UK: Why So Many Press Releases Get Deleted, Rather Than Published.

Last Updated: 20 August 2008
Article by Jason Bennetto and Steve Tooze

Why so many press releases get deleted, rather than published. The secrets of getting you - and your firm - into print.

Frustratingly enough, nine out of ten press releases are a complete waste of time.

This is not the conclusion of an exhaustive scientific study of this much-practiced art form. But it is the honest observation of two journalists who have spent more years than they care to think about on the receiving end.

To be precise – and to establish our credentials for making the rather sweeping statement above - my partner Steve Tooze and I have been reading press releases while working on national newspapers and magazines for a combined total of 40 years.

That's a lot of press releases. So, we both like to think that we know a good one when we see one.

Sadly, that's not very often.

There are number of technical reasons for this unfortunate state of affairs. Consequently, there are a series of simple changes that you can make to stop your press release being one of the thousands deleted practically unread each day by people like us. We'll move on to those shortly.

Firstly, I'd like to set the scene a little and give you some context to help you understand why these changes are necessary.

To finally put an old stereotype decently to rest, journalists no longer spend their days fortified by strong liquor, meeting contacts in darkened bars. Mostly, they spend their days staring for hours at flickering PC screens as hundreds of story ideas and press releases scroll out in front of them.

Clearly, there is no time to read them all. So, like most humans involved in repetitive tasks, they develop a system based on past experience and prejudice.

As a general rule, the company or organisation that consistently sends badly-written, low-content press releases is mentally filed under 'Read later' `(aka 'Never' or 'delete')

So, bad press release often equals bad firm in a journalist's mind, a perception that he or she will be happy to share with colleagues. Once established, this idea will spread like a virus around a newsroom and be equally difficult to eradicate.

The secret, of course, is to avoid it taking hold in the first place – which brings us neatly back to the technical avoidance techniques I mentioned earlier.

We find that poor press releases usually suffer from problems in one of four main areas – content, presentation, pitch and timing.

Getting all of these factors right is often something of a tightrope act. On the one hand, you want to communicate often complicated subject matter sensitively and accurate. On the other, you want to make it newsy and appealing enough to catch a journalist's eye.

At one extreme lies jargon-filled tedium. At the other, dumbed-down nonsense. But, with the right media training, you can find a middle way.

To give yourself the best chance of highlighting an issue, plugging your company and demonstrating your expertise, you need to avoid some of the most common press release mistakes:

  • Know your target - sending a release to the wrong person, paper or magazine, is a waste of time and damages your reputation.

  • Work your intro – the first paragraph is make-or-break. Use it to outline a great story, not blatantly plug a service or company.

  • Give us some background – a lack of vital detail makes your press release a prime candidate for early deletion.

  • Be contactable – make sure that your relevant, working mobile phone numbers are included.

  • Forget fax or snail-mail – Email is king. A posted press release has high chance of never being opened. A fax will yellow and fade away unnoticed in a forgotten corner of the newsroom.

  • Tell us a story – your press release must include some strong, well-written content that recognizes the stance and interests of the target publication.

  • Get your timing right – know the weekly or daily rhythm of your target your target publication to ensure your press release doesn't arrive at 'a bad time'. For example, don't hold a press conference on a Friday afternoon if you want to see any journalists.

Press release writing is a bit like baking a cake. You need a tasty recipe book, the right ingredients and the correct timing and presentation.

Get it right and we'll wolf it down. Get it wrong and we'll push it aside like the media equivalent of a stale Victoria sponge.

Jason Bennetto and Steve Tooze are two journalists with more than 40 years experience in the national press. They run the media training and consultancy firm Dr Tabloid & Mr Broadsheet.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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