This post was originally published in October, 2013 and completely updated in May, 2020.
Press releases have radically transformed along with technology over the past decade.
In days gone by, PRs followed a traditional format, ignored social media, and left crafting a story up to the journalist who received it. These days, it’s just the opposite.
If you’re a new PR writer, or if you established your career more than 10 years ago, brushing up on these common press release mistakes will help you incite more action and gain more media traction.
Let’s deep-dive into how NOT to write a press release.
Press release rookie? Brushing up on these common press release mistakes will help you incite more action and gain more media traction. Read all 15 here: Click To Tweet
1. Write a Bland Headline
Journalists slog through hundreds of PRs daily. If your headline doesn’t sizzle, your press release may not be read.
Here’s an example of a boring press release headline:
While it’s direct and concise, the formal investor-facing tone waters down the hook.
And here’s an example of a headline that pops:
Adobe’s news appears as a blog. This allows for a shift toward a conversational tone, boosting the PR’s relevance.
The takeaway: craft an intriguing, relevant, and to-the-point headline. Make sure it’s immediately clear how your news engages your target audience.
2. Use the Same Headline And Lead for All Pitches, Regardless of Audience
Think sending everyone the same announcement press release will lead to the best results? Think again. For the wire, a generic PR will do. For your website, a reformatted version can appear on your blog.
However, don’t risk alienating your network of journalists by using the same copy for everyone.
Eileen Baumann, a leading PR writer on the Forbes Agency Council, recommends boosting your coverage by “taking the time to customize a headline and/or lead when sending to individual press contacts.”
3. Forget Your Audience – It’s All About You
While a PR may feel like it’s about you and your company, successful PRs focus on how their news is relevant to the target audience: journalists.
It’s bad enough when news orgs just run press releases.
This is a press release about a PR agency. It’s essentially an ad.
[slowly bangs head against counter] https://t.co/UMJcM9MXA4
— Steve Cavendish (@scavendish) April 7, 2020
Before hitting the send button, make sure your PR is providing real value for your readers. Ask yourself: how is this news relevant to my audience? If your copy doesn’t answer that question, it’s time to edit.
Remember, the goal of any marketing endeavor is to drive action – not to pat yourself on the back.
Garmin demonstrates how to send a press release to announce an award and keep it relevant:
4. Rely Solely on Distribution Platforms
In 2020, the context has changed. Fewer journalists are wading through WAY more PRs. News outlets are web-focused, which means content optimized for social media, with video, images, and graphics are often published over traditional news articles.
For goliath brands, crafting traditional PRs and distributing to thousands of publications makes sense. For up-and-coming brands, it’s significantly more cost-efficient to invest in relationships with a select group of journalists.
Think of journalists as influencers rather than merely writers: add value by sending them a full media package, including product samples, images, videos, and pull quotes. Organize interviews, or reveal an industry viewpoint. The more you simplify covering your news, the more journalists will want to work with you.
5. Focus on Driving Traffic to Your Website
The game’s changed: PRs aren’t about driving traffic or SEO anymore. Modern PRs focus on promoting transparency, growing brand awareness, and audience engagement.
If the sole target of your PR is building backlinks, your announcement is likely not newsworthy enough. However, if used sparingly, dropping links in your PR can be a great way to boost your credibility and promote audience action.
6. Don’t Optimize Your Press Release Format
Publish your PRs as content marketing on your company blog, or reframe them for social media. Nintendo separates their advertorial, fan-centered “news items” from their investor-facing PRs.
Notice the different press release formats: the fan-facing PRs break the rules and use 2nd person. They’re sharable, and images are embedded.
The investor-platform takes a traditional approach to PRs. They use concise, direct headlines and 3rd person to emphasize the business focus of these PRs. This simple separation is an effective way to target two very different audiences.
7. Don’t Cross-Pollinate on Social Media
For every piece of news that goes out, at least 2-3 social media posts should follow.
Here’s a fun example press release from Sesame Workshop.
The 2 goals of this PR: announce their TV special and extension of the #CaringForEachOther initiative.
Here’s that same release after getting picked up by The New York Times.
NYT writer Melena Ryzik spins major details from the PR for a touching micro-story and adds a new link to the PBS YouTube channel, which was likely included in Sesame Workshop’s press kit.
Then Sesame Workshop turned to social media to promote their special.
Afterward, they followed up with fans on Twitter, fulfilling their second goal: engaging and caring for children.
This strategy can work for a variety of brands. The most important takeaway: read the room. If your news is getting lots of engagement, continue the ripple-effect with more content. Write a follow-up blog post, create a video, craft an image. Most importantly, stay on-message.
If your news isn’t gaining traction, don’t exhaust your audience. Instead, focus on other aspects of your brand’s social media strategy.Press release DON'Ts ♀️: 1) Write a bland headline, 2) Forget your audience, 3) Rely solely on distribution platforms, 4) Forget to optimize your PR format. Read 11 more here: Click To Tweet
8. Send Press Releases for Every Little Thing
If it’s not relevant to your audience, it’s not news.
