How to Write a Press Release

A few days ago, I provided a case study in how not to write a press release. Here are a set of tips and samples from Jennifer Saragosa at BusinessWire on how to write a press release:

  • Determine who your audience is and write appropriately for the audience. For example common goals of press releases are media pick-up, attract new customers, educate current customers, attract investors, populate Google search, etc. Write for the specific you are targeting and use vernacular they are familiar with.
  • Keep the release short – 400-600 words max
  • For best Google results, headline should be 70 characters or less (or else Google will cut it off)
  • Make sure company name is in headline
  • Make sure important keywords (that their readers would be searching on) are in headline and first sentence of release.
  • In headline, frontload the keyword at the beginning of the headline
  • First paragraph should include the 5 Ws and a good lead sentence
  • Have a boilerplate that is titled “About XYZ company.” Keep that paragraph fairly short and include a written out URL for their corporate website. Include social handles if they have them.
  • Add anchor text to first paragraph on first mention of company name or product so that reader can quickly get to their site
  • Add bullets for key points
  • Include your contact information including phone and email
  • If there are multimedia assets, consider linking to them in the press release

Examples:

Release written for customers: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190225005005/en/Analog-Devices-Unveils-SHARC%C2%AE-Audio-Module-Platform

Release written for media coverage and to boost sales: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190225005005/en/Analog-Devices-Unveils-SHARC%C2%AE-Audio-Module-Platform

See other sample releases sorted by subject here: https://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/home/news/subjects/

How Not to Write a Press Release

Sanitized for your protection.

I’m not sure whether PR teams are getting worse or I simply read more press releases, but marketers have to start using Grammarly and observe basic grammar and style tips.

One issue is simply bad grammar. I write a weekly newsletter and most of the errors pointed out by Grammarly are found inside quotes derived from websites, collateral, press releases, and blogs. I wasn’t an English major, but many marketers were English or Humanities majors and should know better. It is easy to run your copy through a grammar/style checker.

B2B press releases are a prime example. They are often written by junior marketers with limited technical knowledge of the product. Unfortunately, press releases are reviewed by multiple departments with different perspectives and recommendations. The result is an often wordy, buzzword-filled press release that is incomprehensible to all but industry insiders (and sometimes we struggle as well).

I pulled the following opening paragraph from a press release (see image above) to call out common issues:

  • Long Titles — 120 characters is a Tweet, not a headline. BusinessWire suggests headlines run 70 or fewer characters. Google cuts headlines at 70 characters.
  • Buzzwords — “Account-Based Experiences,” “Predictive B2B Intent,” and “AI” are all found in the headline. I had to look up ABX. It is a variation on Account Based Marketing promoted by Adobe which recognizes that ABM is broader than marketing. So not only was the headline a buzzword salad, but one of the buzzwords wasn’t particularly buzzy.
  • Absurd Puffery — Puffery is a common practice in marketing so acceptable. Puffery that is bald-faced lying is simply ridiculous. You cannot credibly call yourself “the leading B2B Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) company” when you have 21 employees listed on LinkedIn and do not have the words B2B or DaaS on your homepage.
  • Muddled Opening Sentence — The opening sentence should be clear and capture the 5 Ws. It shouldn’t have nested parenthetical statements and be overly wordy. “Marketo LaunchPoint integration” is much clearer than “a new integration available through LaunchPoint by Marketo, an Adobe company.”
  • Failure to Proof Your Copy — Typos include misspelling a customer’s name (LogMeIzn), multiple TM symbols for the same product, failed parallelism in lists, and a colon after a preposition.
  • Poorly Named Products — eCHO is an affectation that reads as e-CHOW not Echo. It also needlessly drives spell checkers crazy. “eCHO Predictive B2B Intent for Marketo Engage” is a mouthful. How about simply “Echo Intent for Marketo Engage?”
  • Failure to Test Your Hyperlinks — A hyperlink to an information page takes the reader to a service login page.
  • Omit a Hyperlink to Your Home Page — Really?

Finally, can we improve the quotes put in the mouths of executives and alliance partners? They often sound like five people wrote a non-grammatical buzzword salad that says both everything and nothing. When I am quoted in press releases, I work closely with the company to ensure the quote is tight, grammatical, and meaningful. The draft quote is bounced back and forth several times with the vendor’s marketing team to ensure that each sentence and word adds value. Here is an example of a published quote and my rewrite:

“The best accounts to engage with are the ones that are already actively researching around your solution. eCho intent data from <Anonymous Grammar Offender> offers an opportunity for marketers to engage with accounts that have a high propensity to buy, ultimately delivering a more qualified pipeline to sales and increasing the speed of the sales process.”

Press Release Quote

eCho intent data from <Wordy Vendor> identifies accounts that are actively researching solutions like yours. eCho delivers an actionable set of highly qualified, engaged leads which help sales reps exceed quota.

