Plea to Publicists: Do This but Not This

by | Jan 12, 2018

Reflections from Jen

I have some encouragement to share with those important folks in the public relations world…followed by an outright plea.


But first the encouragement…

As someone who’s been in the publishing business for decades, I know the value of a good PR person. I often tell PR folks who call with a useful pitch that they’re the unsung heroes of our world. And as someone who has also worked in publicity, I know how exciting it is to generate buzz for my client while sharing useful info with readers. I also know how terrifying it can be, especially for the younger publicist. Hitting “send” on a press release is one thing, but having to make a follow-up call, maybe interrupting an editor who will be busy and possibly abrupt, can make you pray for voicemail and hope you won’t stutter.

So for publicists working in the environmental and energy management space, know this: editors need you to find the best stories. And personally, I find follow-up calls extremely helpful. I admit: sometimes emails fall through the cracks. A call with a two-sentence pitch can mean I don’t miss an important story and that you don’t miss an opportunity to shine by getting visibility for your client. I may not pick up the phone, but I will listen to your voicemail, and I will look for the missing press release if it’s a good fit.

Case in point: this week I received a voicemail from someone following up on a release I had missed. His pitch sounded great, I hunted down the release, found it useful, and assigned it to a writer. Even better – for us and him – I asked for his thoughts on trends he’s seeing and how they might affect other businesses. He got more in-depth coverage, and we got a story that was more detailed and useful than another publication that may have just reprinted the press release.

It’s like the relationship between the birds who land inside a hippo’s mouth to eat bugs, and the hippos that don’t kill the birds, because the birds are performing a function. The birds and beasts work together for the benefit of both. (So who’s the bird and who’s the hippo in this analogy?)

So trust yourself, send useful press releases, and follow up.


Now, for the plea…

Here it is: Please don’t give in to pressure from your company’s executives, salespeople, or marketers who infuse all copy with jargon in the hopes of making the product or project sound impressive. You know and I know that jargon-filled press releases can be downright incomprehensible. If you write a press release in simple, straight-forward language and a higher-up or well-meaning colleague wants to turn it into jargon-riddled nonsense, stand your ground. Tell them why those types of press releases do your company a disservice:

—A jargon-filled press release is likely to be ignored, or, worse, to get on the nerves of the editors you’re trying to impress.

—If, in spite of that, the press release is actually picked up and published, it will likely be reprinted word for word because the editor lacks the time or patience to decode it. And while having your release published as is might sound ideal, readers won’t spend the time to decode it, either. Their eyes will cross and then they’ll find something else to read. They may see your company name, and may possibly remember it, but they won’t be clear on what you do or how you can help solve their problems.

I promise you, press releases filled with marketing terms that sound good but actually mean nothing will do you no good and may do you harm. Instead, send releases that are straight-forward, use real words that people can relate to, and tell us why we, and our readers, should care.


What not to do: examples

The excerpt below is from an actual press release I received last fall. Yes, with careful reading between the lines, I can figure out what they’re trying to say. But it’s a headache, and I told my writer that if it was too much work to unravel the marketing-speak, then we’d find another product to write about, which is what eventually happened. Examples:

  • The solution “revolutionizes DCIM by delivering a cloud-based architecture purpose-built for hybrid IT and data center environments.” (So, wait… are you actually just saying that it’s a cloud-based infrastructure management product for data centers and hybrid IT environments? Wouldn’t it be easier to just say that?)
  • The product “delivers a new standard for proactive insights on critical assets.” (Argh! Could you just please say that the software analyzes how critical assets are performing and then gives users specific steps on how to improve that performance?)
  • The product offers “actionable real-time recommendations to optimize infrastructure performance and mitigate risk.” (“Optimizing performance” is my biggest pet peeve phrase. I know what optimize means. I know what performance means. But I’d avoid brain damage if you could just say that the software can improve the efficiency of data center infrastructure by actually pinpointing areas that aren’t as efficient as they should be, showing what is leading to loss of efficiency, and offering suggestions on how to improve that performance. Yes, you could probably reduce words, as I tend to be wordy. But isn’t my suggestion easier to read, understand, and relate to? Don’t you think it would make more sense to potential customers?)


A final word: acronyms

If a release has more than a couple acronyms per paragraph, I’m not going to read it. Having to memorize two or three before I can even read past the first paragraph is a nuisance. Instead, choose one acronym you really want us to know. For the rest, spell them out each time. It may make the release a bit longer, but your readers will be less likely to hit delete.

Last week, I wrote that we’re expanding our dialog with both vendors and end-users. We know that end-users find product announcements useful, and that reading about successful installations or implementations can be of huge benefit to those considering similar projects. We want to hear from you more often, and to share your great info. And the more our PR partners understand how to get (and keep) our attention, the better we will all be able to do our jobs.

Questions? Let me know! I look forward to hearing from you. As always, have a great weekend. (And thanks for bearing with me while I ranted a bit.)


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