Journalists always need new stories.
They quickly scan press releases, looking for possible story ideas. They want press releases to interest them. We have opportunities to grab their attention and we shouldn’t disappoint.
Our goal is to be taken seriously and viewed as trustworthy. We have seconds to accomplish that. The secret? It’s all in the words. Use them wisely.
Here are examples of press release blunders and easy fixes:
“First annual.” It’s not an annual event the first time it’s held. While the intent may be to make this event an annual one, it isn’t yet. Choose a different word, such as “new” or “inaugural.”
“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Believe it or not, this does appear in press releases. Please don’t borrow this line from The Wizard of Oz. It’s not catchy or cute.
Grammar. Use “to,” “two” and “too” as well as “your” and “you’re” properly. Consider downloading or picking up a copy of the classic book, The Elements of Style. It’s an inexpensive yet useful tool to help improve grammar. One section, for example, lists commonly misused words. According to the book, “nor” is often used incorrectly for “or” after negative expressions. It also recommends avoiding the use of “so” as an intensifier (i.e., so beautiful).
New words. Avoid using slang. Don’t make up new words, or use words incorrectly, such as saying “orientated” when what we mean to say is “oriented.”
Jargon. Minimize the use of it. Reporters and editors are real people. They’re writing for real people, too. Specify what acronyms stand for. If needed, explain technical concepts in a way that others will understand.
Brevity. Be concise. Eliminate extra words. Make sure every word in a press release is necessary. For example, instead of saying “as to whether,” say “whether.”
Proofread. Read it. Ask someone else to read it.
Headline. Summarize one or two key points in as few words as possible.
Quotes. Use quotes that provide insight and additional information.
Editors and reporters decide quickly whether to cover what we’re proposing. Verify that there are no grammar mistakes and no reasons why they shouldn’t cover what we’re pitching. It will help them understand what we’re trying to tell them and improve our odds of success.
What are some specific ways we can clarify our writing? Remove clichés? Jazz up our verb usage? The possibilities are limitless.
Elizabeth Seufer, an independent communications consultant in Columbus, Ohio, has worked as a print journalist for more than 10 years. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethSeufer.