Gini Dietrich

Eight of the Worst News Release Mistakes

By: Gini Dietrich | April 23, 2015 | 

News Release MistakesBy Gini Dietrich

I am often asked if such-and-such is dead: PR, in general, media relations, or search engine optimization, to name a few. The news release always tops the list.

As much as I would love for the news release to die, it’s still a very effective tool, when used correctly.

As Mickie Kennedy from eReleases wrote earlier this week, Google has saved your news release. Gone are the days of keyword-stuffing to make certain you rank high in search results. Google now rewards beautiful prose again.

That said, there still are huge mistakes made where a news release is concerned. And the result is pretty rampant. Everyone from vice presidents of PR firms down to interns in corporate communications departments, the news release is not used effectively.

Let’s look at nine of the top news release mistakes.

Eight of the Worst News Release Mistakes

Mistake #1: Your release has no style. As Mickie suggested in his article earlier this week, re-familiarize yourself with the inverted pyramid.

Too many news releases try the storytelling tactic of owned media and fail. Begin with the most important information—why this story matters—and work down.

Most journalists will not read everything in the news release so get your news up in the lead paragraph.

Mistake #2: Your release has too much style. I remember a time before email entered the workforce (my gosh, I hate admitting I’m that old).

We would write a news release, print it, overnight it to the client, and wait for it to be returned.

It would come back with edits, we would make them, and resend for approval.

Talk about totally inefficient, but because of the time and expense involved, it was rare anything went through more than one round of edits.

Today, however, it’s so easy to send a news release to a group of people and ask for comments. By the time it comes back, the news is lost, the voice is jumbled, and the quotes don’t make sense.

Not every news release needs every executive’s approval. Keep the reviews to one or two people—max.

Mistake #3: What you’re sending isn’t really news. This is one of the tactics that render the news release ineffective: Sending a news release for everything that happens inside an organization.

With the exception of really high-profile executives, no one cares about your new hires.

Unless you’ve won an Oscar, a Tony, or a Grammy, no one cares about the awards you’ve won.

No one cares about your product or service launch, unless it’s something that is truly going to change the world or improve the industry you serve.

Think about what you read in the paper or in a magazine. If your “news” fits that same criteria, it probably is news.

If it doesn’t, but your client or boss really wants you to write a news release, push back.

Which leads me to the next mistake.

Mistake #4: You’re using a news release when a different tactic will be more effective. We have a client who wants a news release for everything. I’ll bet he asks us to write one a week, but the last one we actually wrote was more than a year ago when they entered a new city to build a new facility that will create 800 new jobs.

In fact, earlier this week, he sent an email that said, “Get your news release writing skills out!” I pushed back and we’re writing an OpEd, instead, for one local newspaper. It’s not news for anyone else in the world.

Mistake #5: You’re using spray-and-pray tactics. We’ve covered this to death: Mass pitching does not work.

Mitch Joel always says, “If your pitch is meaningful to me, it will work 100 percent of the time.”

Which means, if you take the time to figure out what Mitch writes about and his writing style, and pitch him appropriately, he’s going to use it. Every time.

This also means that you may have a client or boss who really, really, really wants Mitch to cover your product or service. If it does not fit his blog, he won’t cover it. So don’t even try.

Just like I will never, ever write about Tax Day (except to mention it in a mistake post), you must customize every pitch.

Think about it this way: Would you rather send a news release to 1,500 contacts and get zero response or 50 targeted and customized emails and get 25 responses?

Mistake #6: You don’t do your journalist or blogger research. It is so much easier to do media relations today than it was 15 years ago.

I used to come into the office after a business trip and find my inbox overflowing with magazines and newspapers. I subscribed to them all so I could get a good feel for the journalists I needed to pitch on behalf of a client.

Today, all one has to do is type the journalist’s name into a Google search bar and, in just 30 minutes, know everything you need to know about them.

Do your research. Customize your pitches.

Yes, it takes longer (a lot longer). But it works.

Mistake #7: Your release is long-winded. I would also say your email with the release is long-winded.

Just like every other person who reads things electronically, journalists scan. No one has time to read your four page news release and your accompanied email that requires them to scroll and scroll to read it all.

State your news, why you feel it’s a good fit for the journalists’s readership, and ask if they’d like more information.

That’s it.

I wouldn’t even send the news release. I’d have it on a web page and I’d send the link. That way, they can get all (or as little) information as they like without having to read a long email.

Mistake #8: You have terrible timing. Last month at Social Media Marketing World, I moderated a panel of four fine professionals. On that panel was Peter Stringer, the social media lead for the Boston Celtics.

I asked him one the greatest things he’s learned in his job and he talked about the Boston bombings.

He said they stopped all of their outbound efforts and only retweeted what the official police account was distributing.

Likewise, in 2001 we were with a client in the middle of Nebraska, with 20 trade journalists at the Caterpillar plant, when terrorists attacked our country. The media event had begun the evening of September 10 and, when we were about to begin the plant tour, we learned a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

Rather than go about our agenda, we all sat in the employee break room and watched the news unfold on television.

Sometimes you’re right in the middle of something when a tragedy happens. How you handle it is what people will remember.

As Erika Napoletano says,

Pop culture dictates what people will hear and when. Take your industry’s pulse alongside the world’s pulse—share news when both can stand a blip on the radar and not when the radar’s jammed with other deafening noise.

