Press Releases: Content Formatting in the Age of 140 Characters

Yesterday morning, I sent over an email to Todd Defren and Brian Solis, champions of the Social Media Press Release (which I’ve critiqued in the past) offering some suggestions.

Recently, I’ve been receiving some press releases where the real important news isn’t in the leading paragraph. I had to hunt and read through the rest of the content (maybe that was their strategy) to find out what was really important. I sent an email back to the PR firm, suggesting that they get their writing funnel’ tightened up, I don’t have a lot of time, and most press releases get a quick scan –few get a deep read.

If a PR firms is representing a company in the social media space, then they really need to make sure content is formatted to the medium where information is spreading fastest –for today, that would be Twitter. Twitter limits messages to just a short sentence, 140 characters to be exact, and encourages people to be on point and succinct. Go over to Todd’s blog to read more of his thoughts on the topic.

Takeaway: If your market is in the social media space, press releases should have content summarized for 122 characters, and leave enough space for is.gd (a “tiny url” that’s composed of exactly 18 characters)

19 Replies to “Press Releases: Content Formatting in the Age of 140 Characters”

  1. Great tips! I don’t know if you’ve had an opportunity to check it out yet, but PitchEngine allows PR pros to build and share SMRs on their own. They can even Tweet, post to FriendFeed and Facebook from within the app. Would love for you to see it- AP style releases (lead first) still integrated.

    http://pitchengine.com/alpha

    Thanks!

  2. I think twitter and other microblogging sites are going to be the end of press releases as we know it. I never read press releases any more. I want the first paragraph to tell me everything that I can learn. If not, it goes poof! My tollerence for verbiage is decreasing day after day. Who ever thought that the typical quote from the CEO/President was doing anything to add to the release any way.

  3. This makes so much sense. Twitter has become a primary notification of news for a increasing number of people. Of course they can follow up with a more detailed source, but the 140 characters can be invaluable.

  4. Jeremiah,

    While I appreciate all attempts to squash the press release as we know it, I think they still have their place (and believe it or not, we STILL have journalist who won’t look at our news UNLESS we have a press release to show them – I swear it’s true). As you know, I love the relationship building aspect of Twitter, but I don’t think Twitter and a social media style release is the end all to the press release “problem”. I also think it goes without saying that you should put your news into 120/140 words and link to the actual release – we should all be doing that now. But you still have to make sure the right people see it – if you don’t rep Apple or Microsoft, no one is going to your Twitter page, checking your blog, etc. looking for your news.

    So, I agree with everything you and Todd are saying in general and I commend Todd’s efforts in this area, but there is still a piece missing and its actual communication between the company and the journalist (esp the ones you might not already know) and the work that goes into ensuring the “story” not just the news is relevant and interesting. Seeing that “xx is doing xx” on Twitter with a link to the actual release might be of interest, but individualizing the news to a journalist is still important.

    Look at what journalist/blogger pages all say – read my blog before pitching me, know what’s of interest to me, tell me why your news should matter to me specifically, show me you are reading my blog/articles. This is what is missing with this approach. I have read Todd’s blog post on this, and I do think its fantastic, but we all know you CAN’T have a relationship with every single journalist/blogger who might have interest in your news. Certainly relationships matter, but if my client has news in a vertical- say gaming – I might not know EVERY gaming blogger/journalist that might care about the news. So I still have to “make” the news matter to them, and 122 words and a tinyURL can’t always do that. I have built what I think are very good relationships with many journalists, but I sure don’t know them all, nor do any of us, so we still have to depend on our ability/skills to personalize the news for each and not rely on our “rolodex.”

    That said – I do believe we could all be a lot less verbose and I will continue to help our industry do a MUCH better job as a whole than we’ve clearly been doing. 😉

    –Lisa Dilg

  5. As an avid Twitter user and a 20-year PR veteran, I think it’s important to remember two things: REAL news is generally more complex than 140 characters and those of us who use Twitter live in a bubble.

    Good writers know not to bury the lead. Jeremiah, if the press releases you’re getting have done that, then the people writing them are woefully uneducated about journalistic style and/or the client is mucking up the message. If a company’s news is “fluff” (and many so-called press releases are), then they may be better off Tweeting about it or following other avenues to promote themselves . Since most executives live and breathe their business 24/7, they have a hard time realizing that what is important to them isn’t important to most other people. I always have to explain to clients what is and isn’t newsworthy because they really don’t know. But many PR people don’t do this – they’ll do anything their clients tell them to do, whether it makes sense or not. It is, after all, billable time!

