Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Haiku of Press Releases

Given the blizzard of announcements that cross the wire each day, getting your story in the national business press is tough. But PR people actually raise the odds against coverage by writing in a style I call "the haiku of press releases."

Haiku is a highly structured form of Japanese poetry wherein each poem always contains exactly 17 syllables and conveys a concise message. The vast majority of press releases also follow fixed stylistic methods, but with the opposite effect. The "haiku of press releases" buries the story beneath verbal clutter, meaningless phrases, and quotes that say nothing. I sometimes picture reporters scratching their heads as they pore over this drivel wondering, "What the heck is this thing all about?"

Herein are the worst elements of this PR haiku:

  • "So and so, a leader in such and such. . .": Every company issuing a release claims to be the leader in its field. Just once it would be refreshing to hear from someone that honestly acknowleges they're only in second or third place.
  • The Mandatory Executive Quote: Companies feel compelled to immortalize the wisdom of their CEO in a press release quote. No reporter worth his/her salt will fall back on printing a canned quote.
  • Happy Happy Executives: Many quotes inanely begin, "I am very pleased. . ." Who the heck cares? One former client had the CEO start each quote this way, prompting me to comment, "Gee, he must be happiest exec in the world."
  • Inventive Industry Designations That Say Nothing: In the quest to be different, marketing departments embrace bizarre ways to describe what a company does. My all-time favorite: The comms company that called itself an "applications gateway provider" or "AGP." Going belly-up a few months later, they indeed proved they were "a gyp" for customers and investors.
  • Unnamed Customer Wins for Unspecified Dollar Amounts. The first time I saw such an announcement I thought it was a joke. . .until an article appeared. Boiled down to its essence, the story said: "Company wins new business with somebody, for something."
I could go on, but let's stop there. Wouldn't it make more sense if press releases emulated the style of reporters - tight and concise like a wire service piece? A half-page announcement that simply stated the news, without hype, verbal false limbs, needless quotes and inflated prose would be far more welcome in a journalist's in-box.

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