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Ken Magill

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Newsflash: Press Releases Should Make Sense


By Ken Magill

Another day, another indecipherable press release. I get them all the time.

And they all suffer from the same problem: Too many people put their paw prints on them before they go out.

The release that prompted this post was pretty typical. It touted the benefits of a new offering without spelling out in plain terms what the new offering actually did.

And when I was done reading it—twice—I was still fuzzy on what exactly the company had launched.

Yeah, yeah. Fuzzy is a fairly regular state of mind for me. But I read this release before the martinis were poured.

Also, I don’t blame the PR rep for the release’s indecipherability. PR reps publish nothing without client approval. I would bet a week of sobriety that this particular press release wasn’t remotely like what the PR professional submitted.

True story: Some years back I was on a conference call with a couple email-service-provider executives about an announcement they were about to make.

I said something along the lines of the following:

“I have to say, I read your release a couple times and I don’t understand it, and if I don’t understand it a lot of other people aren’t going to understand it, either.”

One of the executives replied, and this is an exact quote: “Do you mean we should dumb it down?”

“No,” I thought. “What we need to do is smarten you up, dumbass.”

Reporters aren’t the gatekeepers they once were—thank god for that—so I’m not going down the if-you-want-coverage road.

But if someone who has been covering your business sector for as long as I have doesn’t understand your release, no one else is going to understand it either, including the people you need to understand it most.

Therefore, you will have spent a lot of time and energy to convey nothing.

And, yes, there are trade editors who will regurgitate press-release garbage, but just because it gets published in a trade journal doesn’t mean it will have brought you any closer to your story-telling goal. It will be just as indecipherable and, as a result, useless.

Ironically, the cure for the indecipherable press release is to spend fewer human resources on it.

The problem with so many press releases is too many people think they have to be part of the approval process. And of those people, too many are reading it not to communicate but to cover their asses.

Legal reads press releases on a strictly cover-our-legal-asses basis. Investor relations reads press releases on a cover-our-investor-relations-asses basis.

Sometimes these folks have to be involved in the process, but not always. Anyone can be involved in the run-up to the creation of a press release, but then all but the absolutely necessary personnel should step back and close their yaps.

Also, whoever is in charge of the press-release process should foster an environment where no one feels compelled to make changes just to make it look like they’re doing something. The overriding press-release creation philosophy should be “first, do no harm.”

Also, “looks good to me” should be the preferred sign off unless there’s an error.

The first question I ask when I get a press release is: “What is the news here?”

The second is: “Will this be of interest to my readers?”

And those are the first questions a press release should answer, clearly and plainly.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Tami Forman
Date: 2013-04-02 17:55:22
Subject: Amen!

Ken, AMEN, my friend. I work hard to make sure our press releases pass the Ken Magill test. Not sure they always do, but I hope we have a decent batting average!