Many businesses issue press releases to earn positive media coverage for their businesses. However, they often fail to receive that coverage because they make common mistakes, like not focusing on a truly newsworthy angle or being overly promotional. Businesses also regularly send out releases that don’t include resources for media contacts and target audience members (like multimedia and links) and don’t focus on shareability.
Here are 11 common press release mistakes that can hinder positive coverage and how to avoid them:
1. Not Including a Newsworthy Angle
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 what makes it newsworthy. If it is not, then journalists are unlikely to cover it, 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 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 in the event. Or, it may become newsworthy if, at the event, you run an auction with proceeds going toward a community need (making it impactful 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 confusing or unexpected press release styles or formats to sort out. 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.
Then, 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 states 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. Adding Your Title as an Afterthought
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, it is likely to play a big part in the content consumed in those five seconds. In fact, journalists may not read anything more. 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 title enticing for a journalist with only five seconds to spend reading your release:
- Answer the pressing question: A journalist wants to know why their audiences 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 pressing industry problem, or by dropping the name of a current influencer who will participate in the event discussed in your release.
- Don’t remove all the mystery: Your title should pique journalists’ interest but make sure they know there is more to the story that they will want to know. Don’t be afraid to tease the reader by offering just enough to peak interest but not everything.
- Use active voice: The active voice is engaging and vivid and so pulls the reader into the story. The passive voice can make the reader feel removed from the action in the story. Stick to the active voice to pull journalists in and entice them to read beyond those five seconds.
- Keep it brief: Remember you have five seconds to grab a journalist’s attention, so keep your title under 100 characters or as close to it as you can.
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 should not mean you forsake authenticity for sales-speak. Inauthentic quotes is a major reason many journalists rarely use comments they find in press releases.
Your job is to offer quotes that journalists can use in an objective publication. Sometimes journalists will reach out for such quotes if they are not in the press release, but many don’t have the time when they are on a deadline. As such, they simply skip over the story for one that is more ready-made for publication. This means that providing an authentic quote could increase the chance your press release gets covered even among deadline-driven journalists.
When including quotes from executives, for example, always use statements these key representatives have actually spoken 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.
Moreover, for a truly journalistic style, consider including a quote from an unbiased source. Though few companies go so far as to offer such a resource for journalists, doing so can mean journalists don’t have to take valuable time to do so themselves. This may mean they are more likely to cover your story if they are on a tight deadline. For example, for a new product launch, reach out to an industry analyst with no stake in your company and ask them to provide a quote about what your new product will mean for the industry.
5. Not Including Valuable Links for Your Audience
While links within your press release are unlikely to offer search engine optimization (SEO) value (because many are included as no-follow links when published on a news wire), they offer benefits for journalists, your target audience, and your business. For example, a link can offer value to your reader that cannot fit within a 500-word press release.
If your company is publishing a press release in response to a community crisis, you can offer a link to a website page where you offer updates on your response plan as it develops or is enacted. Or, if your release is an announcement of a product launch, a link to a landing page about that product can help your audience learn more about the product, especially if it offers additional value like a product demo. Both of these example links can help journalists more thoroughly cover your story.
In addition to offering your reader more information, a link in your press release can be extremely valuable to your business. It can help you attract leads, track press release performance, and earn more media coverage for your news. For example, a link to a page on your website where you are offering a webinar about a new product can help you connect with readers and journalists personally, answer their questions, and even capture emails to funnel readers into a lead-nurturing campaign.
Just 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 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: Linking to your website’s homepage is only appropriate in your boilerplate. But, even there, 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,” link to text that is relevant to the subject covered in the link (and your press release). For example, if your link takes readers to a landing page about the product your press release announces or invites them to a webinar about the topic of your release, link to the name of the product, or the text “please join our webinar.”
6. Not Making It About Your Audience
A press release is not an advertisement. Instead, it’s all about communicating something you think your target audience (those most likely to be reached with the story) will want to know about. By making it about the end reader and helping journalists to tell the story for them, you create a news story, not an advertisement. Journalists will not publish an ad but will likely want to cover a valuable story their readers should know about.
To reach that end reader (your target audience), a press release should offer journalists reasons why their audience might care about your news, then all the information journalists need to cover the story in an engaging and valuable way. To help journalists do so, instead of just telling them how great your product is, for example, offer them value they can pass onto their readers, like a free product giveaway or demo. These allow journalists to more thoroughly explore and so cover your story from an objective viewpoint, instead of just repeating your company’s biased perspective.
7. Not Including Multimedia
Today’s journalists know their stories must include elements that grab people’s attention and keep it. As such, PR Newswire reports that 71% of them use multimedia frequently or always in their stories. For this reason, releases that include images receive 1.4 times the views as those without, and those with videos earn 2.8 times the views as text-only releases. Bottom line: For best results, include multimedia in your press release.
