BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE: FRONTIER - the resource for entrepreneurs  
By Karen E. Klein
MARCH 7, 2000

To Get Your Press Releases Read -- Make Them Readable

Dump the jargon and don't use "revolutionary"
(Second of two parts)


E-Mail Story

Why Your Press Releases Don't Work, Part 1

Smart Answers Archive

Too often, the press releases I see from small businesses are confusing, lacking in basic information, or boring. Yes, it's my job to read them, but bear in mind that the average media outlet gets bombarded by thousands of releases a day -- via e-mail, the Web, fax, and good-old hard copy. If your release has to be reread to be understood, it doesn't stand a chance -- and you're not getting your money's worth from whoever you hired to write it.

So, what should you look for when asked to approve a press release?

A clear, eloquent description of what makes your company important and unique. Reject a release that's crowded with techno-babble and jargon, unless you're pitching a story to a technology writer or trade journal. Remember that spewing unfamiliar acronyms does not make you cool, but it does make your press release hard to understand. Find a simpler way to talk about "digital marketplaces," "vertical trading communities," "pricing engines," "multifunctional client teams," "service delivery process," "service chain participants," and "streamlining the purchasing lifecycle."

Language that is compelling without ringing false. Busy reporters see dozens of press releases every day from companies that claim to be "revolutionizing" their industry. Tell us what your company actually does, in plain English, and give us real examples that demonstrate the significance of your product or service. If something really is revolutionary about it, show us, don't tell us, what it is.

Dynamic quotes that tell your personal story and the story of your firm. Don't let your PR person make up your quotes, or they might end up sounding like this: "This is a revolutionary company," says Joe CEO. "Its highly viral and scalable model takes full advantage of the leverage of the Internet. Today's media companies should take notice: [Our product's] model leads the way for the media brands of the 21st century." You know your company best. You sell it day in and day out. Come up with a few sentences that convey your enthusiasm and excitement, and make sure they get included in your press release.

A strong release generated by a good public relations agency will ultimately prove its worth by garnering media coverage for your company. But how do you choose a PR team if you don't have the time, energy, or expertise?

First, consider having your marketing director double as your publicist, particularly if your company is still quite small. Some experts suggest that all communications, including public relations, be managed by staffers because they have firsthand knowledge of your company and can tap into your creative energy. Also, they have more invested in getting you publicity than an outside agent who works for many clients might be.

"Every serious company should bring communications and PR in-house, so when the press calls they get a quality response from the company, not from an outsider," says Gary Clemenceau, a public relations veteran who recently became director of communications for Cyras Systems, in Fremont, Calif. "Hire someone with good taste, common sense, and creativity."

Others, however, believe that public relations agencies are the undisputed experts in packaging a company, planning its media strategy, and attracting the positive coverage that improves its bottom line. "A small-business owner could never afford to bring in-house what they can outsource by hiring a PR agency," says Ian Grossman, chief operating officer at Levick Strategic Communications, a Washington (D.C.) firm that specializes in media relations for the legal industry. "An internal marketing director should be focused on the larger umbrella of the marketing strategy for the organization. A PR agency gives you a team of specialists as opposed to one person in-house."

A good PR firm will not only deliver appropriate press releases, Grossman says, it will also understand your business model and plan a comprehensive strategy for getting your company editorial coverage. The best agency for you will be familiar with the publications and reporters that cover your industry and know how to deliver news about your company. Even though a CEO may be comfortable with technical terms, a top-notch public relations agent will understand that the material must be broken down.

"Too many times, the PR agency is like an order taker, just writing a press release...instead of taking a step back, analyzing the event and the company," Grossman says. "The company is sometimes so caught up in what they're doing, that they have a different view of how important it is. So a good agency has to be an objective outsider that connects what the company is doing with what the media is interested in."

When hiring a publicity firm, ask for references within your industry, trade associations, from friendly colleagues (but not direct competitors), and any journalists you know who cover your industry. The Public Relations Society of America offers guidelines on how to choose a PR agency.

Put it all together, and you'll be off to a good start. There aren't any guarantees, but at least you'll have a fighting chance.

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