10 mistakes to avoid in writing a press release

What really makes an effective press release? The answer has changed in the past decade. In the early 2000s, only a few major B2B food ingredient companies used marketing communications campaigns, and it was relatively easy for them to grab journalists’ attention. Today, a steadily growing number of companies—even small ones—are using this highly effective tool to build their image in the international marketplace.

However, this has swamped reporters with hundreds of press releases daily, while the available space for publishing releases is increasingly limited.

Avoiding the following “Top 10” mistakes will improve your chances of creating a successful PR campaign:

Mistake #1: Don’t approach the reporter individually. Just write “Dear editor”—or better, use a generic greeting (“Hi!”). Fact: If you treat a reporter as faceless, then you will be faceless to them, so make sure to write to them by name.

Mistake #2: Write a long-winded press release and make it read like an advertorial. Bury your message somewhere in a hyperbole, too. Fact: If you don’t write what’s new in the very first sentence, there is an excellent chance your news won’t get published.

Mistake #3: Skip the proofreading—after all, in today’s hip LOL/OMG world, correct spelling, punctuation and grammar is just a waste of time, right? Fact: Wrong. Your audience is made up of wordsmiths; sloppy spelling, punctuation and grammar are like nails on a blackboard to them. Even if you’re a native English speaker, have your press release edited and proofed.

Mistake #4: Send your release as a PDF – it looks so much slicker that way! Fact: Well, journalists need the option to cut and paste your press release to suit their needs. They will not take the time to retype your work.

Mistake #5: Don’t include pictures or visual elements. Fact: This seemingly small mistake can determine the release’s chance of getting published, especially in a timely manner. The image or infographic must be relevant, irresistible, downloadable and in high resolution—300 dpi or better.

Mistake #6: Don’t provide added value in your messaging. Fact: It’s not enough to just write and send your story. Your reader wants to know right away “what’s in it for my publication, my company or my products?”

Mistake #7: Once you’ve sent the release, your job is done! Fact: Not responding to or answering reporters’ questions will help ensure your subsequent releases are ignored. Worse yet, ignoring a reporter’s follow-up, then calling a week later to ask them if they got the release, is a good way to get hung up on. If you’re going to send a release, then you must first be prepared to provide succinct, informative and accurate answers within hours of receiving questions.

Mistake #8: Use a vague and uninformative title in the release and for the subject line. Fact: Like everyone else, reporters respond emotionally to short, catchy and revealing titles. The title will influence their decision to open and read the press release or just trash it. And mind those spam triggers! Punctuation marks, superlatives and generic keywords in an email subject line can trigger a spam filter and reject your release before it even makes it over the journalist’s firewall.

Mistake #9: Don’t worry about timing—send your release when you’re ready. After all, they’ll get it eventually. Fact: Sending a press release during a major conference or trade show, or during a holiday in the country in which it will be received could get it buried under hundreds of emails in the reporter’s in-box. If the release is related to the trade show, say so in the subject line and keep it ultra-short. Or, consider tweeting it instead.

Mistake #10: Make your company the main focus. Fact: This is a huge no-no. Public relations is not all about you and your company. The journalist is looking for a fresh, new angle or real news. A good example is to relate a trend or specific event to your product as a trigger.

So, what do you think? How will you avoid critical mistakes in your PR campaign? How can you make PR more effective and affordable and better capture media attention?

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Thank you!

Liat Simha