Any business can send a press release, but not every press release earns media coverage. This is often due to common press release mistakes from failing to have a truly newsworthy angle, being overly promotional, or writing in second person, to using only one distribution method, not including media, and getting the timing wrong. Keep reading to avoid these mistakes and make sure your press release has a chance to get press.
The best press releases are not just well-written, they’re also backed by great distribution to a large, yet targeted audience. Give your press release the best chance at success by using a press release distribution service, such as Newswire, which offers professional editing and multilayer targeting to ensure your press release is in good shape and reaches the right people.
Here are 15 common press release mistakes that ruin your chances of landing free press:
1. Not Including a Newsworthy Angle
Without a newsworthy angle, journalists are unlikely to cover your story, rendering the resources you invested in your press release wasted. Moreover, if you issue a press release that is not newsworthy, you may damage the reputation of your company, meaning journalists are more likely to ignore your future press releases as well.
On the other hand, a press release that has a newsworthy angle is one that is timely, covers a trending topic, is innovative or revolutionary, impacts readers, or showcases your company or its products as award-winning, or as influencer, or celebrity-endorsed. Some press releases may not be readily newsworthy. In this case, companies should either not issue the release or take action to convert the story into a newsworthy one.
For example, if your company is hosting a product-tasting event, it may become newsworthy if a local celebrity or influencer will be involved. Or it may become newsworthy if, at the event, you run an auction with proceeds going toward a community need (making it meaningful to your reader).
2. Not Using a Journalistic Writing Style & Format
Your press release should be in Associated Press (AP) Style. This helps journalists easily absorb and cover your story without having to first sort out confusing or unexpected press release styles or formats. The Associated Press is the world’s largest news organization and sets the standard when it comes to how to write a news-style piece of content.
An AP Style press release should be formatted in a standard way. To ensure yours is formatted correctly, read and follow our guide on how to write a press release.
As you write, it can be helpful to use a template to make standard formatting easy. Plus, keep these simple AP style rules in mind when writing your press release:
- Person: Use the third person singular or plural (he, she, they) when crafting your story. Never use the first person singular or plural (I or we).
- Numbers: Numbers from one through nine should be spelled out (e.g., three). Numbers above nine should be written as numerals (e.g., 10).
- Addresses: Abbreviate “Street” to “St.,” “Avenue” to “Ave.,” and “Boulevard” to “Blvd.” after a numbered address (123 Sky St., for example). Spell out the name of states (don’t abbreviate) unless the name of a state appears in an address with a city or county before it.
- Spacing: Include only one space after punctuation, such as after a period at the end of a sentence or a comma within a sentence.
- Punctuation: Avoid using a comma before the last inclusion in a simple list (“customers, employees and investors,” not “customers, employees, and investors,” for example), except when necessary to clarify meaning.
- Expressing time: Months should not be abbreviated when included in a full date with the month, day, and year. If, however, the month is over six characters and is followed by a number, you can abbreviate it. The time of day should be formatted as 9:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m.
3. Using a Bland Headline
The average reporter spends just five seconds reviewing a press release before deciding whether or not to cover the story, so your title is extremely important. Given its prominent location above the fold, a catchy headline is likely to play a big part in the content consumed in those five seconds.
In fact, journalists may not read anything after the headline. As a result, it’s best to think of your title as perhaps the only part of your release a time-strapped journalist will read, so spend the time to make it enticing.
Here are some ways to make your headline enticing:
- Answer the most important question: A journalist wants to know why their audience will value your story. What information does your news story provide that the reader will want to know first? Use the title to very briefly answer these questions. This ensures your title focuses on the newsworthy angle of the piece; journalists want to publish a newsworthy story and so a newsworthy title can help them make that decision.
- Keep it relevant: Focus on an angle in the story that is trendy or revolutionary (solves a pressing problem). For example, you can do so by incorporating keywords that are all the buzz in your industry, mentioning a challenging industry problem, or by dropping the name of a current celebrity or influencer who will participate in the event discussed in your release.
