someone.
But if you’re going to fork out cash to get the task completed, you’re surely going to pay an expert - not your mate or the person next door who just happens to know slightly more than you.
In much the same way, almost all of us can write to some degree. We learned how to do it at school. English might be the most difficult language to learn, but it’s not rocket science. Nevertheless, when it comes to promoting your business or other assets, you need a high level of skill which may be beyond you. Having to sum up your message in a clear and concise, yet engaging way, making sure all the necessary details are communicated is where professional content writers come in.
Yet what astounds me is seeing how many companies will pay an apparent amateur to handle their publicity. You wouldn’t hire someone without decorating experience to paint your house, so why wouldn’t you use a high-quality specialist when it comes to marketing your company?
If you are the company owner or the employee responsible for acquiring a content writer, I would urge you to carefully read what they’re putting out on your behalf. Check out my tips for press releases and see how their copy weighs up.
Don’t be satisfied that they’re doing a better job than you could. If you’re paying for it, make sure it’s top-quality.
In 20 years in the publishing industry, I have seen numerous examples of bad press releases. I’ve outlined a few tips below for the benefit of anyone who has the job of hiring a PR person. This blog is by no means intended to be a complete guide to writing a press release. There’s a lot more to it than this and you will find plenty of all-round advice on the internet. However, these are just a few issues which have really irked me over the years.
1 First impressions count. For one thing, that means the subject of your email must grab your reader’s attention. It should be a little like the headline of a news article - sum up your story. The important information should also be in the first sentence of your press release - that may sound obvious but I recently received a release written by a PR agency in which the key information was not in the headline, not in the first sentence, not in the second, but in the third. On a more minor point, why do PR professionals seem obsessed with whether I’m “having a nice week”? When starting off your email, be friendly but get to the point without using insincere or over-the-top niceties.
2 Don’t neglect all the essential information. For example, if you’re promoting a sporting event, include the date! It sounds obvious but, on more than one occasion, I’ve found this omitted. To make matters worse, many event websites - rather than listing the date at the top of the homepage - make it a mission for users to find out.
3 Summarise the important details at the bottom so the journalist can see everything at a glance - that might mean date, venue and website URL, for example.
4 Think about how well it will copy and paste. It’s perhaps a sad reflection on our times, but these days large chunks or even the whole of a press release will be copied and pasted. If it’s not written well, it won’t be. You can also make it easy for the journalist - and thus increase the success of your press release - if you omit anything that is unlikely to be used.
For example, stating you “are pleased to announce that…” is pointless. Stating claims about your product, service or event that only the business owner would make does not help either. Deal in facts.
And why use trademark symbols? The journalist will only have to spend time taking them out.
Don’t imitate what fell into my inbox recently by putting 500Mb of pictures in a zip file. I only wanted to use one at a low resolution, so I didn’t bother waiting to download it all. Use something like a Dropbox or Wetransfer link. Make sure the photos are labelled adequately and include the photographer’s name if a byline is needed.
6 Tailor the release and/or email. Be ready to adapt the press release or use the introductory email to point out why the story may be of particular interest to that publication.
7 Make sure the what, why, where, when and how are transmitted to the reader of the press release. For example, I’ve seen so many press releases to launch new initiatives in which the name of them but not much else is clearly communicated. What does this new programme actually do? Your new scheme might have a fancy-sounding name, but if you don’t say clearly what it is involved then I’m inclined to think there is no story.