News Release MistakesI am often asked if such-and-such is dead: PR, media relations, content, 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.

Google has saved your news release. Gone are the days of keyword-stuffing to make certain you rank high in search results. Google rewards beautiful prose—which includes how you write your news release.

Even still, there 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, do not use the news release effectively.

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

Mistake #1: Your New Release Has No Style

First things first, re-acquaint 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 first paragraph, if not the first sentence.

Mistake #2: Your News 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 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: Relying Solely on the Release

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), even if it’s a tax day event in Chicago, 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?

Zero versus 50 percent response. You decide.

Mistake #6: You Don’t Do Your 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.

Then I would go into the office on a Saturday and start digging through them all, build my lists, write my pitches, and leave a call list for myself.

Today, all one has to do is type the journalist’s name into a Google search bar and, in just a couple of 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

A few years ago I moderated a panel at Social Media Marketing World.

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.

What’s Been Your Experience?

The news release is ever-evolving, but it’s not dead.

In some industries, it’s imperative. In others, it’s a nice-to-have. And yet others, it’s not necessary at all.

But if you take a storytelling approach, use the inverted pyramid, do your research, and stay short and to-the-point, a news release can work for you.

Now I’d love to hear about your experience. What works? What doesn’t? Are there mistakes you’d add to this list?

The comments are yours…

photo credit: LinkingMatters

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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