December 08, 2005

When Writing Press Releases - Remove All "Stoppers"

In baseball, it's said that you know an umpire is top-notch when you never notice his presence. If he's doing his job, he won't call attention to himself in any way. It's much the same for the writer of a press release. When the recipient of a release focuses only on its content -- and not on its creation -- the writer has succeeded.

With that in mind, let's talk about how to avoid the dreaded
"stopper" - something that will stop a journalist in her tracks
and distract her attention. Once that happens, your release is
toast. The point of your press release: to present information in
the least obtrusive way possible.

Consider it this way: the journalist isn't dumb -- she knows full well that you've sent her the press release for purely commercial reasons, hoping to get publicity that will make you more money. She can live with that as long as:

A: There's something in it for her (a good story) and
B: She's not reminded of your commercial desires too often.

A "stopper" breaks the suspension of disbelief needed for this
little dance to be successful. It's the boom mike showing up in
the frame of a movie -- once you've seen it, it's hard to
convince yourself that you're really experiencing something that
happened during, say, the Middle Ages.

Here are some "stoppers" to avoid:

=> Clunky language. Journalists keep their language pretty
simple. Long words, compound sentences and lofty, pretentious
phrases are no- no's. Keep your sentences short. Don't try to
present more than one idea in a paragraph. Avoid words you
wouldn't use in everyday circumstances.

=> Hype and puffery. The ultimate "stopper". Confusing press
release copy with advertising copy is a pervasive problem with
businesspeople. Don't call yourself the greatest, the hottest,
the coolest, the most unique or anything of the sort. If you
must make a claim of superiority for your product, service or
company, attribute it. Acme President Joe Blow said the X100
"has the ability to revolutionize the industry" is much
better than "The revolutionary Acme X100 is the greatest
industrial advance since the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk."

Trademark Symbols. Including trademark or copyright or register
symbols screams "hey, look at me! I'm a press release! I come
from a business! The corporate attorneys made me include this

The bottom line: write like a journalist, avoid the stoppers and
answer the Five W's (who, what, where, when & why) and you'll

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