The 7 deadly sins of writing a press release

From multi-national corporations to local government bodies, a press release is the bread and butter of any organisation. It's the primary vehicle for delivering to the myriad journalists scanning both the digital and paper world for tidbits of information they can sculpt into newsworthy articles.

A press release that stands out from the crowd is much more likely to gain traction and, if you have accurate media tracking tools in place, can reveal a lot about your target demographic and its awareness of your brand. Of course nailing the perfect press release is no easy feat, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. 

While a good press writer will gradually hone their skills over years of practising their craft, there are a few things you can do to instantly improve the quality - and open rates -  of your releases. Boost your chances of exposure and consequent brand recognition by avoiding these seven deadly sins of press release writing:

1. Lust - your uncontrolled desire for wordy headlines

Keep headlines short and snappy.Keep headlines short and snappy.

Conciseness is the hallmark of any good press release writer, and this extends to your headlines, too. While your headline should convey an idea of what the press release contains, making it too long turns audiences off and discourages them from reading on. Copyblogger reported that 80 per cent of people may read a headline, but only 20 per cent will read the rest.

Keep your headlines, short, snappy and creative. Incorporating meaty or surprising statistics into the headline will improve your press releases' chances of getting opened, as it immediately indicates what the rest of the text will be about.

2. Gluttony - your appetite for lengthy intros knows no limits

Journalists are busy people, and therefore don't have time to spend dissecting lengthy discussions on the latest and greatest developments at your organisation, regardless of how well it's written. A reader should be able to get the gist of your press release within the first paragraph or two at most.

Media monitoring analytics may be able to reveal successful patterns in your press release structures, allowing you to cut the filler, condense your writing and get to the crux of the news as quickly as possible. Remember, time is of the essence, and convoluted press releases are unlikely to ever see the light of the day. 

3. Greed - you overindulge in promotional phrasing

Don't get greedy - a press release isn't only about promotion.Don't get greedy - a press release isn't merely about promotion.

Press releases are a balancing act between news and promotion, though many PR managers are guilty of leaning too heavily towards the latter. A press release is not an opportunity to sell a product or service and the language you use should reflect this.

Steer well away from salesy sentencing and avoid hyping up your organisation too much. Instead, simply present the facts in an objective and impartial manner, discuss the role your organisation played in the topic at hand, and let readers form their own opinion.

4. Sloth - you recycle information and use it in your press releases

Press releases feature a distinct style of language and structure and each one you write should be treated as an opportunity to teach consumers about your organisation. Even with deadlines looming over you, avoid copying text from internal documents and including it in your press releases.

Similar to how you would tailor a resume to get a specific job, press releases should be crafted to target a specific magazine, newspaper or website. Write each one from scratch and create unique content that will really hit the mark with your chosen demographic.

5. Wrath - you use excessive exclamation marks

Does your press release really need all those exclamation marks?Does your press release really need all those exclamation marks?

Exclamation marks, most commonly associated with anger (wrath) or loudness, are one of the most ill-used punctuation marks in press releases. You may be excited about developments within your organisation, but using exclamation marks (or worse, multiple exclamation marks) to highlight your point makes the press release look spammy, overly promotional and untrustworthy.

Limit your use of this punctuation mark. Unless someone in your press release feels particularly strongly about a certain subject, it's unlikely that you'll need one whatsoever.

6. Envy - you try to copy other press releases

It can be frustrating to see another press release gain serious traction in your market, especially when you feel as though yours are just as well crafted. However, do not begin mimicking the press releases of other organisations in hopes of achieving similar success.

Be confident in your skills to create a winning press release and feel free to experiment with structures that are a little bit different. As noted in the slothful sin, a press release should be unique in style and content, and copying another's will not reap sustainable results in the long run. 

7. Pride - you write about events that are not newsworthy

You're proud of your company and you want the world to know about every little development that takes place behind its doors - we understand. However, remember that press releases essentially help journalists report on the news. If it's not timely, local, new, extreme, unusual or high-impact, you may need to reconsider how newsworthy your press release really is. 

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