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Wire Services Adrift In Heinous Headlines, Crappy Copy & Invisible Visuals

Wire Services Adrift In Heinous Headlines, Crappy Copy & Invisible Visuals

Does storytelling have a place in press releases?     Is it the answer to wire service woes?

Since my first days in public relations twenty-some years ago (horrors!), press releases have long held the throne as THE primary way to get facts to a journalist. We were taught to keep them brief, newsworthy and focused on just the facts – no fluff or embellishment.

But times are a changin’.

With the onset of self publishing, brand journalism, content marketing and social media, that throne is looking more than a bit tattered. It’s also taking a heavy toll on wire services, as they struggle to transform themselves into something more valuable.

As I look over today’s feed for what I consider the top three newswires, PRNewswire, Marketwired and Business Wire, all three of them are a snoozefest of investor news and appalling, self-absorbed copy that only a mother could love. Certainly not a journalist.

You could argue that a press release is SUPPOSED to be self-absorbed, since they are intended to promote company news. I’ll buy that. It’s cool…

But I won’t buy how many companies are finding it acceptable to pay for wire service on a press release so poorly written that it’s an embarrassment to that company. Heinous headlines, crappy copy and invisible visuals abound.

“What are invisible visuals,” you ask? Even though most of us know the impact of adding a visual or social component to a press release, most wire press releases don’t include them. They are invisible because they simply aren’t there.

No wonder wire “news” is only picked up by syndicated, automated news feeds that nobody actually reads.

I’m not sure if it is stemming from businesses who still don’t get the importance of hiring specialists in PR to do it right, or from PR pros that should know better, but either way, it certainly underscores just how critical writing skills are in the scheme of things, right?

Writing skills aside… Not only are more and more of us questioning the value of a press release, but wire services distribution has largely become the bastion of investor relations meeting disclosure requirements. Their value as a tool to land editorial interviews and coverage (other than copy/paste pickups) are evaporating like ice cream on a Phoenix sidewalk.

Perhaps the problem isn’t the wire service or the press release. What if it’s our inability as PR pros to think outside of the box and break tradition?

Rethinking How We Write A Press Release

We’ve always been taught to write a press release as factual as possible. No fluff, just basic facts considered newsworthy enough to tantalize that journalist into writing something about your news or schedule an interview.

I had lunch today with Malcolm Atherton of PRNewswire. Smart guy, smart company. When we were talking about the industry and where it is headed, an interesting point came up.

Why can’t we use press releases for storytelling?

If journalists need visuals to pique their interest in a story and are so busy that successful pitching requires handing them a well-packaged story on a silver platter – why can’t we use press releases in a way that makes it happen? Why can’t we paint the visuals with words, not just images?

Ultimate Las Vegas Valentine PairingMalcolm mentioned that one of the most successful press releases this year was the MGM Resorts release, “Ultimate Las Vegas Valentine’s Day Pairing Menu.”

Go take a look, then come back to this post.


Why This Press Release Worked So Well

Nice press release, right? It was created by Kirvin Doak Communications (great job, you guys!)

Here’s why I think it worked so well.

  • It’s well-written. Infused with a storytelling vibe and fairly entertaining to read, this press release wasn’t boring. It reads like a piece of editorial. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that even a few publications that don’t normally run a press release verbatim copied and pasted this one right in with no hesitation. Kudos to the writer!
  •  It promotes without overtly promoting. This press release features five MGM Resort restaurants, but it doesn’t actually SAY they are MGM properties. They are seamlessly blended into a well-thought-out story. I like it!
  • The more we become accustomed to content marketing and reading valuable, educational content, the more jarring old school promotional copy is becoming. Even to journalists. It stands out and irritates the reader like a pair of unbroken in hiking boots. It just rubs the wrong way after reading something that is immensely helpful. This press release blends reader (and journalist) expectations for getting value from the time invested in reading a piece of content with the company’s need to promote. It’s a smooth piece of promotion that doesn’t irritate.
  • It includes a visual, plus links to high-resolution photography for journalists via a PitchEngine page. When you give a journalist a story with visuals, it makes their job MUCH easier and improves the odds they will cover your story. It makes a difference.
  • It’s timely and the topic fits consumer interests. Assuming they received it long before they put their February 14th issue together, what local consumer publication WOULDN’T cover this story? It’s a natural.

Change is afoot at PRNewswire

On somewhat of a side note – I have to say that I rather like what PRNewswire is doing for its news page. I hadn’t visited their website for a while and the change is fantastic. The landing page for their news feed is starting to look like a content-friendly magazine, pulling out non-IR news to keep the feed interesting. It’s far more interesting than the average news feed that drones on and on, forcing the reader to sort out usable content. It also has some great sidebar navigation, very user-friendly!

PRNewswire screenshot

They have some interesting new services lined up for launch in the near future, so put them on your “PR vendor to watch” list.