My Alternative Press Release Quote

A press release is a key messaging opportunity. Failure to follow basic rules of grammar and clarity tells customers, partners, and prospects that you are a lazy company that cannot be counted on to do the basics. That is marketing malpractice. It would be akin to showing up late to an interview with a stained shirt and a sense of entitlement.

LinkedIn Adjusts its Feed Algorithm

The LinkedIn feed algorithm has been adjusted to emphasize conversations of interest over viral content.

LinkedIn recently adjusted its feed algorithm to identify more salient topics instead of viral content.  The goal is to encourage conversations and promote niche conversations over broad topics.  The modifications place a higher premium on member interest signals.

“Our mission is to help people be more productive and successful, and it is what drives us daily,” said Senior Director of Product Management Pete Davies.  “We strongly believe that people need their professional communities to help them along the way, whether that’s current or former colleagues, peers in the same industry, or those that share similar interests or career ambitions.”

LinkedIn prioritizes posts from connections and follows along with their likes, comments, and posts.  Other factors include group posts, followed hashtags, and events “all with the goal of showing you the content and conversations that you care about.”  Prioritization is given to direct interactions; stated interests and experiences; and “explicit signals” such as with whom you’ve worked.

Davies provided the following tips to encourage conversation:

  • Post things that encourage a response. For example, if you’re posting a link, express an opinion with it.
  • Think about using the best type of post for the topic. Despite the rumors, the algorithm doesn’t favor any particular format. We have video, images, multi-images, text and long-form articles. More are on the way.
  • Use @mentions to pull other people you know into a conversation when you think they’ll have something valuable to add. Be thoughtful: only mention people that you think are likely to respond, max five is a good rule of thumb.
  • Engage in the conversation, respond to commenters and encourage back and forth.

Davies also recommended the use of hashtags, but no more than three.  Hashtags should be specific vs. general (#performancemanagement vs. #management).

Finally, Davies emphasized authenticity.  This is a theme that Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft, keeps going back to.

“Authenticity is key: all the tips above work out better when members talk about things they truly care about, in a way that’s natural for them. Genuine conversation around real experiences spark better and deeper conversation. Better conversation, in turn, leads to stronger community and connection,” blogged Davies.

Are We Really Selling Quarter-Inch Holes?

Black & Decker Cordless Drill (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Black & Decker Cordless Drill (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sales and marketing often forget to focus on the unique value proposition they offer their customers.  They focus on product features instead of customer benefits.  There is an oft-repeated saying in marketing which captures this logic perfectly:

“People don’t buy quarter inch drills, they buy quarter inch holes.”

The electric drill was first developed by Black and Decker and patented in 1917 as a tool for their own production facility.  Interestingly, the firm only recognized the value of the tool for consumers when employees began taking it home.  Ironically, the tool often used to discuss the value of thinking broadly about use cases and customer needs was originally designed for a limited purpose, the Black and Decker plant, became an indispensable DIY consumer and industrial product.

A product/technology focus emphasizes the features of the drill and not the benefits of quickly making holes of specific sizes as needed, where needed.  Marketers need to translate many product features to a distinct set of customer benefits and roll them into a unique value proposition that differentiates their product in the mind of potential customers.

Understanding the needs of the customers is also important for the product and engineering teams.  Otherwise, they will view both the competition and the market too narrowly.  If you are selling quarter inch drills, you view your competitors as quarter inch drill manufacturers.  If you view your product as on demand tools for boring holes and attaching objects, you recognize a broader set of competitive and complementary products including bores, glues, solder, welding supplies, nails, screws, bolts, etc.  You would also recognize that electromechanical torque can be applied to screws, bolts, and nuts, expanding your product line into adjacent markets.

Focusing on product features is also a bad practice for sales reps.  As with marketing, emphasizing features prevents them from communicating the unique value proposition of your products and services.  If your sales reps are too often complaining about losing on price or the need to constantly discount off list price, then either your prices are too high or your sales reps are engaged in too much feature-speak and failing to communicate customer benefits and value.  Of course, these reasons are not mutually exclusive.  You could have two root causes to your pricing difficulties – your prices may be too high and your sales reps may be failing to communicate value.

Another problem with focusing on features is it treats your product as little more than a commodity.  A differentiated service is less subject to price erosion and heavy discounting.  This is one reason I tell my clients in the sales intelligence space not to compete on database size.  While there are benefits to larger databases, users aren’t usually purchasing big databases [feature], they are purchasing sales insights [value proposition] that make them more effective at building prospecting lists [benefit 1], qualifying leads [benefit 2], managing accounts [benefit 3], reducing CRM data entry [benefit 4], improving analytics [5], and selling deeper into organizations [benefit 6].  Thus, it isn’t the size of the company and executive files, but the breadth of data insights that help reps more efficiently and effectively sell.

So as you hold your 2018 sales kickoffs, make sure to communicate your new product’s value proposition to your salesforce.  Likewise, evangelize your company’s vision during new hire training, product road mapping sessions, and all hands meetings.  In the end, customers are interested in your value and how you benefit them, not RPM or database size.