December 2, 2009
As professional communicators, we are often called upon to be consumers as well as producers of news content. Whether it’s scanning newswires and local e-news sites for noteworthy developments or competitive intelligence, PR professionals only trail journalists in the volume of news releases we read.
When I was the editor of a national nonprofit’s newsletter ages ago, I would occasionally see errors or editorial choices in news releases that left me scratching my head in disbelief. While the news values of the releases were straightforward, their format and content conveyed unintended messages that left negative impressions about the issuing organizations.
With the advent of the Internet, many releases are now posted and archived for the whole world to see. The following examples are barriers to the perception of institutional integrity. These tactics should be avoided.
Headlines in all caps
“XYZ COMPANY INTRODUCES AMAZING NEW PRODUCT,” a headline might read. There is no need to shout at your readers. You may be attempting to compensate in volume for what you are lacking in confidence regarding the true value of your announcement.
Grammar and punctuation errors
Even professionals still miss an occasional typo or incorrectly punctuated sentence, but frequent mistakes tell your readers that your company is lazy and not committed to quality. Proofread, proofread and proofread some more — or find somebody who can do it for you.
Over-reliance on clichés
Every new product or advancement is not “cutting-edge,” “revolutionary” or “thinking outside the box.” Every innovation does not create a “new paradigm.” Every new hire will not take you to “a whole new level.” Using too many clichés may actually have the opposite effect: portraying your company as safe and unimaginative instead of innovative.
The following is an actual quote from a recent press release. “Any business that operates 24x7, or more than one daily shift, needs a shift planning and scheduling tool; including health care operations, retail stores, hotels, public safety such as police and fire departments, security personnel, banking, and, of course, field ser-vice operations for utility, telecommunications and other industries.” Most people do not speak in run-on sentences, and even if they do, a good communicator should edit quotes like this. Long quotes or sentences convey that your company is not focused.
Too many quotes
Your press release does not need to quote the product manager, sales manager, marketing manager, vice president and CEO. Quoting too many sources might signify that you’re trying to massage everyone’s ego and that your organization lacks strong leadership.
Some press releases read like overwritten high-school essays. Why use “divergence in the indicators” instead of “difference”? “Provides a very high degree of operational flexibility” instead of “flexible”? Complex language may imply that you’re trying too hard to sound important — or that engineers and lawyers run your company. Keep it simple.
Too many fonts
Michelle Gower, editor of triangleb2b.com, says that she received a press release containing six font sizes. In addition to decreasing readability, this signifies amateurism and a lack of understanding of an editor’s screening process.
Despite our objections, PR professionals occasionally have to distribute flawed releases “as approved” by clients. If clients knew what messages these releases were really sending, perhaps they would better understand and heed our counsel.
Glenn Gillen, APR, is a senior account manager with S&A Cherokee, a full-service communications firm in Cary, N.C., and vice president of the North Carolina Chapter of PRSA.
Email: ggillen at sacherokee.com