Business Wire has been my favorite wire service for a variety of reasons, but I just might have to rethink that.

Anyways – back on topic – out of all the things this press release does right, the storytelling aspect of it intrigues me the most. Since we have always been taught to NOT be creative with a press release, instead favoring copy that limited itself to just the facts… what would happen if we flip that on its ear?

I think we should all test it out with our next press release. Tell a story. Have fun with it.

If you do, share a link to your press release here. I’d love to read it!

Are you a Facebook fan? Get your chance to win a free copy of @gbraud’s PR book, “Don’t Talk To The Media, Until...” by leaving a comment on this post, then liking my page at https://www.facebook.com/RockTheStatusQuo. The most interesting or insightful comment by EOD on Friday wins the book! It’s a really fantastic read.

About Carrie Morgan

Senior digital PR consultant - public relations, content marketing, social media & SEO. Author. Speaker. Feisty word nerd. #PRprochat founder.

CarrieMorgan moderator 5pts

My apologies for announcing this so late - I've been out of the office for over a week with my dad in the hospital. But for the book giveaway... it goes to Sue Kern-Fleischer! Congrats, Sue, and thanks for the great input. =)

Dmurrow 5pts

 Great to see two of my fave PR-social media thinkers in the same blog post! 

SueKern Fleischer
SueKern Fleischer 5pts

Yes, storytelling is important, but I've also seen some news releases go on and on...and the lead is buried so far down that anyone reading it would have to really dig deep to find it. But since most wire service fees are based on the number of words, I think most PR professionals know they need to get to the point quickly. I'll never forget working on a freelance project for a high-end jeweler many years ago...the advertising director asked me to write a news release for PRNewswire but the client did not want to spend the extra funds to send a photo. I couldn't believe they did not take my advice and distributed the release without the photo...and of course, got very little coverage.

NatalieBering 5pts

Great post, Carrie! I am a colleague of Malcolm's and we are consistently discussing ways to help our clients shift their definition of what content should be syndicated, and how it should be crafted. The media is looking for creative, interesting, and helpful! Giving them all the pieces to create their version of the story will increase the opportunity for true earned pick up. 

Malcolm Atherton
Malcolm Atherton 5pts

Great post, Carrie. Thank you for the reference. Good content will always prevail ("If they care they will share..."). I've seen an unhealthy # of press releases in my day and the ones that do the best are the advisories designed to resonate with the audience in a literal how-will-this-help-me kind of way.  Writing good content - press releases/content advisories, blog posts, social posts, etc. - is hard work and it saddens me when I see creative that lacks an understanding of what the audiences need. 

I love the MGM/Valentine's Day Wine Pairing example because it made MGM the helpful experts. It addressed a known need and was written in a way that was useful.  I get that all copy can't be unbranded like this but this does showcase how companies need to get out of the way in their advisories/releases, posts, and other assets in order to showcase their expertise. Be helpful and the audience(s) will soon learn who the helpful company is.

The press release in it's long, canned-quote, corporate vernacular format is not attractive to me.  The "content advisory**" - written for the audience with a clear goal of being helpful and achieving a goal, whether that be amplifying a blog post, promoting the benefits a new service or product will bring to it's users (in their terms!), etc. - is a great and agile tool.


** NOTE: I use the term content advisory there but a content advisory on PR Newswire is the same thing as a press release on PR Newswire. When YOU create your content that Word document is a blank canvas. Use it wisely. Kick your brand guidelines to the curb.  The term "content advisory" is meant merely to get communicators and marketers to think of press release syndication differently. 

CarrieMorgan moderator 5pts

@Dmurrow Nice!! So what do you think - should we use storytelling in press releases, or stick to just the facts?

CarrieMorgan moderator 5pts

@SueKern Fleischer I run into that quite a bit, too, where companies won't spend the extra to include an image - even when you explain the difference it makes in placements, they just won't do it. Crazy! It's like being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

CarrieMorgan moderator 5pts

@Malcolm Atherton Hey, Malcolm - can I email you a few questions on the difference  between a content advisory, media advisory and press release? It would make an interesting post.

Malcolm Atherton
Malcolm Atherton 5pts

@CarrieMorgan @SueKern Fleischer Agreed. This is a general statistic of course, but we (PRN) audit text vs. text+asset releases and on average see 1.9x as many human views for releases with a photo or video vs. plain text.

When multiple assets are included with other pieces that tell a story (see: our Multimedia News Release offering) that number jumps higher to 9.7x more views on average when video, imagery, etc. are included.

The brain processes imagery 6,000x faster than text. When 50% of Web visitors (per a recent TIME study) bounce off of a Web page within 15 seconds a good image MAY be the difference between staying and going. It also give the media, bloggers, et al. something to use to retell the tale.