Why journalists ignore most press releases. And why they will continue to do so.


Press releases suck says Sally Whittle.

She lists five reasons why most press releases get deleted:

1. Your sentences are too long

2. Your client descriptors make no sense.

3. Your quotes come from robots.

4. Jargon, jargon, jargon.

5. You sent it to the wrong people.

Read Sally’s post for the detail behind each of these. She says: “I can’t help but think that something has to change.”

Sadly, things probably won’t change. In fact, she nails the reason why in a comment to her own post: “The problem is that nobody dies when this stuff happens, and nobody is really offended.”

Journalists have simply come to regard poor press releases as a necessary evil – a constant background noise. Like tinnitus.

Clients still approve copy. And PR firms still get paid.

Can it really be that hard to follow some basic rules of copywriting?

For want of a few pounds spent on reading the books of David Ogilvy or Alastair Crompton, an entire industry could pull its socks up.

(One of Ogilvy’s many memorable lines was: “Always give your product a first-class ticket through life.” So why do so many clients and their PR advisors allow 4th class press releases?)

However, I suspect there is a much deeper reason for why press releases will continue being deleted in droves by Sally and her colleagues.

Any fule knos that a headline should contain a benefit statement – whether an ad or a press release. Scan SourceWire or ResponseSource and see how many headlines contain a discernible benefit.

Not many, eh?

And whether a journalist receives a press release via e-mail or RSS, the headline is the route to success. Given the dire standard of headline writing, is it any wonder so many releases get ignored.

Why is that?

It must be either:

a) The PR company hasn’t done enough homework to work out what the benefit should be. Or the client hasn’t briefed the PR well enough to allow a benefit to be discovered.

b) There are no real distinctive benefits.

I suspect in most cases, the answer is b).

That would explain reasons 1 – 4 on Sally’s list. Long sentences are usually a sign that you have difficulty in clearly articulating what you want to say – because there is nothing to say.

Or attempting to obscure the fact you have nothing to say.

Client descriptors make no sense because again they are attempts to make the mundane sound new and interesting – but with no basis in reality. Robotic quotes exist because they have been constructed like Lego. If the person writing the release actually uttered the quote aloud, they’d soon realise that no one of sound mind would pay any attention to it. And jargon is of course another example of trying to dress up mutton as lamb.

The fact is, many press releases should never have been written in the first place – but press releases levels are probably going to continue unabated – and no one will bother.

Then again, perhaps it leaves the field clear for those who can write good headlines and great body copy.

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