While many brands are willing to provide these elements if prompted, those who make it easier on journalists and provide them upfront are more likely to get their story covered by journalists writing on short deadlines. To save journalists time, add one to two relevant images as you distribute your release at a minimum. Do not use stock images. Take your own to offer original and relevant value to journalists’ readers. Most distribution services offer requirements regarding resolution and multimedia sizes. Follow their recommendations.
8. Not Targeting Your Press Release
Sending mass amounts of pitches without targeting your release is the fastest way to both land your current release in journalists’ spam founders and render future press releases spam before journalists even read them. Sending one email in bulk to multiple journalists tells journalists’ they aren’t receiving a personalized email (and so can prompt them to send it to their spam folders) and can also trigger email providers to filter your news to the spam folder before journalists even read your release.
Instead, if you send a release via email, send it to one journalist at a time. First research each journalist’s work and audience. Look for trends in how they position stories to bring value to readers. Take note of what industries and types of people they target. For example, if they write for the finance section, do they speak to the top 1% of society or 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 emails to journalists who subscribed to their services and so welcome pitches. In addition, use their targeting options to only target specific industries, locations, and people who are likely to value your news. Sometimes you’ll have to pay for targeting options; be willing to do so. If you don’t, your investment in distribution may be wasted or even harm your brand reputation.
9. Not Making Your Press Release Sharable
A shareable press release offers readers and journalists opportunities to spread the news about your story on social media. Some ways to make your news more shareable include adding instant Tweet features, making quotes short but meaningful 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 that can stand by themselves and still be impactful, embed a Click to Tweet link to it. This link creates a box to highlight the quote, complete with a “Click to Tweet” link. Users click the link and are taken to their Twitter profiles 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 offering 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 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 their requirements for resolution, size, and number of multimedia additions you can include. For pitching via email, attach your multimedia files and use proprietary, nonstock images.
- Add social share buttons: Adding social share buttons to your press release first invites readers to share, 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.
10. Only Using a Distribution Service
There are several ways you can 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. Because different ways of distributing a press release—via distribution service, social media, and personalized email pitches, for example—have their strengths and weaknesses, using them to complement each offers the strongest possible results.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using three primary ways of distributing your release:
- Using a distribution service: A distribution service allows you to target by industry, region, and even audience behaviors when distributing your press release to hundreds or even thousands of outlets. However, it can be expensive (when done correctly) and does not allow 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 most positioned to reach an engaged audience. Moreover, you can earn followers from these publications that mean greater reach for future press releases. When you distribute a release via a Facebook ad, for example, you can specify the publications (and so 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 take the time to first learn who the journalist and their audience are, then craft a personalized pitch that shows each journalist the value your release offers their audiences. In doing so, you begin 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. And 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.
11. Not Tracking Press Release Performance
Analytics help you learn if you’ve met the business goals set for your press release, how you can improve future press releases for better results, and audience information that offers insights into how to better promote and retarget your press release.
Here’s why you should pay attention to the analytics reports offered by your distribution service:
Determine If You Are Meeting Business Goals
There are many business goals you can set for your release, like improving brand sentiment, spreading brand awareness, or increasing traffic to your website. Likewise, press release analytics reports track metrics like how many shares your release earned, what media outlets published it, how many clicks to your website it earned, and brand sentiment. As such, they help you learn if your release was worth the investment and, therefore, if you should invest in more in the future.
Gather Insights for Better Future Press Releases
If you are just distributing one press release, 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 notes of what may have made that quote different from the others. Then, in future releases, try to match those characteristics when sourcing quotes for them.
However, you may not be able to gather a lot of insight into what works and what doesn’t with press releases by distributing just one release. So, once you’ve distributed a few releases, compare metrics to determine what boosts engagement and what doesn’t. For example, if you distributed a couple of releases with two images and the next couple with videos, you may find that the releases with videos earned more engagement. In that case, you may include more videos than images in future releases.
Learn How to Promote Your Release & Its Contents
Press release analytics reports often include lots of information about your press release readers. This may include their age, income, interests (industry publications they read, for example), marital status, and locations. Use this information to inform retargeting campaigns.
For example, say your press release was announcing a new fashion line. Its analytics reports show 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.
A press release should help a business earn positive press coverage. But, to earn positive coverage, businesses owners and public relations (PR) professionals should focus on the needs of the media and their audiences, not solely on their businesses. This means making the story engaging with links and multimedia, avoiding promotion-speak, formatting and writing it in a standard journalistic way, and targeting it properly. Once the release is correctly distributed, an analytics report can then help businesses understand what worked and what didn’t for best press release results, and then apply those insights to promotional efforts and future releases.
One way to avoid these common mistakes is to hire a professional writing and distribution service like eReleases. With plans starting at $299 per release, you enjoy a database of over 700,000 subscribing journalists; industry and location targeting; multimedia attachment capabilities; and distribution to over 5,000 print, radio, TV, and digital outlets. Click here to learn more about eReleases.