Why Your Press Release Sucks

The following article originally ran in 2017 at michaelmolenda.com, but some industry types recently asked for permission to distribute it on their sites, so I thought, “Hey, time to publish that puppy again.” I hope it helps you engage media people more effectively and productively — MM

In my 40-plus years as a journalist and chief editor, I’ve been bombarded by gazillions of press releases. Sadly, in the last few years, I’ve been appalled by a terminal drop in the quality — and usefulness — of many of the media releases that creep into my email In Box.

Obviously, there are some great publicists out there who pen concise and informative press releases. They are the minority. All others should ask themselves one simple question before sending a release to a professional content provider: “Would a busy editor waste his or her time absorbing the shoddy blather I’m asking them to read?”

Myself, I scan and trash such atrocious releases swiftly and with extreme prejudice. Like most editors managing print products, daily web content, and myriad social-networking posts, my deadlines are brutal, mean, and downright hurtful, and any element that doesn’t help me do my job is something I avoid at all costs.

So, if you want me — and, I assume, other professional editors — to stop ignoring your emails, please make sure your press releases DO NOT suffer the following blunders:

I Don’t Know Who You Are, But I’m Sending My Release Anyway

So you couldn’t spend a few moments to familiarize yourself with the staff of the magazine/website that you are targeting to consider coverage? Delete.

I Don’t Know Your Audience, But I’m Sending My Release Anyway

There’s a flaming blood bath in media hell for publicists who don’t do research and waste editors’ time with inappropriate press releases. I worked for Guitar Player (the magazine title should be a clue) and now produce Guardians of Guitar (again, that “guitar” word), but I get releases daily for deejays who don’t play guitar, pop singers who don’t play guitar, products that have nothing to do with guitar, and movies and television shows that don’t feature guitars or guitar players. Delete.

I’ll Engage You With Oh-So-Clever Info Tidbits About My Artist

I dig “entertainment” as much as anyone, but when I’m considering articles, I have little patience for publicists who try too hard to engage my interest—especially if the “compelling news” has nothing to do with the content I publish. Stuff like, “Artist X was once a policeman who saved a koala from drowning,” or “Artist Y had to overcome drug addiction and a game knee,” or “Artist W is also a airline pilot and a splatter-paint artist” can likely go viral in pop-media circles, but those silly little nothings won’t impress the core readers I serve. It’s not that editors are heartless or humorless, but backstories only work if the angle you’re promoting is of explicit interest to the audience the editor serves. The Guardians of Guitar community wants to know about guitar tone, guitar gear, guitar technique, guitarcraft, and guitar players. I’ve never received a request from a reader asking for a story about koala-saving policemen—even the ones that play guitar.

You Want Info, You Got Info. Lots of It.

Long press releases make my tummy hurt. Long press releases with multi-layered and/or confusing narrative expeditions make my brain ache. If it takes me three seconds to NOT understand precisely what you want me to do, then at 3.1 seconds your release has been deleted. I really don’t have time to unravel the mysteries of your press request. Learn how to stay on point. I’ve actually distributed press releases to my staff that NO ONE has yet been able to decipher. Really.

I’ll Send a Photo, But I Won’t Explicitly Identify All the Members of the Band

Identifying people in a photograph is something a publicist should learn in Publicity Nursery School, but I get crushed and angered by unidentified somebodies all the time. I’m so tired of having to Google artists and band members (and engineers and producers and session players) to (hopefully) identify them for MY readers, that I’m actually lobbying for making this offense a felony. I’d assume you WANT the person who is paying you to promote them to be clearly identified. Oh, and, trust me, if I can make that felony charge stick, I’ll ask the judge to add a few years to your sentence if you misspell any names (people, albums, studios, etc.). The takeaway: If I feel that I must fact check your press release, I’d much rather hit Delete.

I’d Better Hype This Up So They Know It’s Important

I — and most editors — don’t “see” hype, so save your groovy adjectives for your literary opus. Good information is much sexier than overwrought promotional prattle.

So What Makes a Press Release Not Suck?

While I can only truly answer for myself and Guardians of Guitar, I do believe that editors from other newspapers, magazines, and websites might agree with my wish list. My desires are few and simple…

• A Short & Clear Email Subject Line

“New Album by Slash.”

“Fender Releases Rodeo Series Electrics.”

“AC/DC Tour Dates Added.”

• A Tiered Headline that Pumps Up Critical Info

Slash Releases Amadeus

New Album Covers the Hits of Austria’s Falco

Guest Stars Include Thompson Twins and Nena

• Concise & Useful Explanatory Text

Let’s say the press release is about that new Slash album. Minimally, I’d want the official release date, the record company, studio name(s), album producer(s), album engineer(s), additional guest stars, whether an EPK exists and where to see it, whether a promo video exists and where to see it, and a quote about the making of the album from Slash.

• A Photo with All People Correctly Identified

I get positively giddy over photo captions with left-to-right identifications of all parties. Names must be spelled correctly. Extra high-five if photographer credit is included. Super bonus if the image is high-resolution. Same goes for gear—especially if a series of products is displayed in one photo.

• Pertinent Links Included

I want to click to the artist’s or gear manufacturer’s website directly to the news page. Please don’t send me to the home page and make me click around for the info I need. I also want to click to a new video and/or a SoundCloud (or other audio) page so I can immediately evaluate whether the subject is a good fit for my audience.

• Give Me All That Publicist Stuff

Be sure to include your company name, address, website, telephone, and social-media pages. I’ll also need the name of the person directly in charge of the artist, or the product manager for the guitar gear being promoted.

• Super-Duper Bonus Points!

If you can fit all of this data on a single page that can be fully absorbed in three minutes without requiring me to scroll down even once, you will have my eternal gratitude—as well as a very good chance that your story will be shared and/or covered further by my media brand. If you help me do my job, I will quite happily help you do yours.

Author: Michael Molenda

Founder of Guardians of Guitar. Longest-serving Editor in Chief of GUITAR PLAYER (1997-2018). Long live Link Wray and Mick Ronson!

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