By Michele Wilson-Morris
If you've taken the time to write a press release, then you obviously have news that you want to convey. It can be information about an EP or CD release, an upcoming performance, a tour announcement, a promotion within the company, or a variety of other things. Working with Mi2N and MusicDish gives me a somewhat unique perspective on press releases because I've seen hundreds if not thousands of them, and believe me, I've written my fair share. But there are certain mistakes that I've seen which tend to be rather common. And they are the journalistic equivalent of dragging one's nails across a blackboard.
#1: Grammatical Errors/Typos
As one who writes for my daily bread, I can't think of anything more irritating than seeing grammatical errors and/or typos in a press release (or an article, on a website, or anything else). Having a grammatical error or typo in your press release indicates that you are not well organized, articulate, attentive to detail, or just don't care. Remember, your press release is a reflection of who you are and your brand, just as much as it is about an event or news. Don't send the wrong signal to a professional audience, your target audience, by being sloppy.
Almost all word processing programs have a spelling checker, which will also display a grammatical faux pas as well. Once you've invested the time to write a press release, you've already done the hard part. The easy part is reviewing it for accuracy. And if you're just a terrible writer, be strong and realistic. Face the facts, invest the money and utilize a PR writing service like Mi2N-PRESS (Mi2N - Music Industry News Network) to do it for you. If you're still determined to do it yourself, however, ask someone else to look over it before submission. Other people can usually see mistakes that you might have missed, and you don't want the people who see them to be your target audience.
#2: Don't Believe The Hype? Don't Write the Hype.
Another error that people make when writing press releases is using inappropriate tone in their content. A press release is not an article. While it should be aesthetically pleasing and flow well, it isn't a review. Your objective is not to make people laugh. You may state factual details about your event, but saying that your upcoming performance is "going to be the bomb" or using adjectives and/or phrases that actually infer how great it will be is taking it a little bit too far. While you can certainly include statements from press, keep your opinions about yourself to yourself. If you need to "hype up your news," then use press quotes or reviews about past performances, tracks, or EPs. If you're addressing a promotion within a company, list some of that person's achievements and/or why they received the promotion. Let your performance or CD speak for itself. Bragging is not professional, and it is actually quite a turnoff.
#3: Inaccurate Information
If there's one thing I know, it's this. If I read a press release about an event - (let's just say a show at The Horse and Buggy Lounge, shall we), and the press release lists the event as occurring on Friday, March 12, 2010 at 9:00 p.m., but the gig is really on Saturday, March 13, 2010, I'm going to be pretty upset if I've taken my time to go see it. Get your dates right. Also, make sure your time is correct.
Here's another example. Let's say you're one of three acts performing at a venue one night. If you know that up front, and know that even though the show starts at 9:00 p.m., you will not actually perform until 11:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m. is the time you should list in your press release. People who come for your performance should have the option of whether they want to sit through two other acts before seeing yours. If you still want to list 9:00 p.m. in your press release, then do that, but make sure that you list that as the time the event starts and give the name of the event as well. Then, list 11:00 p.m. as the time you will be performing. That gives your fans an option about whether they want to come at 9:00 p.m. and see the other acts, or wait until 11:00 p.m. to see you.
#4: I Don't Know, But You Didn't Tell Me
Another common problem with press releases is not providing enough info. If you have a CD that's coming out soon, I'm assuming the reason you're writing a press release about it is to encourage people to buy it. But while telling me when it is going to be released is a great thing, and I am eagerly anticipating that time, informing me about where I can purchase it is even better. If you have direct links your CD or EP for the online retailers where it will be sold, be sure to include that.
Always be specific. And if your press release is about a performance and you're not excited enough about it to include the place or time, I'm definitely not going to be that enthralled about trying to dig it up unless I'm a die-hard fan. But even that is a problem, as your true fans, the people who are already hooked into you are not the only people that you need to reach with a press release. You should be appealing to the stragglers, the foot-draggers, and people who are on the fence about what to do that night. And I can guarantee you this much - a talent promoter will not waste his or her time searching for details because there are just too many artists out there. You might be extraordinarily talented, but you're still one of many in the music industry pool of artists.
Here's another piece of advice that's critical: Always check any links (URLs) that you provide to make sure they are accurate. Once you've listed the link in the press release, copy and paste it into your browser and follow it to that page to ensure that the page that you want to come up is actually the page that comes up. Also, never use a link to a page that isn't ready to be viewed or is still under construction. Keep this in mind - the music business is a business, and unless you have some serious connections, have already made it big, or your last name is Jackson or McCartney, you're a needle in a haystack and need every advantage you can get to survive in it and be successful.
#5: It's A Snapshot, Not A Portrait
There are times when it pays to be fancy, and times when it doesn't. In my last article, "The Seven Essentials of Writing A Press Release," two of the things I talk about are "Less Is More" and "Spice Please". The first references that fact that people just don't have time to read all you care to write and then some. That's what books are for, not press releases. The second is related to the fact that your document should contain an URL for sound or a photo if possible, to entice the reader along with the words on the page. But don't overdo it and try to have flowers and rainbows and all kinds of "purty little thangs" on your press release. It will stand out like a sore thumb, but for all the wrong reasons. A press release is a business document and shouldn't bring to mind the words to "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story. Nor should it make someone wonder "who colored that"?
#6: Keywords: A Press Release's Best Friend
The internet and online marketing have revolutionized the way we do business these days. Understanding that is critical, because people gather a lot of their information through search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask.com, etc. These search engines use something called keywords or "tags" to display results for each query. PR companies who deliver news globally utilize their distribution channels to optimize your results by adding these tags or keywords to sites on which the press release will be distributed. So, the chances that a search engine will find your press release are dramatically increased. Just take a minute and think about what words you would search for if you were looking for news similar to yours. Got them? Congratulations - you are now the proud owner of keywords and tags.
#7: I Wrote It, Now What?
So now that you've written a thorough, polished press release, what's next? Do you just get back to the studio and start making more music? Well, that's a yes and a no. You see, a press release is written to evoke a response, and you have to be ready for that response. If you've listed contact information, then that person or entity needs to be ready, willing, and able to speak accurately and articulately to anyone who might call asking for additional information. In other words, the ultimate goal of a press release is publicity that translates into dollars, whether it's for a CD release, and upcoming tour, or whatever it is you're advertising. If you're winging it, just make sure you know that the job doesn't end with the press release. Make good decisions. Don't let your next door neighbor's barber's cousin Jethro be your contact because he doesn't happen to be working right now and can catch the phone for you.
Submit your press release to newswires like Mi2N, tweet about it on Twitter, and add it to bookmarking sites like Digg and StumbleUpon. If you have a budget, you might want to consider working with a PR distribution service, such as PRWeb or Mi2N because these can really amplify your press release by maximizing your search engine optimization because of their vast distribution networks. And last, but not least, be sure to share the press release with your industry contacts.
Next month, MusicDish will feature an article on press release writing that will be based entirely on our readers’ questions and/or comments. I’ll review and respond to your questions, so if you have any, now’s the time to ask. Send me your questions via twitter at @sydjusmom (Michele Wilson-Morri (sydjusmom) on Twitter). I look forward to hearing from you.