How to Avoid Unintelligible, Jargon-Laced Press Releases

Here’s a good example of what not to do when writing a press release:

(Don’t worry, we’ve made this up, but there are plenty of real life examples of this out there!) Where to begin? It’s got every buzzword about the latest technology craze—which happens to be something called “big data.” But what does it mean? There are some unfamiliar words in here, but if they are in the dictionary, they shouldn’t be. Define operationalization for me. And what’s a data-rich enterprise when it’s at home? Data management at scale?

Because this is a subject (data analytics) I happen to know something about, I can semi decode it. A company is now selling a new version of software it makes that helps customers manage large amounts of data more effectively, and to easily analyze it to make better business decisions.

I could go on, but you’d yawn. And rightly so. There’s no news here. This is press release writing at its most dismal.

Let’s take a step back. What’s a press release supposed to do? At minimum, to grab the attention of journalists, and intrigue them enough to write stories about it—or at least pick up the phone or shoot an email to find out more.

There is nothing in this press release that achieves that. Where’s the hook? The interest? There is no real news—just the fact that a company reached a product development milestone. Someone on Wall Street might care, if this were a particularly important milestone for the firm. Customers waiting to upgrade to a new feature might be interested. But there’s no sign that this is the case. And you have to understand that journalists get dozens of these things every day. So you should be motivated to make your press release stand out. And one way you can do this is through language. Here are some tips:

Eliminate jargon. Put what you’re writing about in plain English. Even if you operate in an industry that uses a lot of jargon, use English that any competent businessperson would understand. And define any terms that could be considered obscure.

You’ll probably get pushback from your boss against this. You’ll probably hear, but we’re talking to our audience and we want to use their language. Trust me on this. Your audience is so jaded by the jargon that it has becoming meaningless even to them. If every firm in the data management industry is claiming that their product helps with the automation of data ingestion, governance, and self-service analytics (and they are, believe me), where’s the news? What’s fresh about this angle?

Don’t boast about your company using the same old tired phrases. Just take the opening of this release: Continuing to widen its market lead for enterprise-grade data lake management… This says very little. Widen its market lead? Does that mean it currently has the largest market share? Highest revenues? Most customers? Can it honestly claim it is pulling ahead in the market? Does it have the latest market research numbers to make this a credible claim? Probably not. If it had any of those achievements, it would (should) say them upfront, again in plain business language. Rather, focus on the company’s real Is it a small but scrappy upstart? Has it developed a truly cool new innovation? Say so—but be specific. Journalists are (rightly) suspicious of generalities.

Use short, concise sentences and active verbs. Read over the above release, and you’ll see the paragraph is really one long sentence. That’s pretty indefensible. Who has the patience to wait it out until the long-awaited period comes? Not many people. Keep the sentences short. Vary the structure. And (always) use active verbs rather than conjugations of to have and to be.

 Use examples. If possible, real-world examples. By using our latest software, Widget Inc. knows as soon as it closes its doors at 5pm how many of each of its product models have sold that day. It even knows who bought them—and how many it’s likely to sell the next day. Now you’re starting to tell a story—always a good thing in business writing. Readers will be intrigued—and read on.

I could go on…but I’m out of space. But the next time you get handed an assignment to write a press release, consider these four tips. You’ll get more journalists to bite.

ABOUT Alice LaPlante

Alice LaPlante was a Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, and taught writing at Stanford for more than 20 years. She is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of four novels, and wrote The Making of a Story, the best-selling textbook on writing published by W.W. Norton. Alice also is also a sought-after content writer, strategist, and story consultant for leading technology firms.