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Why do press releases get such bad press?

Linsey Fryatt

[This article first appeared in The Guardian Media Network]

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This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is the linguistic equivalent of fingernails down a chalkboard. Yet why do so many press releases generate so much of their own bad press by being littered with “the banana peel of speech”?

The press release in many ways is the axis around which the PR industry rotates. Given that you’ve successfully completed the often painful extraction of facts and newsworthy items from your client, this is the fun part. Crafting a message that’s informative and useful, and providing a context whereby journalists will see an advantage of sharing this with their readers.

Many people fail to understand the purpose of the press release – as a conduit for relevant information. A jump-off point for journalists with their own minds, specialisms and agendas to include in their own articles.

Instead it is treated as if it is a finished marketing piece, slotting in more meaningless terms to puff it into something “less boring”. Press releases should be boring. The purpose is to provide solid information to journalists, not to whip them up into a frenzy, which is impossible anyway.

Many words like the ones in the opening paragraph are slotted in, nearly always overlooking the value of taking some out. Sometimes COMPANY NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN UPPER CASE. Journalists love that.

I have nearly been reduced to tears by the affronts to the English language caused by edits to press releases. If multiple sign-offs are required, the end result can be a Frankenstein’s monster, the true purpose long forgotten among layers of committee-driven drivel.

The purpose of a press release is to inform and contextualise. A good press release will include answers to two whys: Why are you telling me this? Why should I care? A good press release should include information such as competitors, market potential, recent independent reports or research. You *must* answer that second why.

So what do we do to make it better? One PR executive said that they used to get the final, signed-off version and then bin it, sending out the (presumably better) original version instead. That’s more cool and naughty than I could ever be.

It’s perhaps a less risky idea to head off issues at the pass. Be prepared. Have a single-pager in your company explaining the purpose of a press release. Something that you can stop and tap should anyone bring out their bumper bag of buzzwords. Have a banned list.

Show them this. They might not believe a PR bod, but perhaps Voltaire and Hemingway’s loathing of pointless adjectives might sway them.

And if there is anyone who is hiring or who might hire a PR company reading this, I urge you – remember why you hired us. We know what we’re doing. Let us do it well.