One of the more uncomfortable questions I’m often asked is, “What do you think of this press release?” Sometimes the most valuable selling point is buried towards the end. In other cases there’s so much fluffy nonsense it’s hard to figure out why the press release was even written. But in nearly every case, they read as if very little importance had been placed on the words selected. You’d think words might be vitally important for a press release yet words seem to earn as little attention as grammar, usage and punctuation. “Who cares about commas and sentence structure? Who cares about replacing ‘is’ with an action verb, you ask?” Well, consider these actual bios of just a few of the trade magazine editors who get to read these press releases – they also decide whether to use them or hit delete (the names and their magazines have been removed):
- … editor-in-chief … earned a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College.
- … joined as editor from the University of Akron, where she had taught English composition for three years after earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. She also has a 1985 master of fine arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis.
- … editor graduated from Ohio’s Bowling Green State University with an English degree
- … joins as editor after two-and-a-half years as a News Editor and has also been a high school English teacher and graduated from Northern Illinois University with a B.A. in English.
Editors care about words and notice when other writers do not care as much. Even one of the more respected chemical industry magazines has only a single chemical engineering degree on its entire editorial staff. The others studied English and journalism. Now see this introduction in an editorial by Anna Wells, Executive Editor, IMPO:
“As someone who spent the better part of college studying modern literary theory — a vocation so rich with complexity yet sparse in practical application — I can sympathize with the other liberal arts devotees out there: the ones with the music performance or art history degrees. Perhaps when I have a child in college and I am footing the bill, my understanding will lessen… but I hope not. For the sake of erudition (and the ability to use words like erudition in a sentence), I don’t regret the essays on Death in Venice, or the day I read The Sound & The Fury in UW-Madison’s Memorial Library stacks.”
Now, you can better see how a background in English affects how press releases are read. You can better see why it’s important to know when to use ensure or insure, and to know how to use the active voice and the passive voice (and which one to avoid in a press release). Just because you put 250 words on letterhead and call it a press release doesn’t mean it’s going to help your business. If you want your news to get published then you need to pay attention to what the editors pay attention to when reviewing written materials. I’d put words at the top of the list.