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lifestyle PR + digital media

What PR pros get wrong in press releases

November 8, 2019

Two years ago, I (Kate Moser Miller here, hey, hi, hello) had the (good? bad?) luck of being somehow added to a media list that has been shared among several New York- and California-based agencies. 

That means I’ve received a fair number of pitches from publicists hawking their clients’ wares and new initiatives. I’ve received some genuinely interesting, timely pitches—for example, a well-written release about a product related to feminine hygiene, pitched around the time the movement to end the tax on tampons as “luxury goods” was ramping up.

But many of the pitches have been deeply lackluster—or worse. 

And this ongoing reading of other agencies’ work has made me realize just how much room for improvement there is in the press release game. (BTW, this is not about competitive research; I have practically begged the senders of these emails to remove me from the list, to no avail.)

All of this reading has made me realize a few common threads that bad press releases share, which I’m sharing here in the hope that communicators will think (and edit!) twice before sending a release. 

  • Lack of research. Anyone who Googles the domain name to my email address would see that heysprocket.com is an agency, not a news outlet. So on the research front, all of the PR pros sending me these emails are behind the eight ball. This also leads me to believe that these publicists aren’t sending individualized pitches, which is problematic, too. Good press releases cater to a reporter’s area of coverage or social media focus, mentioning specific pieces they’ve written on a topic that relates to the story the release is telling. Publicists should always call out those specifics to show the recipient that they’ve read their work and think their client’s story is worth covering. 
  • No discernible story. Look, not all clients are created equally in terms of the stories they have to tell. That’s just the truth. The best clients are those who are doing something new, something authentic, something that relates deeply to what’s happening in their industry or the wider world. And while not every client can be the very first to do something, agencies have a responsibility to find the threads of the story that will be compelling to the media and influencers. Tie it in to what’s happening in the industry or community that reporter covers. And be specific! You’ll be most successful pitching your lipstick client to a beauty reporter if you provide background, context, and data. 
  • Lazy writing. This is part of a pitch I received this summer: “Hi, I wanted to reach out to introduce myself and let you know about [client]. I represent [other related clients] and some other brands you might recognize, so please let me know if I can assist with any stories you might be working on.” The pitch included no information about the client other than its name, no ideas for stories, no images, no nothing. That’s lazy! Our whole job as professional communicators and marketers is to, uh, communicate and market. Which includes providing media and influencers with the information they need to form an idea for a story they’ll write. Also: yes, we’re all busy, but members of the media are really damn busy and are expected to do more work in more areas of coverage all the time—so providing a reporter with a few ideas for stories that include your client is a good way to save them some time and secure coverage for your client. 
  • Randomly tacking onto something timely to seem relevant. Media and influencers can smell a farce a mile away. Trying to make something seem timely or related to another of-the-moment concept or brand won’t get you anywhere with a good reporter. Instead, if your client isn’t really newsworthy, think about ways to drum up news on their behalf, like engaging with a new brand ambassador or hosting a unique event that you can engage with the media around. 
  • Bad timing. Unfortunately, tragedies happen every day around the world. Some hit closer to home than others, and brands need to be aware of those that require a pause in outreach efforts. There is nothing worse than pitching out news about your client’s new real estate development on the day the housing bubble bursts, for example. Even when what you’re pitching isn’t directly related to the tragedy, it could still be seen as insensitive and callous to be pushing client news as a tragedy unfolds. 

Have you seen particularly good or bad press releases? What factors make a release more successful?