Press Release Blunders to Avoid

Writing and distributing press releases are essential to generating buzz about your business. But a poorly written release can do far more harm than good. Take a look at these common mistakes from openforum.com that could be detrimental to your image.

1. Being too positive

Of course, you're excited about your enterprise, and you want everyone to see just how remarkable it is. But the more glowing your praise, the more skeptical a reader will be.

Consider this opener from a cake shop's press release: "Approaching all manner of confectionery delights with an artist’s aesthetic, a hint of nostalgia, and a great deal of fun, the treats at this new store will have you ooh-ing and ah-ing, all while licking your lips and quietly giggling."

What have we learned about the cakes? Nothing. They could be the work of an acclaimed pastry chef or the work of a bored 16-year-old at a bake sale. And this press release could be the work of any hapless PR writer trying to find something to say about an unremarkable bakery.

A better bet? Stress the hard facts. "Owner Amy Williams has opened three successful restaurants, the latest of which was recognized as one of Bon Appetit's 'Best New Restaurants of 2009.'" "Since chef-owner Tim Lee's graduation from the Culinary Institute of America, he has worked in many of the region's best restaurants, most recently as the chef de cuisine at the Michelin-starred Ecco." This tells you something about what to expect. "The treats at this new store will have you ooh-ing and ah-ing" does not.

2. Forcing a hook

Maybe Valentine's Day is coming up, or the Super Bowl—and you want everyone to know that they should be celebrating at your restaurant.

It's fine to send special menus when there's a real reason to do so: your Thanksgiving hours and menu, your New Year's midnight champagne special. But menu specials for Arbor Day? Oscar-themed drinks three weeks before the Academy Awards? Don't force an event that's not there.

And don't even get us started on "current event" hooks with no relevance whatsoever. Consider this recent press release for a hookah bar:

"While Libya’s tribal-fueled strife to rid itself of the once charismatic Qadafi is tearing the country apart, the only thing all parties agree on is that Libya’s national hookah flavor is still Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, also available at Hash 55."
Capitalizing on global unrest to promote a hookah flavor? Not only is it contrived, it's confusing, irrelevant and runs the risk of being offensive. This sort of press release doesn't just get a "delete;" it gets a "delete with prejudice," inclining a writer to stay far, far away from the place.

3. A long setup

"In a city like Manhattan, where restaurants are constantly popping up and popping out, it almost seems a waste to devote your precious time to one particular place. While restaurant loyalty almost seems passé, there are days when even the most restless restaurant-goer secretly longs for a place to call home, even if just for the night…."
Fifty-seven words, and we've learned nothing about the restaurant? This e-mail has already been deleted. Get to the point.

4. Feigning familiarity with a publication or journalist

"Hi, Carey! How are you? Have you had a good March? Hope we get to catch up soon!" This came from a PR account girl I'd never met. If you start out with a fake-sounding greeting, the rest of your content will read as fake, too.
Just as bad is feigning familiarity with the publication you're hoping to pitch. "I was thinking that our restaurant would be a great fit for your Good Morning! feature" is a fine query if Good Morning! is a daily column, but a terrible idea if it's not a column at all—just the name of a recent article. Spend more than five minutes with the publication you want to pitch; the better you know it, the better you can pitch stories journalists will be interested in.

5. Not proofreading
Of course, this should be a given. But when an editor is reading through the 50 press releases she's been e-mailed that day, nothing makes her hit "delete" faster than a misspelled name or a sloppily-written document.

The most important things to check off? Spell the publication's name right. Spell the companies name right. And if there are any dates or times, triple-check those. Nothing gets a press release deleted faster than three follow-ups correcting previously misstated information.

And one last thing? If you're attaching a document, make sure it's the right draft; not an old version with "FILL IN NAME OF CHEF" and "ADD ONE MORE PARAGRAPH HERE" in bright red. Yes, we've seen this happen!

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