Putting together an issue of U.S. Tech is always filled with challenges, and sometimes some really nasty surprises. I had one of those surprises today, when I tried to copy a press release that had been sent in a PDF file from a major company. Usually, it's no problem — just copy the file's contents to my clipboard and then paste into a blank Word doc. But this PDF file was locked and password protected! It was a press release. Who were they protecting it from?
|Walter Salm, Editor|
A couple of days ago, I had another problem press release. I had to phone the company to ask for more information about the product involved. Fortunately we were in the same time zone. The text was very short and said absolutely nothing. I could not divine from it what the product was, and the photo was no help, either. "XYZ Company is pleased to announce its new XXX-279." Wouldn't it be nice to know what the XXX-279 is and what it's supposed to do? I had to talk to three different people at the company before someone could fill me in with the information. The person whose name appeared on the press release didn't have a clue, which I found rather curious. If she couldn't answer my questions, then why on earth was her name on the press release?
The ability to write a press release seems to be a disappearing art form. I smile in gratitude when I receive a release from someone who I know is an old pro in the PR business. The press release will contain the information that I need, and it will be professionally written. But too few companies want to spend the money on a professional writer or publicist. Over the years, I have worked on both sides of the fence. I knew as a publicist, there were deadlines to deal with — both for the client company and the publication where I wanted to place an item. I did this back in the days before the Internet made it so easy (and cheap) to disseminate information, and we had to rush to make the 5:00 p.m. U.S. Mail pickup.
Today, put a computer on someone's desk, and tell them to write a press release, and some people suddenly think they're Ernest Hemingway, but the truth is, they never are. Others are scared to death of the idea of having to write even a complete sentence.
Some press releases are so skimpy and devoid of information, that I get the impression that the writer is ashamed of the product. I need substance and details, not a lot of puff. And don't assume that just because you know exactly what the XXX-279 is, that I will also. You made the product and know all about it; I don't. Tell me what it is and what it does.
At the other extreme are the Hemingways cranking out press releases that are so long, I'm convinced the writer was being paid by the word. Pages and pages and pages. Back in the day, it would have cost some extra postage for being so much overweight. A product press release should be at least 250 words and never more than 350 words long. Period. Anything over that usually gets deleted. Are you going to leave it up to me to decide what to delete, or are you going to give me the meat and potatoes that I need?
Then there are the lengthy descriptions of the company's worldwide operations, and finally the 3-paragraph disclaimer for Wall Street. Okay, it's a given that all that will be deleted. This is not a novel, it's a press release.Finally, please, please, please include in the body text (not on a letterhead) the full company name, mailing address, phone, fax, e-mail for reader inquiries, and the web address. And include the e-mail address for the editorial contact in case I need more help — and put all this in a Word file please, not a PDF. And please also attach a hi-res photo of the product, separately, not embedded in the text — minimum of 300 dpi and 4 x 5 size photo. This will save me a lot of time trying to chase down the picture. Do all this and we'll help to make your company famous! We'll even buy you a hot dog at the next trade show.