'New exciting stuff' and other things not to say in a press release

Press releases are issued by the thousands every day.  Sadly, many of them are simply awful.  They’re often written so badly that it is difficult to imagine fixing them without simply starting over. 

Since the basic, everyday press release is such a common way for organizations to keep the media and their stakeholders up to date, I’m going to blog about them from time to time. By looking at examples of recent releases, I hope to shed some light on the dos and don’ts of press release writing.  I also expect to have a few good chuckles. 

Here’s a good rule to start with:  Don’t sling BS.  Editors and reporters can see it (and smell it) a mile away.  It gives them an easy excuse to hit the delete button on your release. 

For example, a release from FuneralHomeDirectory.com breathlessly states, “The already industry leading provider has no plans of stopping anytime soon, and plans for further breakthroughs in the near future. ‘We're already in the process of developing some new exciting stuff that should really shake up the industry. We can't give away too much but these updates are set to be released later in the year.’”

“New exciting stuff.”  Really?  Kind of sets off the ol’ BS detector, doesn’t it?

Those two sentences are so vague and infested with clichés that no self-respecting editor would use them in a story and no investor would take them seriously.  They are throw-aways. Hype.  Empty calories.  The lesson here is to either say something substantive and specific or don’t say anything at all.  You damage your credibility and your brand when you sling BS. 

A less egregious problem, but a common one, is The Tendency to Capitalize Way Too Many Words that Do Not Require capitalization.  This happens a lot.  Here’s a recent example:  “Utilities and Pipeline Industries have relied on 4 wire analog circuits to transport Supervisory, Control, and Data Acquisition (SCADA) information to and from remote terminals / substations (RTU) for decades.”  Bottom line: Only the word “Utilities” and the “SCADA” and “RTU” acronyms require capitalization.  (The sentence has other problems but we’ll ignore them for now.)

One way to avoid many news-writing transgressions is to buy an Associated Press Stylebook and use it to check your writing.  In fact, virtually every issue a press release writer will ever encounter in drafting a release will be covered by the AP Stylebook.  Newsrooms across the U.S. rely on this resource to ensure consistency and quality control.  Editors will be more receptive to your release if they are not distracted by violations of the guidelines set forth in the Stylebook. 

Now, wasn’t that fun?

–       Eric Whittington