In general, I start with from a press release. Whenever possible, I follow up with a phone call (brokered usually by a PR person) to a company spokesperson to confirm or sort out the facts, and get some additional quotes or other information. Sometimes I also call an industry analyst, occasionally, if one’s available, a user, for additional quotes.
Many of the press releases have enough information to get me started.
But — depressingly — many don’t. A surprising, depressing, annoying, appalling and downright unfathomable number of press releases omit facts without which they should never have been sent out, and which nobody who’s been doing PR for more than three months should let be omitted, or at least not without acknowledgement. (I’m talking about releases posted, and sent out, not draft releases.)
Here’s a quick summary of some of the major boneheaded, amateur-hour, not-ready-for-primetime-or-even-late-night, PR 101-level omissions I’ve run into in press releases I’ve been assigned to write news stories from. (Some, I concede, were releases I suggested… having sometimes not noticed at first blush there might be show-slowing or -stopping omissions.)
PRODUCT NAME NOT GIVEN. Yes, that’s right, the release refers to “a new module,” “a project integrating two companies’ products,” et cetera. But the name of the product isn’t given. Sometimes there isn’t a live URL available, either because I’ve gotten the release ahead of its official issue, or because the company hasn’t updated their web site yet. But it should have a name.
NO PRICING. Yes, the price is often not a simple, short thing, but that’s no excuse for saying “Pricing begins at” or “Pricing is based on,” or, at least, “Pricing has not yet been announced.”
NO AVAILABILITY DATE. Again, if nothing else, “Availability to be determined.”
NO DETAILS ON “WHAT’S THE NEWS.” For example, saying “has enhanced” or “has added features to” without actually listing any actual details or specifics.
I kid you not.
And one other: IS THERE NEWS? There’s been at least one or two releases where, even after talking to the vendor, I realize I can’t tell if something new was announced, or they’re simply talking about something that the product already does, which they’ve added a new marketing spin to. That’s fine, if the release makes this clear; it’s not, if I can’t tell.
Most of the announcements I’m working on are specific assignments, so I sort things out. But I suspect that a lot of other reporters simply move on to another announcement instead. Sadly, many other places simply lift information from the release without bothering to check, meaning that readers don’t get a useful article.
So, vendor and agency PR folks: Please, do your homework. These are the easy things, there’s no excuse.