9 worst mistakes when working with the media

Here are nine of the worst mistakes when writing press releases or otherwise dealing with the media.

The average American adult has an 8th-grade reading level and a 30-second attention span. Now, that may not seem like much to learn. But it summarizes nearly everything you need to know. After all, for effective communication, the rules are:

  • Know your audience
  • Keep it simple
  • Get to the point fast

We often forget those rules. As a result, we often make avoidable mistakes.

9 worst media mistakes

Here are nine of the worst mistakes when writing press releases or otherwise dealing with the media.

9. Give them the whole load
“By gosh, it took me 2 years to do this study, and you're going to get every painful detail!”

8. Mention everyone
“I've got to give credit to everyone who ever worked with me. There was the janitor who cleaned my office, my mom who….”

7. Give every bureaucratic title in full detail as soon as possible
“'Fall is the best time to kill lawn weeds,' says Ergot Frump, Oregon State University Extension turf specialist and interim acting associate director for outreach and education in southeast central Oregon who gets half his funding from the state's grass seed producers and the rest from the OSU Agricultural Experiment Station….”

6. Show off your intelligence
“The data would indicate that the species interaction with fertility is interrelated with climatology, ecology, and other factors too complicated for the average peon to understand.”

5. Tell how politically correct we are
“Extension offers equal opportunity....” This does not belong in a news release. Professional journalists don't like this stuff.

4. Save the best for last
We drone along for about 10 paragraphs, then tell the readers, “By the way, this effort boosted profits by 50 percent.” Remember what I said about the average reader's attention span? Get to the point FAST!

3. Send out lots of unnecessary press releases
I remember a time when some specialists in a midwestern university asked me to send out three press releases to announce a barley tour. I asked how many barley growers there were in the state. “A couple dozen,” was the reply. “Well, then,” I said, “skip the press releases and call them or send them a letter.”

2. Depend on the media to do your job
I get paid to work with and through the media, but I'm the first to admit that (a) the media aren't the only way nor the best way to communicate with our clientele, and (b) the media can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The best strategy is to have a good product and “sell” it with a mix of mass media and personal contact.

1. Don't respond when the media call
We in information offices have spent years building good media relations. Those relations take a beating when we ignore or refuse a media request. Sometimes all you can say is “I'm sorry; that's out of my area. Perhaps you can call….” But at least give a response.

I leave you with this thought: To be an effective writer, use active verbs, personal words, short sentences, and quotable quotes. And remember, the most profitable kind of writing…is ransom notes.