    I’ve been eyeing the social media press release for quite awhile and might use some of its features at some point, but it really just represents a formatting change to enable links and feeds for the social media sites. Frankly, I find the format design to be complete visual overload. Where does one look first to find the salient points? If I were to use it, I’de scale it WAY down to make sure the important information didn’t get lost in a blizzard of competing (and potentially less important) data on the page.

    The one thing I know with absolute certainty is that it is our job as PR pros to FOCUS journalists’ attention on what’s really important. This is also what I tell clients during media training. Don’t provide a bunch of extraneous, marginally-related info because a journalist might hone in on something non-essential. Journalists (and analysts) are super busy people. They live by deadlines. They don’t have time to sift through and process lots of data to figure out what’s important. I think the social media release could actually be counter-productive in this regard.

    Furthermore, most journalists who don’t work in the tech sphere are “old school.” They are writers, not early adopters. Bloggers are a different breed, but I still wouldn’t want them to lose sight of the important points by overwhelming them with options.

    As for Twitter, most people I know outside of the Web 2.0 crowd do not use Twitter and think it’s just another form of instant messaging. I love Twitter (that’s how I get your feeds!), but most of the Tweeters I know wouldn’t be that helpful from a PR standpoint. A savvy PR plan would incorporate Twitter (and any other communications platform) when the target audience is relevant – or not.

    Now, I’ll figure out how to summarize this in 140 characters. 🙂

  6. Pratik you had a role before where you had to read press releases? It’s part of my job as an analyst.

    My point is this: if press releases can simplify the announcement for rapid deployment in twitter, folks may be more likely to tweet it -spreading if further.

  7. Pprlisa

    Spot on, no one is suggesting that the traditional press release, social media press release, nor a tweet replace human relationships about getting to know one’s market. Recently, I found Arrington’s post on encouraging PR folks to actually lead their market is a good idea.

    “Until then, take the time to start reading blogs and other publications that cover what you’re doing. Go to an event or two. This should be fun for you, since they’re writing about stuff that you’re spending all your time on. You’ll start to see links to other relevant sites, and before long you’ll fully understand who’s who in the space, get a feel for people’s personalities and passions, etc. Leave a few thoughtful comments. Better yet, start your own blog and link appropriately. And in your leisure time participate in the fascinating conversations occurring on Twitter and FriendFeed.”-Arrington

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/08/13/the-pr-roadblock-on-the-road-to-blissful-blogging/

  8. Carri

    We agree, in my post, one of my caveats was if you’re in the tech or social media space. This obviously doesn’t apply to heathcare, finance, or insurance.

    I agree with your points on the SMPR, more isn’t necessarily better.

    I hope my friend Jennifer Jones chimes in….

  9. Since most executives live and breathe their business 24/7, they have a hard time realizing that what is important to them isn’t important to most other people. I always have to explain to clients what is and isn’t newsworthy because they really don’t know. But many PR people don’t do this – they’ll do anything their clients tell them to do, whether it makes sense or not. It is, after all, billable time!

    I like this statement regardless of whether or not we’re talking about a social media press release.

    I think Jeremiah is speaking about a specific tactic here. In fact, to the right people, like Jeremiah, you’ll get bonus points for knowing this secret handshake. And, that is a big part of what social media is all about. It’s socializing. You don’t speak with your friends or even acquaintances in the tones most use on a traditional press release. Traditional journalism was all about being unbiased. But, in the social media world, it’s all about the rules that have governed interaction between people socializing. Etiquette is more important than long-standing notions of “professionalism”. And, shortening one’s message to a person like Jeremiah to 122 chars with an is.gd link is respectful to him, and therefore a useful tactic for connecting with him and other infovores. As Jeremiah and Carri both said, this tactic won’t work for reaching everyone.

    If only Cision were easy to use and someone could maintain a database of preferences for media and analysts. Or, better yet, a CRM like service for tracking conversations with media and analysts. PR professionals could maintain their own conversations and share notes with other PR professionals they trust. Much in the same way I wouldn’t give out a quality contact’s phone number to someone I thought would upset my friend.

  10. Thanks Jeremiah,

    I actually addressed that post in the comments and Mike wrote back. In the face of SO much PR criticism, I really do appreciate everyone’s efforts, bloggers, journalists, competitors, etc.., who are trying to make things better, not just complaining about what’s not right.

    I consider you to be one of the most level headed analyst/bloggers out there who tries to see both sides.

    –Lisa

  11. >>If only Cision were easy to use and someone could maintain a database of preferences for media and analysts. Or, better yet, a CRM like service for tracking conversations with media and analysts. PR professionals could maintain their own conversations and share notes with other PR professionals they trust. Much in the same way I wouldn’t give out a quality contact’s phone number to someone I thought would upset my friend.

