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How to guarantee your press release is toast

Press releases from law firm marketers and PR agencies remain a tried-and-true way to share information with the media.

And reporters and editors are constantly searching for new “content” to provide their readers, especially as attention spans get shorter and shorter.

All too often, though, things go awry. Over the years of reading many, many press releases, I have picked up what does, doesn’t and really doesn’t work. Here is a distillation of the biggest errors that will ensure a press release is quickly deleted, and thus dispatched to electronic hell. In a word, toast.

The following examples of what not to do come from my own inbox. Note: Names and locations have been changed to protect the guilty.

Be demanding from the get-go. Here is a message I received from a flack I didn’t know:

I have attached a press release we would like to have published as soon as possible. Please let me know when you have received this email and when it will be published.

Most reporters or editors aren’t going to jump and say to themselves, “Let me get right on that!” Don’t assume the close.

Fail to provide some news. Too many releases fail to provide the basic first-day-of-journalism-school info: the who, what, where, when and why. A law firm may have real information to share – a big verdict, a merger with another firm, selection of new leaders. We welcome that information. But be aware of what really doesn’t work. These items aren’t “fake news”…they’re no news:

  • A lawyer got an AV rating in Martindale-Hubbell. Nice for her to make the grade in the venerable lawyer directory, but there are 1.3 million lawyers in the U.S., and 10% get an AV Martindale rating. Your lawyer is one in 130,000.
  • A law firm just launched a new website. This is not 2002.
  • A law firm just hired a lawyer who is a “Virginia State Bar member.” Stop the presses!
  • A Virginia lawyer just passed the West Virginia bar. A law firm paid a PR agency to flog that?

Be cute in the headline.  A new law firm wanted everyone to know how edgy and progressive it was, so its release had a headline, “Progressive firm chooses Richmond as its headquarters.”

Wait, is this about Progressive Insurance? Was Flo named the managing partner?

Make yourself the story. Take this one: The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled on a case in which Charlottesville partner Bill Stevens served as the pro bono attorney representing a neglected child. The ruling clarifies an important issue in juvenile cases: the circumstances under which the parental rights of an incarcerated person can be terminated.”

This might be a helpful release with a real story in it. But here, the lawyer is trying to hog the limelight. It’s not about you; the news is the holding. You’ll get a call if we do a story and likely end up in the fourth or fifth paragraph. You might not like it, but we’re writing about your case, and that’s probably where you belong.

Pay no attention to who gets your release. We get some oddball releases from businesses and firms that seem to think that carpet-bombing the media is somehow effective. Spoiler alert: It isn’t. Know your intended recipient. Take the time to learn the media outlets that might actually use your information and determine just who is their audience.

One of the stranger releases we’ve ever received came from an outfit called the “Capital Diaper Bank.” It was one of those “so bad I can’t take my eyes off it” items. Turns out this group was seeking money and care for pre-schoolers and infants. Not exactly a good match for our audience.

And I don’t want to know how you make a deposit at the Capital Diaper Bank.

— Paul Fletcher