May 4, 2021
July 7, 2023
by
Claudia Pritchitt
PB Comms

How to effortlessly turn off editors with bad writing

As I was drafting a blog on how badly written media releases can kill a good story, I came across a Linkedin post by Andrew Birmingham, editor-in-chief at Which-50, addressed to public relations practitioners.Andrew said that every sentence in any release he received that started “I’m excited” or “We’re excited” will be deleted. The post led to several comments with examples of annoying phrases and words used in releases.Why do they annoy? Because they are overused, add no value, and get in the way.It’s a lesson I learned a long time ago as a journalist.Badly or carelessly written releases are an insult to journalists and their editors. They are professionals. Words and writing are their business. They are gatekeepers to what stories get used and what is binned. So, if they can’t be bothered to read past the first couple of sentences because of hyperbole, bad writing or because it seems to lack anything newsworthy, the chances are that release is dead in the water.Take the example of an appointment release. They are often written with breathless prose because the company sees them as very significant to them, when the facts are really simple and should be written that way.Too many releases start with something like “XYZ Funds Management is excited to announce the new appointment of Ms Anne Jones to head up its industry leading, highly sought after and successful, Opportunistic Equity Fund and take it to new levels”.A first sentence of an appointment release doesn’t need all that. Indeed, written this way it can even imply the existing staff haven’t been doing a very good job.Let’s pull it apart. Firstly, if it’s a media release it’s an announcement, so saying that you are announcing something is a waste of space. Every appointment is “new” so that can go as well. And the fact the company is excited surely goes without saying, so again it is unnecessary. After all, organisations are hardly likely to say, “We’re really thrilled to finally fill this role as our first two choices turned us down”.And the fund promotion in the first sentence is getting in the way of any news value. Have it in quotes later in the release perhaps, or maybe not at all if it’s an exaggerated claim.An opening like this comes across as confused and complicated and in need of heavy editing, if not a complete re-write. If a journalist has to do this, they’re likely to bin it or cut most of it, possibly including any key messages.So, forget about the dressing and let the facts speak for themselves. Open with “Ms Anne Jones has been appointed to head up the XYZ Fund Management Opportunities Equity Fund”.To me this has much more cut-through and makes it easier for a journalist to use and work with. It also sets the scene for information about the appointee, the position, the fund and the company later in the release.If the rest of the release is as tightly written and follows some basic rules, and if the journalist trusts the source, the chances are, they won’t need to edit it much, and can drop it into a space that needs filling. Easy.Another way to get a release binned is to scatter it with promotional guff, unnecessary adjectives and opinions delivered as facts.If you want to include these sorts of thing in a release, they need to go in quotes. And hyperbole and promotion (particularly self-promotion) should be used sparingly.Opinions used in quotes should be interesting, original (if possible), relevant and appropriate.There’s a lot more that can be said about creating usable media releases, but we can turn to that another time.

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