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PR Advice by the Dashboard, Lite

Posted by The Marketing Intern on June 24, 2009

Brilliant mass advertising at work...

Brilliant mass advertising at work...

Stay with me here; the connection might get a little fuzzy.

After a long, fruitful, 3,000-word day at work, I got into my white Jeep Wrangler to begin the short drive home. It has been raining in MetroWest for going on a week now, so naturally I flipped on my wipers. What replaced the raindrops, however, was not the clear vista of small-town Massachusetts to which I am accustomed, but rather a smeared, off-white pulpy substance which quite neatly clouded my view of the road and the cars traveling thereupon.

I pulled over to investigate this interloper into my quotidien afternoon commute. There, plain for the world to see, was a black 5×7 postcard which had been neatly tucked under my wiper blade while I toiled in my office (such as it is).

As I mentioned before, it has been raining for a week. It was raining this morning, and it hadn’t stopped raining to that point. What was this advertisement that someone thought to be so important that he or she ventured out into the rain to place it on my sopping-wet windshield? I couldn’t tell you. The text that hadn’t been squashed underneath my formidable wipers had blurred beyond recognition from the water.

Cut scene.

In my past life, I was a journalist. I covered the beer and wine beat for a prestigious full-color mag out of Worcester, which isn’t in any respect a bad gig. As is true of any journalist, I was inundated daily with press releases from a variety of breweries and vineyards across the world. And as long as I’m being honest — and I am — I’ll admit that I rarely read beyond the first paragraph of most of those releases. I’ve talked about this before, and I won’t bore you with the details again.

The mag I worked for was a general interest publication. That means that while I could have expertly covered the nitty-gritty of the brewing process for any of the local breweries, I refrained from doing so on the premise that my audience didn’t care about things like specific gravity or first wort hopping (which, in case you were wondering, has nothing to do with frogs). So when a press release started talking about things like a beer having an OG of 1.090, I’d unquestioningly hit the “delete” button.

The reasoning is simple: if my readers can’t understand it, they won’t read it. If they won’t read it, I won’t waste my time writing it.

The same goes for the writing of press releases. Journalists care only about those things which interest their readers. If you are pitching a story to a general interest publication, do not use complex marketing-speak even if, and this is important, even if the publication to which you are pitching has a relatively in-depth business section. As I did with brewspeak, journalists will hit the “delete” button at the first mention of “interdepartmental synergy” or “ROI for on-demand automated outbound marketing software”. Those terms, though clunky and inadvisable in any messaging media, might work for niche publications like trade journals. They fail spectacularly, however, to attract the attention of big-market general interest publications.

To avoid this tattered sob story, use language that the audience of the publication can relate to. Focus on customer benefits, and do so in simple terms that are easily absorbed. Marketingspeak is appealing to CEOs who desperately want bash people over the head with the fact that they know what they’re talking about, dammit, but it also alienates those readers who have to read a sentence four times to make sure they understand what they’re reading. Take nothing for granted: don’t assume that readers will automatically deduce the potential benefit that they will derive from your product. Don’t show them you know the industry – show them you know what they want, and that you can give it to them. And do it in terms they can understand.

Otherwise your message is as effective as the pulp on my windshield.

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