- Don’t remove all the mystery: Your title should pique journalists’ interest but indicate there is more to the story they will want to know. Don’t be afraid to tease the reader by offering just enough to stimulate interest, but not everything.
- Use active voice: Active voice (e.g., dogs love this shampoo) is engaging and vivid and so pulls the reader into the story. Passive voice (e.g., this shampoo is loved by dogs) can make the reader feel removed from the action in the story. Stick to an active voice to pull journalists in and entice them to read beyond those five seconds.
- Keep it brief: Remember you have just five seconds to grab a journalist’s attention, so keep your headline under 100 characters, or as close to it as you can.
- Evoke emotion: To connect with your audience, you want to elicit an emotional response. For example, “odds-defying XYZ company celebrates 50 years in business,” “Get your tickets before they’re gone,” or “Surprise discovery makes scientists rethink…”
4. Using Quotes That Sound Like Hype
Quotes within your press release offer a more human perspective in an otherwise objective news story. As such, they can be used to shed a favorable light on your business, but that doesn’t mean you should forsake authenticity for sales-speak. Obviously biased or inauthentic quotes are a major reason many journalists rarely use comments they find in press releases.
Your job is to include quotes journalists can use in an objective publication. Journalists may reach out for such quotes if they are not in your press release, but many don’t have the time. They’ll simply skip over your story for one that is more ready-made for publication. Providing an authentic quote from a credible source increases the chance your press release lands coverage, even by deadline-driven journalists.
When including quotes from executives, for example, it should be something they actually wrote or said without adding flattering adjectives or complex jargon. Further, don’t coach executives to summarize flattering information about your company that is already covered in the release. Instead, allow them to offer additional information not already covered. The result should be a conversational, authentic, and original quote.
For a truly journalistic style, your quote should be from an unbiased source. Though few companies go so far as to offer this assistance to journalists, it saves journalists considerable time, which in turn may make it more likely a journalist will cover your story. For example, for a new product launch, reach out to an industry expert with no stake in your company and ask them to provide a quote about what your new product will mean for the industry.
5. Making It Sound Like an Advertisement
Businesses often make the mistake of writing press releases that sound salesy. While your press release can result in publicity, and with that, free marketing for your business, the reality is that journalists aren’t in the business of writing ads, but writing stories.
Just as you don’t want to include quotes that sound like hype, you also don’t want to make the mistake of writing a press release that sounds like an advertisement. When writing your press release, try to put yourself in the shoes of your audience.
Consider if the story is indeed a story, and if so, whether it’s an interesting one. On the flip side, ask yourself if you heard the text of your press release over the radio, would it sound more like an advertisement or a news clip?
6. Not Including Valuable Links for Your Audience
Links in your press release are unlikely to offer search engine optimization (SEO) value for your website (because most will be no-follow links), but they offer benefits for journalists, your target audience, and your business. A link can offer value to your reader that cannot fit within your 500-word press release.
For example, if your press release is in response to a community crisis, include a link to a web page where future updates will be provided. If your release announces a product launch, link to the product landing page where your audience can learn more, especially if it offers additional value like a product demo, sample, or introductory offer. These are both examples of links that help journalists more thoroughly cover your story.
Links in your press release can also be extremely valuable to your business. It can help you attract leads, track press release performance, and earn more media coverage. For example, a link to a webinar about your new product can help you connect with readers and journalists personally, answer their questions, and even capture emails to funnel readers into lead-nurturing campaigns.
Keep these best practices in mind when including links in your press release:
- Don’t go overboard: As a rule of thumb, try to keep the number of links you include in your press release to no more than two or three.
- Always include links that offer value to your reader: If your only goal in adding a link is to benefit your business, it’s best to leave it out. Instead, include links that offer relevant additional value your reader will appreciate.
- Link to deep pages on your website: You will provide more value to your readers if you link to a deep page on your website (like a landing page dedicated to the topic discussed in your press release) rather than your company’s home page.
- Carefully choose your anchor text: Instead of linking to generic text like “click here,” the text used to link to your website should be descriptive of the link’s destination. For example, if your link takes readers to a landing page about the product, the text you use for your link should include the name or type of the product. Likewise, if you’re linking to a webinar or event registration page, the text you use for your link could be “please join our webinar.”
