If you're wondering why your press releases are not hitting their target, here's a checklist that might provide some answers, writes David Wilson.
As any journalist will vouch, most press releases are dire. In a post titled "The Month in Press Release Idiocy", a blogger for the culture hub Village Voice described them as dispatches from hell itself.
Here, based on chats with grumpy reporters and editors, is a round-up of reasons why your story offers to journalists cause distaste and end up getting trashed. Avoid all the gaffes and you might have a hope of becoming an article source.
Mangled basics. For starters, spelling a media contact's name incorrectly is a recipe for oblivion. Likewise, if you misspell the name of the journalist's organisation, you are in trouble. Getting the journalist's gender wrong is an even more heinous pitching slip-up that happens.
Badly targeted. Another common email pitching mistake is misdirection. If a press release about a business goes to someone on a different beat - the arts editor, say, almost certainly the message is doomed. That applies even if the sender prefaces the off-topic pitch with a disclaimer recognising that the reporter does not usually cover the subject. There's a reason: it is irrelevant to their readers or just not newsworthy.
Too much information. A journalist swamped every day by hundreds of pitches may have time to read little more than the subject line and opening sentence. Most press releases would gain from being much shorter - even 50 per cent less - with no fancy signature or legal disclaimer and far less company background information. Attachments are also often unwelcome.
Blatantly self-promotional. A pushy pitch that tries to create a fake sense of excitement and urgency is yet one more source of annoyance. Dud hard-sell tactics include a brash, all-capitals subject line and the flagging of a message as "important" - that's a matter of opinion. Ditto superlatives like "leading", "disruptive," "unrivalled", "unique" and "skyrocketing". Press releases reeking of hype read like advertisements.
Contrived language. Try-hard corporate jargon seemingly straight from the Web Economy Bullshit Generator is a big turn-off. Stuffing your copy with keywords also sends the wrong signal. If your headline says: "Sydney Bicycle Company Launches New Website About Sydney Bicycle Repair and NSW Bicycle Maintenance," you are sunk.
No story. A deep-seated reason pitches land in the trash can is lack of content. Many seem to be about nothing, prompting the question "Why should I care?" One of the least winning subjects you can describe is staff promotions and appointments. And let's not get started on technology updates and acquisitions - one firm nobody knows buying another.
Blanket treatment Nobody likes receiving mass communication messages. Blasted mail-outs prefaced with an all-purpose greeting such as "Hi!" or "Hey there!" have a PR machine vibe that shows the recipient is just a name in a database.
Old news. If your pitch declares your start-up has already been covered by several hot media outlets, that brag may backfire, making your media contact feel late to the game.
Stupid punctuation. Exclamation marks scattered throughout a press release are a deal-breaker. Those lurid facial doodles known as emoticons look childish.
Embargo aggro. Slapping an embargo on a press release adds an element of pressure that smacks of psychological warfare. Worse, the tactic seems dated and hammy, raising the likelihood of a frosty reception followed by quick-fire deletion.
The secret of composing a pitch that does not rile the recipient and actually harm your image seems to be authenticity. Above all, you must be honest and avoid trying too hard.
Keep your pitch short and plain but newsworthy and you just might get press, which should boost your image because, unlike in the case of an advert, it signals recognition.