Friday, October 29, 2010

How to avoid news release hell with righteous writing

If you are “in the biz,” as they say, then you’ve heard how pointless it is to issue a news release. In this glittering age of social media, twitterati, and digitized content, news releases are viewed like cavemen at a cocktail party – clumsy and out of place.

After all, nobody reads news releases anymore. Right?

Okay, maybe they aren’t read, but they are at least glanced at. And that glance could turn into a bit of publicity gold as opposed to a wad of paper in a game of trashcan swish.

How do you give your news release a snowball’s chance in quick-glance hell? Simple. You start with good, righteous writing.

Right now someone is already head-arguing with me that a good news release needs a lot more than good writing. Quiet your inner spat-man for a minute and bear with me.

Now, think: what are the elements of good writing? Hint: they’re the same elements that make a good news release.

Good writing, in a nutshell, is clear, concise, complete, and – this is important – clever. Good writing gets your message delivered. Period.

The most important element is to be clear. Being clear means very simply BEING CLEAR! Did you get that?

Being clear means avoiding jargon, tech-speak, corporatese, and anything else that makes your news release read like it was written by a robot.

The following paragraph was in a news release that recently landed in my inbox. The only reason I read the whole release was because it was so horrendously awful, especially this graf. I’ve eliminated specific company names to protect the clueless. The bracketed comment is mine:
“Due to rapidly churning communication technology and seismic shifts in the book market distribution landscape – from the Internet to eReaders and the iPad to individual book print-on-demand capability – publishers expect authors to take more responsibility for the development, promotion, and sales of their books. [Deep breath!] COMPANY will help publishers, agents, ministry partners, and Christian authors adapt to these changes with dexterity. It combines the experience and vision of COMPANY publishing executives with the integrated marketing and technology expertise of BUSINESS GROUP digital natives. COMPANY will provide authors with brand counseling, editorial direction, research capabilities, marketing strategy, Internet and social media presence, and a comprehensive portfolio of publishing assistance.”

The writing, in general, sucks. Worse, I’m not really sure what this organization is trying to accomplish. The word “dexterity” was a major tripping point, but “digital natives” is a total cliff over which all meaning is lost. And then there are those long gobbledygook sentences. It’s 107 words and only four sentences.

There’s nothing clear about this graf or, sadly, the entire release. Forget concise, too. As far as being complete, I can’t really say because I have no clear idea what this release is talking about, so I don’t know if anything is completely covered or not. My gut sense is not even close.

Now, as for clever, there were some lame attempts. For example, the release listed key personnel of this new venture. One person is tagged a “Social Media Marketing/WOM/Publicity Evangelist.” I’m assuming WOM means “word of mouth." And “evangelist?" Really? Didn’t these kinds of cutesy titles get tossed a decade ago? If I were meeting with this guy, I’d have a hard time taking him seriously once I glanced at his business card.

Jargon is sprinkled generously throughout the release, all in a bid toward cleverdom. However, clever that isn’t clear is just crap. And jargon is never clever. Remember that.

The website of this new venture is also an attempt to be clever by being minimalistic. Fail! It only succeeds in being pointless and annoying.

But I digress.

Now I guess it’s time for me to offer some helpful tips for making your news release successful. Okay, here goes:
  • Hire a writer! A good writer! A writer who knows how to write!
Sorry, that was a little self-serving. I’m a freelance writer always on the prowl for new business. Email me.

Let me try again. Here are some tips:
  • Make your news release interesting and useful to the audience you’re trying to reach. Give specific examples of what you’re talking about, especially how you can help them accomplish their goals.

  • Connect on a personal level with your readers. If possible, tell a story. Instead of writing the typical boring release, write it like an interview or how-to article. Make it engaging.

  • Avoid breathless hyperbole. For example, the headline of this awful news release stated. “Upheavals in Book Publishing Lead Industry Execs to Launch COMPANY.” Then phrases such as “revolutionary change,” “shifting landscape,” “seismic shifts,” are used, and they describe their team as having “more than 125 years of collective experience.” The release drips with overstatement that feels like exaggeration. It makes me want to throw water in the writer’s face and tell him to calm down and get a grip! Hyperbole damages believability.

  • Use understandable, familiar terms or offer definitions. If you’re going to throw out a phrase such as “playground of possibilities,” offer relevant context and explain what that means to your audience with a couple of concrete, meaningful examples. Don’t leave us stuck on the merry-go-round of murkiness.

  • Take the development of your news release seriously! It deserves just as much thought and care as the effort you put into a glossy brochure or your business plan. A news release that’s hastily dashed off will be tossed out unread.

  • Write it and then leave it alone for awhile. In the case of the release I’ve been referencing, I can just imagine the guys all sitting around a table at a restaurant, wild with excitement over forming a new venture, and gang-writing the release while in this state of new venture ecstasy. When doing your release, write it and walk away from it overnight so you can re-approach it with fresh, reality-grounded eyes.

And speaking of reality, the truth is that news releases are not dead or useless. At least not when they’re carefully crafted and well written. Done right, a news release can be effective in communicating your critical messages to your constituency. Create yours thoughtfully and engagingly.

Okay, now I can insert the blatant appeal for business:

Need help crafting a clever release that’s clear, concise, and complete? Contact me at CleverSmith Writing™.


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