7. Not Giving Your Audience Value
A press release should not just be valuable to your company—it should be valuable to the audience of the journalist you are targeting. This is one of the key press release best practices and it’s the key factor in why a good release gets additional press coverage. While a story and piece of information can be of value, it may also mean giving something actionable, such as an invitation to an event, special access to a new product or person, or the opportunity to try something new.
8. Sounding Unsure or Not Credible
Writing a press release isn’t the same as writing a blog post or a news article, and in doing so, you risk discrediting your authority. A press release is written largely to connect with industry journalists and media outlets, who will then craft their own story based on your press release. That said, to avoid sounding unsure or not credible, you need to write your press release in third person (per AP style) and generally sound more professional, credible, and authoritative.
9. Including Too Much Information
Your press release should only be one-page long, but many businesses submit multiple page press releases. The longer a release is, the less likely it is that a journalist will read it. Keep it short. You don’t need to include every last detail, but you do need to pique a journalist’s interest. They will reach out to you if they have questions and want to learn more.
We know that writing a press release is no laughing matter. One way to improve is to study examples of good press releases for inspiration as well as examples of how to craft your news into a concise, yet informative brief.
10. Not Including Multimedia
Today’s journalists know their stories must include elements that grab people’s attention―and keep it. For this reason, press releases that include images receive exponentially more views than those that do not. In other words, include multimedia like images, videos, and graphics in your press release.
Businesses that provide multimedia elements upfront are more likely to get their story covered by journalists writing on short deadlines. Most distribution services offer requirements regarding resolution and multimedia sizes you can follow. At a minimum, include at least one or two relevant images when distributing your release and don’t use stock images―include original photos and graphics.
11. Not Targeting Your Press Release
Failing to target distribution may end up wasting your investment or even harming your brand reputation. Sending mass pitches is the fastest way to end up in journalists’ spam folders and render emails announcing future press releases as spam.
Likewise, sending a bulk email to multiple journalists tells them they aren’t receiving a personalized email. It can also trigger email providers to filter your news to spam folders (or even block your email address) before journalists even read your release.
Instead, whenever you send a release via email, send it to one journalist at a time with a personalized pitch. First, research each journalist’s work and audience. Look for trends in how they position stories to bring value to readers.
Take note of which industries and types of people the journalist targets. For example, if they write for the finance section, do they speak to the top 1% of society or the bargain hunters? Write a pitch that directly but briefly describes why their audiences would value your news.
If you use a distribution service, make sure the service only sends your release to journalists who subscribed and so welcome story pitches. In addition, use targeting options to only send your release to the specific industries, locations, and readers who are likely to value your news. You may have to pay for targeting options, and it could be well worth the investment since it ensures your release gets to the media most likely to be interested in your announcement.
12. Not Making Your Press Release Sharable
A shareable press release gives readers and journalists the ability to easily share your news on social media. Some ways to make your news more shareable include adding instant Tweet features, including short quotes that are meaningful even when shared alone, including multimedia, and adding social share buttons.
Here’s a closer look at ways to make your press release shareable:
- Add instant Tweet features: For quotes, statistics, or other tidbits that can stand by themselves and still be impactful, embed a “Click to Tweet” link. When users click the link they are taken to Twitter, where a Tweet with the quote is automatically set up to share. All they have to do is post.
- Use short but meaningful facts and quotes: Make your content shareable by including quotes or statistics that can be posted to social media profiles with no editing. This means limiting quotes or statistics you want to be shared to under 280 characters to keep readers from having to edit them down before sharing on platforms like Twitter.
- Include multimedia: According to PR Newswire, press releases with multimedia—like videos, slideshows, or images—get 3.53 times more shares than those without. When using a distribution service, follow the requirements for resolution, size, and number of multimedia additions you can include. For pitching via email, attach your multimedia files and use proprietary (not stock) images.
- Add social share buttons: Adding social share buttons to your press release first invites readers to share, and then makes it easy for them to do so (which, in turn, makes it more likely they will). Add social share buttons by choosing a distribution service news wire that includes them in your published release. Or, if you publish your release on your blog, use a share button plugin like the free Jetpack plugin for WordPress.
