Advice, Community Journalism, IMHO, Public Relations

Pressers and the jaded journalist

So, I just wrote a press release. About myself. To my former employer.

On a scale from one to meta, that’s pretty darn meta.

Aside from calling my attention to the fact that the Plucky Pen is a For Real Business with Clients and Marketing, the experience reminded me that I have a thing or two to say to the writers of press releases.

I’ve seen a lot of pressers in my time. And even though I know you PR people went to the same journalism schools as the rest of us, some of these things made me want to set them on fire. The pressers, not the PR people.

If you’re in PR and you want the grumpy reporters to read and use your pressers, here are a few tips.

Just one page, please

If your presser exceeds one page, you need to cut it. True facts, I skim press releases, find the info I need, rewrite that, and throw the rest out. Or I just call the contact and write a whole new story. We had an intern at the Shopper who once said, “This is the newspaper. This ain’t ‘Lord of the Rings.'” Less is more.

Make the quotes sound real

I know your boss told you to write a quote for him or her. I know you’re trying to sound professional for someone else, which is harder than it looks. I know someone who is barely literate sent you their quote in an email. But fake quotes sound fake, and that’s not a good, interesting story.

“Joe Smith is an exemplary employee who, through years of excellent service, embodies the tenants of our mission statement. He’s a real go-getter who thinks outside the box and pushes the envelope.” Woof.

You can avoid this problem by getting people to actually talk to you. Just roll into the office with a recorder. Nothing sounds as natural as real talk.

“Joe Smith is a great employee. He’s been with Industry Industries since the beginning, and we wouldn’t be the same without him.”

See? So much better.

No exclamation points

Seriously! I don’t care how excited you are! Or how many balloons you’re releasing! Or whether there will be a parade! Just please don’t use exclamation points! They’re unprofessional!

Include contact info

This is so basic, but please include contact info and make sure the person answering that phone knows what’s going on. Again, I have never, ever printed a verbatim presser, and most times I’ve just used the presser as a jumping-off point for a bigger story. That’s great, free publicity that will go away if you make it too hard.

PR friends, you’ve totally got your work cut out for you, and I applaud you. It can’t be easy to pull info out of an organization over and over again and try to make it interesting to jaded, overwhelmed reporters. Keep up the fight. Just keep it real while you do.

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