Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fire This Publicist!

Here's the last line of a press release I just received: "Editor’s Note: Permission to publish this release online is granted on the condition that a live link to (URL, which I've deleted here to spare the online retailer embarrassment) is included."

Well, gee, online retailer publicist, you've pretty much guaranteed that the release won't get picked up by legitimate media outlets because, quite simply, this isn't how the publicist-news media relationship works.

Journalists and other media gatekeepers do not take direction from publicists, whether they're arrogant and ignorant as this one is, or whether they are helpful and smart. Publicists simply aren't in control.

But wait! There's more!

Sadly for the retailer employing this goof, that usage command wasn't the only mistake. The release didn't identify anything in its content as news. The release, which was promoting a line of exotic pasta, leads with a quote from someone who has never tasted the pasta, but seems to want to. It is followed by comments from two other people who would like to taste it, too, but haven't.

The not-quite-testimonials are followed by a photo of the pasta over which is super-imposed, "Enter to win 5 lbs of (product name)." I never look at photos imbedded into the middle of press releases because I'm more interested in the news, not the pictures, so I didn't even notice the photos the first time -- I scrolled right past them to learn that the comments were submitted as part of a contest to win pasta. Oh. Like I care. But I knew this was blog fodder, so I kept reading, but still didn't find anything I would call "news" or even a call to action that says, "Hey you, go to this URL and enter the contest so you can win free pasta!" Nothing.

And, to make it worse, instead of actually encouraging people to enter the contest by saying how easy it is to enter or encouraging them to enter now by offering a deadline, the "press release" actually says, "While this sounds easy, many of those visiting the blog have written that the task is harder than it at first appears."

OMG. Stop. You're killing me.

It wraps up with two paragraphs that mention three companies, followed by the "rules" statement referenced above.

Let's learn from this

This is a lesson waiting to be taught.... Here's what we can learn from this:
  1. Do not impose rules. Journalists don't respond well to publicists who give them orders. Especially orders that show the publicist doesn't know how things work.
  2. Make sure you're offering news in your press release. Otherwise, what's the point? Before you sit down to write, be clear on what you want as the end result. It will help you find the right words.
  3. Put your news in the 1st or 2nd paragraph. The news in this release might have been that there was an online contest to win pasta, but I'm not even sure about that. And if that was the news, I would have had to go to the Web site for more information before I could report on it, and I would have had to start from scratch with my reporting.
  4. Write your press release using a style that you see in the newspaper or online. Nobody in the media -- not even citizen journalists -- writes like this guy, which means his stuff is just plain harder to use.
What's the worst example of a press release you've seen lately? Share the highlights here!


nickyjett said...

"someone who has never tasted the pasta, but seems to want to. It is followed by comments from two other people who would like to taste it, too, but haven't."

Classic lines. I really did laugh out loud when I read it.

Look seriously its just a matter of time before most publicist are fired and more customer services reps hired...Mark my words their days are numbered.

Still reading you since you wrote about me - Mel Hopkins. :-)

Tony Eldridge said...

I love your blog-- just found it but look at it daily.

I have a headline of a "Press Release" that I read yesterday. It made me laugh out loud as well:

"What the Billion Dollar Beauty Industry Does Not Want Leaked: That One Can Actually Reverse Aging for Free by Moving Only to the Right. We Smell a Nobel."

Keep up the great work.

Tony Eldridge
Marketing Tips For Authors

Sandra Beckwith said...

Tony, that headline is just plain sad (she said as she moved "only to the right"). Thanks for the laugh!

Sandra Beckwith said...


I just had an experience this morning with a customer service rep acting as an in-house PR person and this one didn't understand how the "system" works so I don't think she'll be out there applying for (or getting) a PR job anytime soon!

It's great to hear from you again.