Done properly, press releases can generate coverage. Many magazines and newspapers rely on them. They cannot be everywhere. These days, with staffing stripped back, they depend more than ever on a regular flow of releases to keep abreast of what is going on. But at the same time, they’ve grown accustomed to receiving awful press releases.

What’s wrong with most of them? Here are some of the common points:

Being Too Self-Serving

A big fault in most press releases is being overly self-serving. Bear in mind you are writing news, not a commercial. No magazine is going to print a piece of self-adulation. Yet many produce self-serving pieces that are little more than corporate propaganda. It’s better to stick to the facts.

Parade of Clichés

Another frequent error is to trot out a parade of clichés. A paragraph or two is squandered on corporate tag lines, making a partner look good in print, and other nonsense instead of getting to the point. The worst of these is the overused term “market leader.” Most businesses can’t help themselves. They must tell the world they are the market leader. The smaller the company, the more emphasis they must give to their market leadership. Almost without exception, every press release boasts that the company is the market leader.

Those are wasted words. All they do is get in the way of your news. You risk losing the reader. Maybe they will drift off as your announcement has too long a runway. A great product might be ignored.

Inducing Boredom

There is a plodding rhythm to most press releases that bores the reader within two paragraphs. Yet it has become the norm to adopt this style as that is the way everyone does it. An example is a company that insists on making all of its press releases at least two pages long. Even it is just a new order, they trot out endless paragraphs: every tiny detail of the project, the history of their technology with that customer or in that country, long quotes from a senior exec that are little more than kissing up to the customer, the customer is quoted saying what a great company they are working with, and it ends with a bunch more boilerplate propaganda. This same company sends out a dozen or more of these each month. They would do better to send out one or two a month packed with real meat and summarizing these projects.

So how do you make your writing stand out from the pack?

Find out the Big Picture

It is important to grasp the big picture of the company you are writing the press release about. What is it trying to accomplish strategically? What are the barriers? Who are the competition? What are the various arguments for and against the product? What tactics does top management stress? And most importantly, what is the actual news – a new product, an additional service, etc.? Armed with this overview, you are ideally positioned to create the greatest impact from your writing as you are clued in. You can elevate the press release from to-do list tedium into something that will generate editorial interest and get picked up by multiple publications.

Select What’s Important

Once you gain an understanding of the big picture, you can begin to evaluate what’s important. What is vital to stress in a particular release? What is only desirable to include? Sort out the relative priority of the various company messages and write the release accordingly.

Hit the meat of the story in the first paragraph and ideally in the first line. Skip all the corporate tagline nonsense:

“Blah company, the recognized leader in the manufacture and distribution of tuttifrutti dumplings, is pleased to partner with XYZ International, the market leader in the design, implementation and preservation of icing for dumpling products, and announce to the world an organic dumpling.”

Why not get right to the point? Begin like this:

“Blah company has released an organic dumpling.”

If anyone is interested, they will read more. Why camouflage your story in all that other stuff? Save the propaganda for the “About Us” section at the end.

Drew Robb