13. Not Using Multiple Distribution Channels
There are several ways to distribute your press release, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. A distribution service, for example, can help you get your news to the masses but may not target key journalists who can help your company both now and in the future.
Different ways of distributing a press release—via distribution service, social media, and personalized email pitches, for example—have their strengths and weaknesses. Using multiple methods that complement one another provides the strongest possible results.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of the three primary distribution methods:
- Using a distribution service: A distribution service allows you to target by industry, region, and audience behaviors when distributing your press release to hundreds or even thousands of outlets. However, it can become expensive and doesn’t enable you to connect with and begin personal relationships with individual journalists.
- Distributing via social media: Distributing your press release via social media can help you reach journalists, publications, and influencers right where they are best positioned to reach an engaged audience. Moreover, you can earn followers from these publications, resulting in greater reach for future press releases. When you distribute a release via a Facebook ad, for example, you can specify which publications (and with that the journalists who write for them) you want to reach for just a few dollars a day.
- Pitching journalists directly to their inboxes: To pitch a journalist directly, you must first take the time to learn who the journalist and their audience are, and then craft a personalized pitch that shows each journalist the value your release offers their audiences. While it can be time-consuming, the result is a win-win relationship with journalists (you get coverage and they get stories their audiences will value) that can extend well into the future.
In the end, if you only use a press release distribution service, you may miss out on building an engaged audience that your brand can later reach with a press release or even marketing campaigns. Plus, you miss out on opportunities to build personalized win-win relationships with journalists who you can help and who can help your business reach its goals in the future.
14. Distributing Your Press Release Too Late
Businesses often make the mistake of not timing their press release distribution correctly. Most commonly, press releases are distributed too late, which can drive a business to pay for expensive same-day distribution services, or worse, to lose out on potential coverage. After all, if journalists receive your press release after your big news has already happened, such as an event, it lacks relevance and will fail to earn coverage.
To avoid this mistake, plan to send your press release in advance in order to give journalists the time they need to discover your press release, write about it, and publish it. Minimally, you want to send your press release three to five days before you hope it will be published. However, in some cases, such as press releases that will likely involve a follow-up interview with an interested journalist, it’s advised to send it as early as a week in advance.
15. Not Tracking Press Release Performance
Analytics let you know if you’ve met the business goals set for your press release and how you can improve future press releases for better results. They also give you insights into how to better promote and retarget your audience. Here’s why you should pay attention to the analytics reports offered by your distribution service:
- Determine if you are meeting your goals: Press release analytics track metrics like how many shares your release earned, which outlets covered it, how much traffic it drove to your site, and brand sentiment. In return, these insights will help you determine whether it was a worthwhile investment of your time and resources.
- Gather insights to optimize future press releases: Pay attention to how people engage with it. If journalists latched onto one quote and included it in all the stories covering your release, make note of what may have made that quote different from the others. In future releases, match those characteristics when sourcing quotes.
- Determine the best distribution methods: Press release analytics reports often include lots of information about the individuals who read the release. This may include demographics like age, income, interests (industry publications they read, for example), marital status, and locations. Use this information to inform advertising or retargeting campaigns.
For instance, say your press release announced a new fashion line. Analytics reports showed that 40% of people who read your press release were from the East Coast of the United States, were millennials, and are interested in women’s fashion. In response, consider running retargeting ads to women in those regions who belong to that generation and who share those interests. You can easily do so with social media advertising targeting options, for example.
Press releases can help your business earn positive press coverage. But to earn positive coverage, you need to focus on the needs of the media and their audiences, not solely on the goals of your business. This means making your story engaging with links and multimedia, avoiding promotion-speak, formatting and writing it in a standard journalistic way, and targeting it properly to the right people at the right time.
Give your press release a leg up by using one of the best distribution services, such as Newswire. In addition to multilayer targeting, which ensures your press release reaches your target audience in terms of both industry and location, it also ensures that your press release is in good form as it includes professional editing.