You write with ease, to show your breeding, but easy writing's vile hard reading

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Aug 20, 2014

How not to write a press release

If public relations firms didn't try so hard - or if they read newspapers - they would do better

It’s extraordinary the extent to which PR operators miss out on opportunities for their clients by not acquainting themselves with the requirements of the media.

As news organisations employ fewer and fewer staff what journalists they have must work harder.

It’s a truism that this presents the public relations person with something of an open goal as far as getting their press release into a particular newspaper, on web or in print.

Clearly a hard pressed news editor will look less critically on PR submitted material now they have space to fill and too few people to fill it. Beggars, after all, cannot be choosers.

But even beggars have standards.

No journalist worth their salt will reproduce advertising puff or unsubstantiated claims for a company or product.

Surely PR people have been taught this? Have they forgotten or does the desire to flatter the client and trouser  the retainer for at least another month prove too much?

Whatever the reason, they do themselves and their clients no favours.

If a news editor has a 350 word gap to fill and the public relations account executive can furnish him with 350 words on an okayish story which doesn’t read like advertising copy then that PR account executive will have earned their fee. They will have secured their client a page lead (or website equivalent thereof) which has the status of third party, independent reporting.

But they won’t do that. Instead they will pack the copy with unusable advertising which will be removed, reducing the amount of space devoted to the story or even rendering it unusable.

A press release crossed my desk yesterday which was all too typical. It dealt with a senior appointment to a legal firm – not front page news, but could fill a hole in the dog days of a news free August.

But, by the time I’ve wearily removed the inevitable “leading’’ from “leading law firm’’ and “highly respected’’ from “highly respected property department’’ and the phrase “a well respected and well run business’’ and all the bits from the new executive’s quotes about how delighted he is to be joining such an exciting, innovative, forward looking firm which offers a first class service, blah, blah blah, I’m not left with a lot.

Had that space been taken with some objective observations on the state of the legal property market or the firm’s plans for the year the public relations firm could have had a page lead. As it was it made a filler and, if it hadn’t been August, the whole thing would have been spiked.