Press releases that make you look bad

Amsterdam Ad Blog, 16 September 2015

10 tips for agencies that write their own press releases

At Amsterdam Ad Blog we’ve received thousands and thousands of press releases over the past years. And a large part was badly written and/or incomplete.

The majority of faulty press releases is written by agencies who do their own PR. Either because it saves them money – which it does. Or because they think anyone can write a press release – which is clearly not true.

Here are the top 10 mistakes made in press releases.

1. Too much text

Quite often at Amsterdam Ad Blog we’ve received press releases with too much text. I never read them because I didn’t have the time.

Tip: Make your press release short and layered, so that an editor can quickly scan it; 1. Clear header 2. Short introduction – that sums up everything in the press release – here the editor decides whether to read more. 3. A more elaborate explanation – try to stay under 300 words though.

If you want to share more information still; let people contact you (they will if you have something interesting to share), attach a more elaborate document (preferably in Word) or – even better – link to an online press release service – such as pr.co – which has the advantage that you can change the press release after it’s sent out.

2. Too little text

The opposite of too much text is too little. Some people just sent us an email with a link to a film: “Hope you like it”. Or worse: occasionally we received a WeTransfer link with no additional information. Bear in mind that most editors won’t download files without knowing what they are downloading.

Tip: Help an editor to write a piece. Give him or her interesting quotes (see also under 9.), inspirational insights, anecdotes from behind the scenes, etc.

3. Que?

Sometimes a campaign is explained by someone who can’t write or – worse – who doesn’t get the concept. In those cases an editor needs to read your press release three times or more to fully understand it. Which is obviously a waste of time. In those cases I always thought: if you can’t explain your concept easily, it’s a bad concept.

Tip: Show a press release to the people who are responsible for the concept to critically proof read it before it goes out.

4.  Image is everything

A good picture is worth a thousand words and helps to sell your concept. Most magazines even require an image to feature your work – at AAB we never featured anything without artwork.

And when you send images, make sure they have the right resolution and are well taken – out of focus is really unprofessional! And if you send photos of new employees, don’t send 5 separate pictures (don’t you have Photoshop?) and always explain who is who in the picture. If you include a download link (because the images are too big), at least show (some) preview(s) in your email.

Tip: Send an awesome picture that sells your news as if it’s an ad. Here’s a great example.

5. Don’t call us

Some people called me to ask if I had received their press release. The counter question was usually; did you get a bounce message? If the answer is ‘no’ you shouldn’t have called. If you write a decent press release, a phone call won’t add anything – except annoy an editor. If you really want to be personal, write a personal press release.

Anecdote: A pushy PR agency was constantly calling me to ask if I had received their press releases. At one point I told them; if you call me again about a press release, I won’t feature it. Worked like a charm.

6. Don’t spam us

Align your PR activities. Some agencies have 3 different persons (the MD, the creative who made the ad and the dedicated PR person) who send out (different or the same) press releases – often without them knowing it from each other. This is just as annoying as the superfluous phone call.

Anecdote: A worldwide network agency was sending us press releases in French – with uninteresting corporate news. Several times we unsubscribed – which was not possible with a simple click. Several times they put us back on their press list. At some point we exposed this behaviour on Twitter. That helped.

7. Second-hand

An email that says: “Our news was already featured in X, Y and Z” only communicates that that you’ve sent the press release to other (more important) titles first and that the news value is already gone.

8. Newsletters

Related to the previous point is that newsletters are not the same thing as press releases; they communicate old news. If you want something to be picked up by a magazine, send a press release when things are happening – after a week it’s not ‘news’ anymore.

Tip: Prepare a press release before the launch of your concept so that you can send it out on the same day as the launch.

9. Be original

When you hire new people and you quote someone in your agency who is happy about it, be original. When I read: “We’re very happy that X and Y are reinforcing our creative floor” it sounds like it’s written by a PR person and will thus only generate a yawn.

Tip: You’re a creative agency! Come up with an original quote, say something about the new hires’ creative sidelines (such as this one: “He is a certified yoga teacher and has promised to teach us yoga) or include some great work they’ve created before. In other words; say something truly quotable.

10. Design your press release

Make sure your press release is well-designed. For example; don’t use many different typefaces or a huge typeface in combination with a tiny typeface. Don’t use bad or irrelevant images. Make sure your press release looks balanced and thus inviting to read.

Tip: Ask your designer or art director to design your press release or at least let them have a look at it before it’s being spread.

Final note

What I’ve learned over the years is that most of the mistakes in press releases are based on inexperience, lack of interest and/or a lack of time. Hence my overall advice: if you let your intern, office manager, ineloquent account manager or fully booked creative write your press releases, ask yourself the question; why was I bothering with PR in the first place? Exactly, it is meant to make your agency look good.

Exactly the opposite will happen if you make one or more of the mistakes mentioned above. In the best case magazines will simply discard your press release. In the worst case they (also) think you’re a bunch of amateurs. In both cases, a shitty press release will only make you look bad.

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Also by Wouter Boon