News releases: more news, less blah

A majority of public relations practitioners makes hashes out of the writing of news releases. It is unbelievable but true that in a business area that has been around for eons, this basic task is poorly done by most – often with predictable results.  Many of the releases distributed to news media these days are ignored by editors after quick glances. The ones that slip through the system often cause reporters to miss the key points of the stories they are presumed to tell.

One of the worst errors is starting the release by ‘backing into the lead.’ Here is an example:

OTTAWA, Nov. 10, 2016 /CNW/ – Veterans and their families have earnedImage result for news release the respect and gratitude of all Canadians. The Government of Canada is committed to supporting our Veterans – where they live – so that they have access to the critical services they need to help improve their quality of life.

While we agree with what is said about vets, the point is that editors have limited time to plow through news releases like this seeking the main point – the ‘headline’, ‘angle’, ‘hook’ – of the item. Quick now, what’s the hook of this release?  Give up? So will the editor, reporter or rewrite person looking for the most important part of this mess.

To get to the point, we have to fight through 64 words of blather and names of politicians. By this time, the average editor has lost interest in this release. Even if it is chosen for use, it likely will be published on Page 53 because it is so pedantic.

The angle should be: About 2,200 military veterans will see a return of services with the re-opening of The Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) office in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Why the hell couldn’t the writer have said this right up front?

Government writers are notorious for their lack of skills and/or their servile adherence to bureaucratic rules. But corporate PR writers aren’t any better when it comes to leading with the angle:

BRAMPTON, ON, Nov. 10, 2016 /CNW/ – Canon Canada, the company that introduced Canadian consumers to the EOS Rebel and PowerShot lines of digital cameras, is now enhancing the post capture experience for consumers.

Thanks to the advances in camera technology, more than a trillion digital images are taken each year. The Canon Innovation Lab saw a great opportunity to develop a solution that deals with the overwhelming task of sorting tens of thousands of digital photos with the swipe of a thumb.

 Jumpshot helps mobile photo takers focus on the images that matter to them and more importantly, consumers who use the app never have to worry about missing that important shot when their Camera Roll is full.

“Jumpshot is a great home-grown mobile app that simplifies the task of sorting through photo libraries,” said Stephen Yanofsky, Director of New Business and Strategic Initiatives for Canon Canada. “Since launching Jumpshot, the iOS version of the app has already helped users sort through more than 1.5 million images and delete close to half a million photos from their devices.”

And we still have not reached the ‘lead’ – the launch of a mobile version of Jumpshot; as if anyone cares at this point. The first sentence of this release should have read like this: Canon Canada has introduced its mobile version of Jumpshot, an app that enables users to sort through photo libraries.

PR people often blame their poor production of releases on the insistence of executives that the names of the company VIPs appear in the first paragraph of the release.  This is one way of guaranteeing the release won’t be used or that the real angle of the story will be missed by the reporter. Why don’t the PR people stand up for their craft instead of caving in to a short-sighted exec with not a modicum of media training? Better still, why don’t PR people learn how real reporters write news stories and come as close as they can to the same styles.

In this time of depleted newsroom staffs and untrained social media bloggers, there is more of a need than ever for the news release that needs no rewriting by the end publisher.

-GR