Avoiding PR blah: achieving PR hoorah!

Becky Mellor has been a senior account manager at Highland Marketing for six months. That’s put her into contact with a lot of journalists: and given her some valuable insight into what they do – and don’t – want from a press release. Here’s her quick guide to making sure that your release makes it into publication; and not into the trash.

I’m six months into my role here at Highland Marketing. That means I’ve been working directly with journalists for half a year, and in that time it’s fair to say that I’ve learned a lot about the other side of the coin.

The other side of the coin being the journalist’s perspective on what counts as news (vs the marketing manager’s perspective).

One of the things I’ve learned is that press releases written by in house marketing teams fail to get across “the story.”

Answering the right questions
PR is written from the corporate’s perspective. Does the PR position the technology correctly? Does the message align with the corporate objective? Are the USPs clearly communicated?

For a journalist, these are the wrong questions. A journalist wants to know: what happened, and when? What impact did it have? Why should readers care enough to keep reading their story or analysis piece?

Does this mean tension is inevitable between PRs and reporters? Not at all. Let’s not forget that the role of PR is to attract your target audience. Would the answers to your corporate questions resonate with your customers? No. Then why expect them to thrill a journalist or reader?

What can go wrong
The result of misusing or under-using PR is that potential results are unrealised and investment underperforms. So, I am taking what I have learned and I am sharing some full (unedited) journalist feedback with you.

Firstly, where are we going wrong? It pains me to confess this after 11 years in marketing but the truth is that we are putting out press releases that have:

  • Too much jargon
  • Are too generic
  • Feel bland
  • Have too many adjectives (what is it about the corporate world that sets our default to passive voice and descriptive overload?)
  • Are not written with an audience in mind… and…
  • (The big one) are too focused on corporate messaging.

How to get it right
Secondly, what can we do better? Here’s some tips from our in-house health IT journalists to help steer you away from what one of my colleagues calls PR ‘blah’.

  • Tech speak: Tech speak can be fine for a tech publication. The problem comes when a techy press release gets pitched to other outlets, that are less interested in the tech per se, than what difference it made, often to quite a specific audience – like a particular clinical group or local people. So think about writing different releases for these groups or, if that’s not possible, focus in on what has happened and why it matters and explain all the tech talk as clearly as possible.
  • Quotes: Don’t turn quotes into long lists of adjectives that are clearly not quotes (a “tell” is that it’s impossible to read them aloud). Journalists and their readers need information, and want to know that what they are being asked to publish or read is credible, so if someone involved in the project has given you a good quote on how something has worked out, put it in, and don’t try to “improve” on it.
  • Avoid that ‘blah’: Don’t turn actual details (x patients will get access to y data and their doctors will be able to do z with it) into ‘blah’ (an initial cohort of patients will be engaged through the platform, which is part of our commitment to creating new and innovative programmes to improve the quality of services we deliver to our community). Journalists are too busy to wade through this kind of stuff – and so are readers!
  • Corporate messaging – don’t bother: Removing details and “polishing” quotes may make your press release more in line with corporate messaging, but it will massively reduce its usefulness. A journalist is only going to have to call up and ask what all this PR speak means, if they can still raise the energy to use it!

Some things to think about
My journalist colleagues have a few more tips. Most of these revolve around a key message: reporters are busy. They’re much more likely to use your release if they can work out quickly what it’s about and why their publication should be interested. So:

  • The headline: Again, avoid jargon or corporate speak that doesn’t actually say anything. The headline should look to draw out something tangible, either for staff or patients. Keep it simple and spell out exactly what it means for IT, staff, patients or whoever your readers are going to be.
  • Don’t bury the news: Your news – what’s happened, the outcomes or benefits – should be front and centre stage. If yours are buried in paragraph three you need to move them to the headline and opening paragraph. Don’t feel the need to write things in chronological order.
  • Length: You may have been advised in the past to keep your press releases short. This is misleading. Some news stories require more space. The rule should be that all information being relayed is relevant and written to encourage the journalist to read on. If, however, you write a piece that ignores all the advice above and it goes on for two pages then you can guarantee you’ll get disappointing results and damage your credibility.
  • Provide a standfirst: Put simply, journalists find press releases without one annoying.

More things to think about
What type of questions should shape your PR copy?

  • How would you tell a former colleague or friend about your strategy / project / product / or app?
  • Which bits would you pick out for them as being interesting or worthwhile?
  • What information is being made available that wasn’t accessible previously?
  • What does this new information enable?
  • How much money, or time, will be saved from XXX?
  • What is the impact on staff?
  • What is the impact on the patient?
  • Do you have good evidence, or good quotes, that support what you are saying?

When you get it right…
Here’s some feedback we have received recently from editors in the industry which provides some insight into what is important for them.

Matthew Driver, managing editor, The Journal of mHealth: “Of all the agencies that send me material, Highland Marketing is by far the best for providing relevant, engaging and high quality content. I can rely on Highland to provide the latest news in healthcare from a wide range of organisations, and to offer authoritative opinion pieces of interest to our readership.

Story ready material that translates complex issues into understandable and accessible copy, makes my life so much easier in relaying important healthcare stories to our readers. An email from the Highland team will always be opened by my editorial team, and I would highly recommend them to anyone who wants to get their story out.”

John Whelan, group editor, Hospital Matters, Hospital Times and Commissioning Journal: “Highland Marketing provides a rich source of content relevant for readers across our range of healthcare publications. Members of the team show a strong understanding of healthcare trends, of our readers and our editorial priorities.

“I regularly draw on the high quality material and insights from NHS organisations and technology providers sent to us from Highland, which we can quickly and easily consume for our readers. Modern day publishing requires the ability to create high quality stories quickly – content from Highland’s clients is invariably useful in this mission.”

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