Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How not to write a press release

I have thrown away more press releases than you've had hot dinners.

No, really. Look, here's the maths:
Press release carnage (I used to get more than 10 a day, but I didn't throw them all away)

13 years as an editor @ 10 press releases a day @ 240 working days per year = 31,200
5 years as a publisher @ 10 press releases a week = 2,500
Total = 33,700
Chilli con carnage, and other hot meals (assuming an average age of 50)
50 years @ 1 hot dinner per day [a reasonable average, I feel] = 18,250
Of course, you might have had three hot meals a day since being weaned, in which case you would have surpassed my press release count by the age of 31, assuming you lived that long on such a diet. But I think my assertion stands up to analysis, at least for most people.

Here's one I didn't throw away. I didn't keep it because it was good; quite the opposite. Please forgive me for posting it in full, although I've cut out the list of speakers and the 'about us' blurb:

International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) hailed as key to effective implementation of MLC 2006
A ship's crew, yesterday
On Friday 19 April 2013, IMEC held its inaugural International Maritime Conference in London. The conference focussed on MLC 2006 and the employment of seafarers. It brought together over 65 delegates and speakers from across the world, representing every MLC 2006 stakeholder including ship-owners, employers, trade unions, flag state, P&I clubs, and the legal industry.
Speaking at the event, Giles Heimann, IMEC Chief Executive Officer, said:
“The MLC is the most significant piece of maritime legislation for many years and, rightly, has been a focus of recent industry events. However, in our conference we have achieved something exceptional.

“Today’s delegates have heard from a unique series of speakers:  IMEC members, the ITF, the ILO and representatives of all areas of the industry who are affected by MLC. They have also been given the chance to quiz these same speakers in an open and honest panel debate.”
The key-note speaker, Dr Cleo Doumbia-Henry, Director of Labour Standards for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and one of the chief-architects of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), praised IMEC’s contribution to the implementation of the most significant piece of maritime legislation in recent history.
“The activities of IMEC, with its international membership, are key to achieving effective implementation in many regions,” said Dr Doumbia-Henry.

“I am aware of the important efforts undertaken by IMEC in developing agreements with the ITF to implement many aspects of the MLC 2006 well in advance of entry in force.

“This has been tremendously helpful and can only make it easier for governments to ratify and implement and ultimately, of course, achieve the Convention’s goals.”
MLC 2006 becomes binding for the first 30 countries with registered ratifications on 20 August 2013. This group of countries is very significant as it includes the largest flag states, as well as many key port states. It also includes countries that are home to the majority of the world’s seafarers and are the location of private seafarers’ recruitment and placement services.
“The role of employers, our members, in the practical implementation of MLC cannot be underestimated,” added Mr Heimann. “We are committed to working with our members in the run-up to its introduction in August 2013, and to continue working with them to secure effective and fit-for-purpose provision for seafarers and employers alike.”
“Vital to this effective provision is an understanding and cooperation between all interested parties. We are proud to have brought together such a varied group of major stakeholders in the same room and remain committed to working with them.”
[List of speakers]

The conference was held the day after IMEC’s Annual General Meeting, which attracted a record number of attendees. 2013 sees the beginning of the next round of International Bargaining Forum (IBF) negotiations over the wages and conditions of seafarers serving on ships to which IBF Special Agreements apply.
It's a bit long at 481 words, but not disastrously so. The problem is the content, or lack of it. Can you imagine wanting to read a story with the headline "IMEC hailed as key to MLC 2006" (I've cut it down to fit on the hypothetical page)? Since this is an industry press release, it's reasonable to assume I know what MLC 2006 is (it's the Maritime Labour Convention), but what does this press release add to the debate? The answer, if we boil the release down to its bare essentials, is nothing. Here's the press release expressed as bullet points, with the comments of a jaded editor in italics:
  1. IMEC has held its first ever conference. Like I give a toss.
  2. The conference studied the labour convention. Really? There was me thinking they were discussing the role of unicorns in medieval heraldry. What did they say about it?
  3. The convention is important. I already know that.
  4. The conference was "exceptional", apparently because there was a Q&A session. Hate to break it to you, old bean, but someone had that idea before you.
  5. The ILO (which drafted the convention) thinks the IMEC has been helpful. Splendid. My kids think I'm great too. Shall I whip out a press release?
  6. The convention becomes binding in August. OK, this is significant, but it's hardly news.
  7. Negotiations over wages and conditions begin this year Again, this is hardly news.
Normally I would try to pick this release apart to suggest how it could have been done properly, but there is literally nothing here. The journalist's only recourse is to call the press officer and ask, "Did anything interesting happen at your conference?" Few journalists have the time to follow up a press release that doesn't even offer the hint of a lead, which is why (so far as I can tell) none of the industry publications have carried a story based on this one. In fact, this blog post is probably the only coverage this release will get.

I'm left with the suspicion that this press release wasn't meant for the press but was written purely to caress the egos of the conference organisers.

Moral: Don't waste our time and yours.


  1. Replies
    1. The logic of your argument is unassailable. Have you had it published anywhere?

  2. I realize it's been some time since you posted this but I wanted to add my thanks. I have a press release from my publisher that's adequate but have had to modify a great deal in order to reach specific audiences I feel can improve my readership. Your tips here helped a great deal.