  12. Oops– my comment on Justin’s comment (above) didn’t make it on the post.

    Justin, I share your pain. Bacon’s/Cision is hopelessly clunky and ill-suited for what we need today. Let’s build the CRM and share the secret handshake with those who get it.

  13. Thanks pprlisa, however I didn’t understand the value of the PR role till I got this position, I’m learing every day.

    Carri, now that’s interesting thought: a MRM or ARM, heck heve BRM (blogger relationship management tool). The only challenge you’ll have is that some may not want to share their contacts with others, as Justin says, trust is key.

  14. I agree that getting news out on Twitter is the way to go for certain audiences, but I think the traditional press release will live on as the mainstay for documenting key corporate events.

    Don’t forget – most journalists don’t read press releases unless they are pushed at them. Companies should use releases to reach other audiences directly – potential investors, business partners, employees and more.

  15. In my opinion the “Social Media Release” is only one piece of a two part puzzle. There’s a distinct difference between the Social Media Release and having a Social Media Strategy. In my mind, PR should not only understand these are growing trends… they should already be doing it, and perfecting it.

    So what’s a social media release?
    It’s a clean, clear, humanized press release. It should be outward focused (on the customer and audience). Similar to a 140 character Twitter message, it should be short and sweet — and it should lead with the “meat and potatoes” first and be supported with the finer details farther into the text (also known as the inverted pyramid approach).

    Most importantly it should the ingredients for what truly makes it a social media release:

    * embeddable content
    * embeddable photos
    * embeddable video
    * links to other relevant websites
    * key quotes and testimonials from the source
    * the use of social tools to bookmark it (digg, delicious, facebook)
    * tags for indexing, SEO and discoverability (so there’s an understanding of what keywords are relevant)
    * subscriptions via RSS

    Bottom line, a social media release gives you everything you need to discover/learn, share, and MOST importantly — everything you need to retell the story.

    The second piece to the puzzle is having a Social Media Strategy. This is having the wherewithal and experience of how to engage in the right areas online to publish and post your information. It also needs to be within the areas it’s most relevant and has value. Brian Solis recently created a helpful ‘Conversation Prism’, a chart that illustrates where conversations are taking place in the online space.

    The implications? No longer does your website function as just the hub in which you disseminate out information. Much like in marketing, where the people are communicating — you should be there too, engaged as well.

    On a more holistic level, PR is shifting to a role of understanding how to tap the key influencers online and/or allow anyone to have the necessary assets to provide their take on the story. Being a gatekeeper of information shouldn’t be the focus in PR. Establishing an open relationship and conversation with the people who are writing the stories is what it’s all about. It’s happening already — except people are going about extracting the information on their own (also referred to as the groundswell). PR should embrace and augment the “story creation” process for bloggers and people online. While it’s scary to swallow, it’s about enabling audiences to take your information and run with it.

  16. Jeremiah,

    While I appreciate all attempts to squash the press release as we know it, I think they still have their place (and believe it or not, we STILL have journalist who won’t look at our news UNLESS we have a press release to show them – I swear it’s true). As you know, I love the relationship building aspect of Twitter, but I don’t think Twitter and a social media style release is the end all to the press release “problem”. I also think it goes without saying that you should put your news into 120/140 words and link to the actual release – we should all be doing that now. But you still have to make sure the right people see it – if you don’t rep Apple or Microsoft, no one is going to your Twitter page, checking your blog, etc. looking for your news.

    So, I agree with everything you and Todd are saying in general and I commend Todd's efforts in this area, but there is still a piece missing and its actual communication between the company and the journalist (esp the ones you might not already know) and the work that goes into ensuring the “story” not just the news is relevant and interesting. Seeing that “xx is doing xx” on Twitter with a link to the actual release might be of interest, but individualizing the news to a journalist is still important.

    Look at what journalist/blogger pages all say – read my blog before pitching me, know what's of interest to me, tell me why your news should matter to me specifically, show me you are reading my blog/articles. This is what is missing with this approach. I have read Todd's blog post on this, and I do think its fantastic, but we all know you CAN'T have a relationship with every single journalist/blogger who might have interest in your news. Certainly relationships matter, but if my client has news in a vertical- say gaming – I might not know EVERY gaming blogger/journalist that might care about the news. So I still have to “make” the news matter to them, and 122 words and a tinyURL can’t always do that. I have built what I think are very good relationships with many journalists, but I sure don’t know them all, nor do any of us, so we still have to depend on our ability/skills to personalize the news for each and not rely on our “rolodex.”

    That said – I do believe we could all be a lot less verbose and I will continue to help our industry do a MUCH better job as a whole than we’ve clearly been doing. 😉

    –Lisa Dilg

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