5 mistakes to avoid in a press release

We've all seen a dreadful press release. Poor formatting, passive voice, confusing wording and an excess of modifiers remind us that not all well-intentioned commercial flacks were born scribes. A good guide for drafting an effective press release is "first, do no harm," or sour a journalist's opinion of your news before they finish reading it, with these common mistakes:

  • Check your facts. Reporters vet their statistics but generally operate on the belief that material you provide them is accurate. From typographical errors (check zeroes and percentage points) to faulty intel, backpedaling bad information is an easy way to burn bridges with media outlets.
  • Don't ignore AP style. Any office that prepares collateral for media consumption and publication should own an AP Style Guide. Getting your copy as ready-for-newsprint as possible will reduce editing time that could cost you column inches or even a mention. Press release writers should pay special attention to numbers, dates, cities and states.
  • Don't make assumptions… You may be an expert in your field, but neither a journalist nor her readers may share what you consider to be "common knowledge." Freighting the body of your release with technical explanations is a bad idea, but consider including a resource box breaking down the functional definitions of your trade lingo.
  • …but don't overexplain, either. To announce a new make and model of tire, you don't need to rehash the caveman's invention of the wheel. Lengthy boilerplates of company history, corporate mythologies and technical glossaries should remain in your internal documents: Trot those details out on a need-to-know basis.
  • Forget that exclamation points exist. Journalists know you're excited about the news you're charged with rolling out, but avoid bombastic language that oversells your announcement. Reporters may immediately assume it's too good to be true.
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