Who are your press releases written for?

B2B Rainmaker covers a subject I’ve been banging on about for years in Why most press releases suck and are a waste of time. As an industrial trade magazine editor for nearly 15 years, I probably read (or at least glanced at) anything from 50,000 to 100,000 press releases, and as editor of Engineeringtalk from 2000 to 2007, I either edited or supervised the publishing of another 50,000. I think it’s safe to say I’ve seen just about everything.

And it’s true: most press releases are rubbish, including those from professional PR agencies, who just produce what the customer wants. Business-to-business press releases usually try to conform to what the company thinks a press release should look like (which is far too pompous), and fatally try to communicate their message simultaneously to both a lay audience and to technical specialists.

Back in the eighties and early nineties, trade magazines were well-staffed editorially, and could do a good job for their readers. In my first job, as assistant editor on Whats new in Processing, I might have responsibility for just half a dozen pages a month, which might mean having to research, select and edit just three or four “product news items” a day. I could actually take the time to re-write them from “press release speak” into something process engineers (our readers) found interesting, concentrating on benefits rather than features, of course. Because we had so much time to work on them, it wasn’t so important that a press release would have been so alien to readers if it had ever been seen in public as originally written. However, the few which were written with readers/customers in mind would certainly get favourable treatment from editorial departments!

By the start of this decade, trade magazines had slashed their editorial staff to the extent that many magazines were just thrown together, and press releases would be published almost as written. In addition, web-based publications (pioneered by the likes of Engineeringtalk) just published press releases “straight to the reader” with very little editing. So it became crucial that press releases were written directly for the reader. And were they? Were they heck. Go and have a look at a typical website which syndicates press releases and see how many actually read like interesting articles to potential customers, focusing on benefits and assuming a high degree of technical knowledge. But prospects represent the majority of the people who’ll be reading them, and they’re the most important readers too. Who are your press releases written for?

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