My thanks to Mr Waddington at Rainier for getting one of his interns to analyse Sourcewire’s press release output from June.
The results showed that: "Out of 150 press releases, “best” appeared 68, times followed by “latest” recurring 29
times and “largest” 24 times. Descriptive words such as “biggest”,
“fastest” and “hottest” weren’t far behind. Two-thirds of
releases had opening sentences stretching to more than 20 words, with
one example topping 60 words. The length of headline was also
excessive, in some cases reaching almost 30 words. Does it
matter? I think it does. The industry has lost sight of what a press
release is for and I think we need to get back to basics."
The thing that always bemuses me about the "crap press release" debate is that pretty much anyone in PR knows how they OUGHT to write a press release – yet as Sourcewire’s output shows, everyone seems to continue to ignore this.
As ever, there is a familiar cast of villians:
1. It’s the client’s fault – we PR folk advise them how a release ought to be written, but the client insists on keeping its jargon riddled straplines and marketing messages in the release.
2. It’s the PRs fault – because we aren’t tough enough with our clients and don’t force them to do it "the right way".
Go back 20 years and we were still having these debates – tech press releases were just as bad then as they are now – except that when you were paying to send out press releases on paper via post, there weren’t too many companies that could afford to send out a press release every couple of days. Today, its just too easy to pump out a release at the click of a mouse.
Let’s not forget that companies have usually invested a lot of time and money in coming up with their marketing messages – and these may be appropriate to use in certain forms of marketing eg advertising (though even here, I’d dispute that). The real challenge is to "show" the message rather than simply "tell it". For example, all of those companies claiming to be the biggest and fastest never really "show" why this might be remotely relevant or appropriate to the journalists they are targetting.
Ultimately, a press release is supposed to tell a story – unfortunately, most companies don’t really have that many good stories to tell. PR agencies are supposed to be able unearth angles that the client might not be aware of – but at the end of the day, one of the reason’s agencies will carry on sending out more press releases than they ought (and not challenging clients on jargon) is that they continue to get paid for it.
Another reason is that clients often think that PR is their marketing "silver bullet" – (or that it’s the cheapest way to solve their problems). However, when a client comes along with a brief, how many PR agencies can stomach telling the prospect that they are wasting their money – or advise on an alternative marketing approach? The temptation to simply take the money (and wait for the inevitable failure) is still very strong.
In which case, I suspect that when Rainier carry out a similiar exercise to the one above this time next year, things won’t be any different (or indeed, even worse).