Monday, June 30, 2008

How To (Not) Write A Press Release

I've always wanted to write this, but it looks like Hamilton Nolan at Gawker beat me to it:

  • Have news: When you sit down to write a press release, ask yourself, "Is this really news?" If the answer is no, get up from the table without writing the press release.

  • 5WPR: Ha, that's a little play on words on our part. It means that PR people should put the five W's into their press release right up top: "Who, what, when, where, and why." It also will help you remember not to act like the actual Ronn [sic] Torossian-led agency called 5WPR, in which the five W's stand for "What? Whoa. Wow. Who would" ever hire this incompetent PR firm?

  • Do nothing until we call you: Here's what most reporters (who aren't total hacks) do with a press release: skim it for the five W's (SEE ABOVE), then look at the bottom to find the contact number for the flack. You think we want to pull the robotic quotes that you wrote for your CEO right out of that wretched press release and put them in our stories as if he actually said them? Fuck you! We want to call you and harass you and ask you a long series of questions until you cough up a quote suitable for being read by human beings. And we want it now! Night shift, day shift, wire reporters—everybody is on deadline for right now, meaning that you, the flack, must be available to talk about it right now. Do not go pee. Sit by the phone and await our call! (Of course if you actually do have big news, all the reporters will patiently wait our turn like the bootlickers that we are).

  • Make sure all the shit in it is right: If we pull something directly out of a press release and put it in a story, and it then turns out to be wrong, we will cry and cry. Then blacklist you. The belief that reporters double-check basic facts in press releases is a myth.

  • No free stuff: This one is counterintuitive. In fact, plenty of companies send freebies ranging from t-shirts to tickets to liquor with their press kits, and it works beautifully. I guarantee it will increase your pickup. I also guarantee that it will slowly, almost imperceptibly, contribute to the erosion of a strong and independent news media, able to stand apart from the corporations it covers and deliver a judgment with only the public interest in mind. Of course, flacks don't really want a media like that, so you will continue to send free swag, and reporters will continue to eat it up. But think of THE PEOPLE, and refrain. It's the right thing to do.
Harsh, yes; exaggerated, true; but having worked on both sides of the fence, I agree wholeheartedly.

1 comment:

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