Mar 15, 2018 / by Lacey Miller

How to know if your press release or pitch passes the smell test
This is a guest post by Caitlin Copple Masingill, Oliver Russell


One of the worst parts of being a public relations professional can be educating your clients about what is news and what’s not.


I’m an enthusiastic champion of my clients and their products. Because my firm works almost exclusively with purpose-driven companies, my feelings are genuine because I’m promoting social enterprises that align with my values. But part of advocating for a client is to be really real with them. At the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer, sometimes you’ve got to tell them that if sounds like a press release, it probably is. And what your client really wants is a news story.


Here are five warning signs that your press release doesn’t pass the smell test and will likely die on the wire rather than skyrocket to the front page.


  1. It’s boring. Do your eyes glaze over after the first graf? Does the lede sound like some corporate robot wrote it? If you feel that way (and remember, you’re supposed to be the enthusiastic champion here), guess how a reporter or editor is going to react?
  2. It’s too long. Face it, we live in a get-to-the-point culture where many platforms are competing for our attention. If you can’t draw a reader in with a compelling lede followed by what journalists call a “nut graf” that addresses the “why should I care” factor, don’t bother. No one is going to read on to solve the mystery of what you are trying to say, because no one has time for that. Don’t be afraid to use bold and bullets as needed to make your news stand out.
  3. It sounds like PR. Get creative on who is the best messenger for a story. Is it really your CEO? Or is it a customer who now has a dramatically better life thanks to your product or service? Or is it the leader of a nonprofit who is working with your corporate office in unique and impactful ways? Think outside the box on what’s the best vehicle to get your story across.
  4. It’s not relevant. A stand-alone press release with a quote or two from the usual suspects is generally not news. If you can find a way to weave your timely message or a key source into a larger regional or national trend, you’ll have a better shot at being included in an actual news story. Connect the dots for the reporter. Show how you are adding value to the conversation (hint: this means you have to actually be monitoring the conversation). The less work you make a reporter do, the more they will like you and be inclined to read and maybe even respond to your pitches.
  5. It contains dumb mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, typos happen to everyone. We’ve all had that one time we meant to write “public” but instead wrote “pubic,” which spellcheck does not catch. Or was that just me? But seriously, egregious errors should be few and far between. Have more than one person read your stuff before you distribute it, and install Grammarly or a similar tool on your computer to minimize errors, and never, ever use passive voice. Always triple check subject lines, headlines, dates, any math or figures stated as facts in your release and of course, the “boilerplate” section listed at the end.


What tips would you add to this list? I’m all ears on Twitter @caitlincopple.

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About Lacey Miller

Passionate about public relations and empowering practitioners, Lacey Miller found her dream job at TrendKite, where she carries the crown of 'word nerd'. With a background in public relations and technology, she's a great fit with her desire to innovate the industry! You can find her most days writing for PR Forward, PRSA, and other marketing trade publications.