Thanks to an article that Erika interviewed me for a couple of years ago for the list of mistakes.

photo credit: LinkingMatters

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Rather than get caught up in #7, I will just say yup 😉 ….Well that didn’t work as I want to add another which may be considered part of #6 and relates to your PR automation post: don’t just customize it to the interests of the journo, blogger or media outlet , humanize it so it doesn’t read like an automated bot produced it on a manufacturing line.

  • John_Trader1

    #4 is my favorite – so many rush to send news releases when (just as you say), there are so many more effective ways to send a message (hint – impromptu VIDEO). Te OpEd idea is fantastic. I am going to use that tactic!

    As far as #3 and your mention that no one cares about the award you won. I would say that most of the time that’s true, depending on the industry you work in, For example, in the mhealth vertical – awards (granted, those that are legit and meaningful) are indeed big news and often, journalists in this space see that as a way to legitimize the app/mhealth tool you are offering. This may be a reflection of the fact that the market is still relatively brand new and perhaps this will fade over time but my experience has shown that journalists in this space care a great deal about major awards within the industry space.

  • People still do press releases?

    BTW I heard Mitch Joel outfitted his house with 100% As Seen On TV and Infomercial Gear because the right pitch at the right time for the right sham-wow gets him every time.

  • Sounds good to me; I just needed to make sure I left a comment so I would get credit for attendance this week. 

    There is definitely steps to follow to maximize your efforts to get the desired results and this is as good of list as I’ve seen. I know some ‘locals’ who could take heed.

  • bdorman264 has ginidietrich published any of your press releases you keep sending her?

  • Writing by committee is the worst. I have a theory that when a document gets sent around an organization, individuals feel compelled to “throw in their two cents,” lest others think they’re not paying attention or don’t have a valid opinion. In other words, they suggest changes simply for the sake of making changes.
    I like to say — and I should trademark this — revising is not the same as improving.

  • bobledrew

    Just to go back to your lede, Gini, why would you want the news release to die?

  • bobledrew I was wondering that, too!

  • bobledrew I don’t like you.

  • Yes, eight times over. And what timing. 

    This morning I called a local editor to see if he saw the news release I had sent yesterday. (Big news for our organization with a new president.) After having written hundreds, if not a bazillion, news releases in my time, I can attest to all of your points and #1 is HUGE. In fact, I keep this particular editor – Jack – in my head when I’m writing. Today, our conversation went like this:

    “Newsroom, Jack.” 
    “Hi, Jack, it’s Amanda from …”
    “What the matter?”
    “Nothing, we have big news, and I’m checking to see if you got my email.” 
    “The one from two weeks ago?”
    “No, the one from yesterday, we have a new president.”
    He finds it and starts scanning.
    “Hm, so you went with the 1950s lede ‘we’re pleased to announce,’ [chortle], oh, and you got that in there about, [incoherent mumbling], that’s good, and…hmmm, this is good, this is a really good release.”

    What higher praise from a news editor can there be?

    [Btw, why do you want news releases to die, Gini, why???]

  • ginidietrich bobledrew Wasn’t me. He started it.

  • Howie Goldfarb bdorman264 ginidietrich I think it’s top secret like the X-files or something; she keeps saying something about File 13.

  • Word Ninja OK. Fine. The reason I want it to die is because 99.99999% of PR pros will never hear what you did in the conversation with Jack.

  • ginidietrich Did I earn another cupcake? I think that would put me at two.

  • A comment, too, on #3. There is a lot of pressure from above (and God isn’t getting the blame this time) to get your organization IN THE NEWS. What some administrators never seem to grasp is that “our” news isn’t necessarily “the” news, depending on the audience of the media outlet. 

    And #7. Since I don’t have time to pitch first, I usually write a summary in the body of the email to each contact, then attach the finished news release. That way, the editor/reporter gets the gist up front and can decide if it’s worth their time to read the release.

    Lovin’ this post if you can’t tell.

  • bobledrew

    ginidietrich bobledrew

  • Word Ninja I love this comment. You’re right. Lots of executives think the whole world should care because they do. It’s a crazy balance.

  • Word Ninja Sure! Another cupcake for you!

  • bobledrew You, you…you harass me!

  • RobBiesenbach You SHOULD trademark that!

  • bdorman264 You sent me an email…that serves as credit.

  • Howie Goldfarb LOL!! You. I just.

  • John_Trader1 Very good point, Trader. I’ll concede that one.

  • annelizhannan Yes! Don’t be a robot!

  • bobledrew

    ginidietrich bobledrew So let’s get this straight. I ask a perfectly reasonable question. Word Ninja chimes in. She gets a CUPCAKE. I get an EPITHET. 

    I am disappoint.

  • You’ll never get a cupcake this way.

  • danielschiller

    #2- Too much style or too many editors?

    Can’t see the forest but for those darn trees!

    #5- Please, not spray and pray. Or is it pray and spray? Either way the potential for exposure is through tweet mocking or *twocking*!

  • JamieNRutter

    #3 Yessssssssss!

  • ginidietrich Word Ninja you forget that a $75 bil company is worth $231 Bil over hype. It set the standards of ‘get in the news’. Yet when I type a business name in the search box never does it return ones close to me unless I already liked the page. How good can they be if I get results for Kansas when I live in Vermont. The advertising they serve is rarely relative to me. But I thought they knew so much about me. They call this company Facebook. 
    Get in the news! It works!