How to Avoid the Worst Mistakes in Writing a Press Release

Journalists are notorious for having little to no patience for poorly written press releases. It’s a solid bet that most reporters and editors won’t even bother to open the e-mail if they sense it’s the slightest bit marginal to their beat. They can’t wait to nuke your e-mail.

For PR pros, writing a juicy e-mail headline may be half the battle in grabbing a reporter’s attention. It also helps to know whom you’re targeting and are not just trying to “spray and pray.” However, it may be all for a naught if the press release is poorly written and—in what is fast becoming verboten in the social-media age—too self-serving.

Here are a few tips for avoiding some of the worst mistakes in writing press releases:

  • Press releases that are written in salesy, flowery tones will turn off a reporter and the release will immediately be tossed into the circular file. Don’t get bogged down by industry jargon and superlatives, “leading” being the leading culprit.   

  • Reporters love language. Don’t be afraid to use it, rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach to writing press releases. This entails a celebratory lead, followed by a paragraph describing the product/service/event, along with a quote from a CEO or VP that tends to take up a lot of real estate, but says very little about how the product/service will improve customer relations or help to position the brand against competitors (red meat for journalists). 

  • Put all of your contact information (including social feeds) in a prominent place in the e-mail, namely above the proverbial fold. It seems like they’re too many press releases sans any contact information or the information provided is a generic phone number or press-related e-mail address for the company. Even if it is a beautifully written press release, if you force journalists to take a few extra steps to reach you when they want to discuss the story, it decreases your chances that you’ll get some bites.

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  • Ford Kanzler

    DO include what’s different about your product. Use the word “ONLY” if its true and requires little qualification. In fact make that clear in the headline and lead graph. Back it up with facts a bit lower down. This can include a positive comment from a market research analyst (common in the tech sector where I work) or customer/user.

  • Cathy

    Great points! Too many non experienced self proclaimed PR people write press releases that they think are great. However they break all the rules of Press Style, don’t include boiler plates, date lines, etc. Better to hire a real PR person so you have a chance when the press release is pitched. Thanks for the info – very accurate and helpful.

  • Tressa Robbins

    Just goes to prove that if you are also pitching direct to consumers, you need a press release (as shown above)as well as a news release – both written specifically for their audiences!