PRs should be part of your brand’s timeline. Send out too many, and you’ll cultivate a spammy image, lowering your credibility. Your readers don’t need (and won’t read) a separate PR for every micro-update. Save those for social media, your blog, or the updates section of your website.
Google uses a simple yet sleek solution: it separates PRs into relevant blog categories.
For a company that updates as often as Google, this avoids unnecessarily spamming tech journalists.
Regardless of your press release format, place your audience first. What are they looking for (and what will turn them away)?
9. Make It a Chore to Share
The goal of your PR is to spread the word. The wider your reach, the more successful you’ll be.
How do you optimize a press release for social media?
Start by crafting a 140/280-character tweetable headline. Suggest hashtags and Twitter-ready pull quotes. Don’t forget to include high-quality multimedia (images, video, GIFs) and provide several formats. Drop in links to your brand’s social media accounts and website to bring it full circle.
10. Don’t Follow a Press Release Template
Too much (or not enough) information is kryptonite for PRs. Successful PRs are concise and focused on the message. Leave the deep dive for other media.
The ideal press release length is:
- 1 page, 1.5 pages max
- 300-500 words (400 is the sweet spot)
- Skimmable: Headline, subheader, and introduction answer the key 5W questions
Build your PR on a strong foundation with these templates for specific purposes:
- Book Releases – Dave Chesson’s book press release template is ideal for PRs in the Kindle Direct Publishing sphere.
- Events – Co-Schedule has a great mini-template for event press releases.
- Music Release – For a free music press release template, try this foundation. Need inspiration? Check out the album release above for inspiration and a great example of how to stay fun, upbeat, and
- Social Media News – Reach a follower milestone? West’s social media release template is a great base for your announcement.
For more guidance, press release examples, and a fill-in-the-blanks press release template, explore our Ultimate Guide to How to Write a Press Release.
11. Use the Wrong Voice
Are you using 2nd person in your press releases? This voice is well-suited to blogs and social media. PRs are a different story. At best, it reads like an advertisement (not news). At worst, it sounds like a cheesy commercial.
Use 3rd person for an AP Style news-voice to boost your authority and secure audience trust.
However, there’s always an exception.
This PR for Purina breaks the 2nd person rule to optimize for Twitter. Tread carefully with this strategy – it instantly shifts the tone toward advertisement.
BIG press release mistake: Using 2nd person voice in your PRs. At best, it reads like an advertisement (not news). At worst, it sounds like a cheesy commercial. Click To Tweet
12. Set the Wrong Tone
Tone sets the mood. It’s your attitude toward your content, and how the reader receives that feeling. While PRs have transformed, some common misconceptions linger behind them.
Here are a few:
- Conversational = Unprofessional – Excessively formal language is boring to read! Ensure you’ve got the facts straight and clarify the value of your news, but don’t be shy about letting your personality shine through.
- Jargon = Smart – Remember your audience. Journalists – not industry professionals – are in charge of spreading your message. Instead of jargon they have to look up, provide authority quotes and stats and clearly outline why your news is relevant.
- Generic Quotes = Acceptable – Instead of building authority and humanizing your brand, robotic quotes make it clear to your readers that you didn’t actually talk to an authority, robbing your quote of value.
13. Don’t Bother to Proofread
In the PR world, nothing burns your credibility faster than a failure to proofread. It’s easy to see why: even a simple typo can damage journalist and publication reputations as well as yours.
For example, consider receiving an email from a major brand with this as a subject:
Thankfully, these issues are easily solved with free Grammar checkers like Grammarly, readability checkers like the Hemingway tool, and Microsoft Word’s basic spellcheck. Combine this with a final human read-through to ensure your PR is read (and not posted on Twitter for a laugh).
The worst part of “let me send you a press release” is usually the press release is terrible and I still have to badger you to get answers to simple questions. pic.twitter.com/WwgUXKfEH9
— Ty Rushing (@Rushthewriter) April 9, 2020
14. Release It at the Wrong Time
Just like you, most reporters have more interesting things going on after 6 on a workday. They’re likely not checking their work emails on the weekend, either. This means that PR you rushed to get out is getting buried by hundreds of other emails (and it’s way less likely to be read).
To avoid this, distribute your press release on a Thursday. According to Prowly’s press release analysis, you can boost your open rate even more by emailing your press release between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM.
15. Fail to Give a Clear Course of Action
Newsworthy PRs provide clear value and propose to solve a problem. For example, if your press release announces an event, then signing up for the event is the next step you want your readers to take.
If it’s not obvious how to take that next step, your PR is not accomplishing its goal. Simplify the leap from PR to website to social media accounts. In addition, make sure to provide accurate contact information for journalists to follow up.
Prefer to leave it to the pros? Our on-staff journalists create epic press releases for maximum reach.
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Whether you’re a rookie writing your first press release or a veteran brushing up your skills, you’re ready to hit the ground running. Put your new knowledge into practice and start crafting amazing press releases today. Happy writing!
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