How long is a media release?

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From time to time, clients ask me whether a draft media release is too long or whether it is too short and needs to be expanded. It’s a good question and one to which there is no simple answer other than “a media release should be as long as it needs to be”.

From time to time, clients ask me whether a draft media release is too long or whether it is too short and needs to be expanded.

It’s a good question and one to which there is no simple answer other than “a media release should be as long as it needs to be”.

The basic aim of a media release is to explain “who, what, when, where and why”, in a way that is useful to the media.  This may take one page or it may take many pages – there isn’t really any right or wrong answer.

What is more important is whether the information can be understood and whether it is of interest to journalists and their audiences.

Of course, if a media release is turning into a small booklet, it’s perhaps getting a bit verbose, but even this may be justified in some circumstances – and it may be some of the information is better taken out of the release and used in a fact sheet to accompany it. This often also helps the flow and focus of a release.

I’ve spoken with a number of the journalists I deal with about this recently and they all agreed – there’s no ideal length for a media release.  One trade journalist added that she’d rather get long releases for things like research reports which contain a lot of data, than ones which don’t give enough information.

Another said he prefers a shorter release giving the highlights that can be followed up on directly, allowing the journalist to develop his own angle.  Yet another said he often finds the real lead of the story is halfway down the release and likes longer releases because they provide flexibility in approaching the story.

All of which supports the view there is no right or wrong length for a release.  The real judgement is in making sure that the facts are presented well and not clouded by irrelevant opinion or incomprehensible jargon, or focusing on information that is more important to the organisation than it is to the reader.

What is important is to have a release that stands on its own and tells the full story.

One consistency that my informal survey of journalists showed is that they hate the follow up telephone call asking “Did you get my press release?  And are you going to use it?”

Evidently it is extremely common and universally disliked. What is guaranteed to come out of it is an annoyed journalist – probably putting them off the PR person, their client and the story.

Indeed, many journalists list this as their most hated PR practice, so what is surprising is that it continues to happen, suggesting that many PR people simply do not know their market.

If a release is good enough to be sent out, it is good enough to stand on its own, without what one senior Financial Review journalist described to me as “breathless PR flunkies panting down the phone at you”.

So what else do journalists hate?  A few of the practices that journalists have identified to me are:

  • Finding out that the person who is quoted in the release is on holiday the day it is sent out, or generally can’t be contacted;
  • Spokespeople not returning calls or emails before deadline after a release has gone out.  Sometimes people take three or four days to respond, and are then surprised that they’ve missed the opportunity;
  • Press releases that don’t contain a story and are simply poorly-disguised advertising (one financial services publication has a “Wall of Shame” for such releases);
  • Having a long and interesting discussion with an executive, and then being told at the end “that’s all off the record, of course”.

With a lot of this, executives should simply know better but, more important, so should their public relations people who should have also helped train the executives better.

You don’t just need take my word as a public relations practitioner for all this – take a look at this post by a New Zealand journalist – 10 tips to make sure your press release fails.