Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

Better than the last best PR

I skim a lot of press releases, looking for keywords, product names or something that makes them interesting enough to read or follow up on them. Many are irrelevant, cover something tedious or don't tell the story well. Some start with a summary in bullet points of the bullet points that make up the majority of the release; with these I skim the summary. I ignore superlatives - best, fastest, first, biggest, largest, latest - and anything invoking temperature - hot, cool - and indeed the word 'new' as if there's a release about it that might go without saying.

I find mysef pitying the intern over at Rainier who had to read (or hopefully search with a macro) 150 press releases posted on Sourcewire to see how many such words I'm ignoring. "Out of 150 press releases posted on Sourcewire in June, “best” appeared 68, times followed by “latest” recurring 29 times and “largest” 24 times. Descriptive words such as “biggest”, “fastest” and “hottest” weren’t far behind." Andy Smith points out that you can blame the client and the PR both; and lots of comments abuse journalists for everything from cutting and pasting to refusing to work the way PRs want to needing superlatives to take an interest.

That's a six gun's worth of messenger shooting. Current press releases are almost uniformly trash even without superlatives. I often can't work out what a Microsoft press release is talking about because the language is so rounded and diffuse and marketed (like the email quotes santised by a marketing department to take out all interest, that I'll never use and regret wasting time on asking for when they arrive). But to me a press release is nothing more than a lead or a trigger, like a blog post; the real story I'll go find rather than waiting for it to arrive in a spoon. And I wonder. How many journalists do need to be 'woken up' by bombast and adjectives? How many do swallow the best/first/further, faster, furrier claims? Surely not many?

And are we to blame for being polite when we see terrible press releases? I cover the excesses of press releases when I do media training and I don't normally tell PRs their job without being asked to do so. But should we start saying 'this is meaningless - I had to look on the client Web site to work out what it was talking about' or 'that's plain wrong - it's not the first such but it is interesting because of x' or 'don't tell me what's hot/cool/significant - it's my job to decide that for myself'? It could take up a lot of my time - and I don't want to sound as if I'm insulting people who work hard and deal with deamnding clients. But if we don't say anything, are we implicitly condoning releases that make our journalistic lives harder?
Tags: pr, rant, writing

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