I've worked for a lot of different magazines, both trade and consumer publications, over the years, but I can still remember the very first task I was ever assigned, lo those many years ago, as a fledgling copy editor: editing a press release. Since that day, I couldn't even possibly calculate how many press releases I've seen, and I'm not sure I'd even want to know the answer as it would most likely be a very intimidating amount.
Although the publishing field has changed dramatically since I came into the industry in the 1980s, with the advents of desktop publishing and the Internet probably being the two most impactful game-changers, one thing really hasn't changed in the slightest over the years: press releases. I'm not sure if there's an actual “how-to” guide for writing a press release, but the basic structure appears to have remained unchanged since the first marketing person sat down and tried to figure out how to make their latest widget sound so fascinating that every magazine editor who received the press release would immediately seize on it as something that just HAD to be printed, as quickly as possible.
The basics to a press release are simple: Tell the reader (usually a time-pressured editor type), in as many words and using as many superlatives as possible, as many good things about a new product or service as the press release writer can think of. If it's the latest version of, say, WidgetMover, then it's very likely the press release will include a quote from either the VP of marketing or the CEO (or both) that explain in detail exactly why the product is the best thing since sliced bread.
Here at MH&L, as well as at our sister publication, New Equipment Digest, we pride ourselves on diligently presenting as many new product announcements as we can, with the understanding that a) we're only going to showcase products that are actually new; b) that we're only going to showcase products that are relevant to our audience; and c) that we're going to stick to the facts, i.e., the most relevant product specifications, while deleting all the self-promotional superlatives from the press release. But even knowing that, the marketing folks keep trying.
It turns out I'm hardly the only editor who has spent an inordinate amount of time wondering about the development of press releases. In fact, PR News recently compiled a list of the most egregiously overused words and terms appearing in press releases. Like I said, we try our hardest to wean these words out before they show up in our new products section, although I have to admit that we typically will let “announced” and “launched” slip through since they're innocuous. Anyway, here's the list (in alphabetical order):
Best of breed
Proud to announce
State of the art
Up and coming