March 29, 2011

Don't make me delete you: Worst writing practices

I live in two worlds: Journalism and public relations/marketing. In the time it takes me to write a good pitch for a client, a few bad ones from other publicists have seeped into my inbox (along with a few good. I can count on several area publicists to offer valuable story ideas).

Given that I’ve worked in both of these communications worlds for eight and nine years, respectively, I can attest to several terms and phrases that beg for an immediate delete. I’ll share more from time to time, but here’s a taste of the MVPs. No writer, editor, producer, reporter, promotions director or blogger should suffer these two infringements in their inbox:

“Something for everyone”

Real-life example: “There is something for everyone with a vibe that caters to a wide range of locals.”

This commonly used phrase screams, ‘We’re not sure for whom this event, product or service was designed, which means anyone and everyone will love it.” The only somethings that are for everyone: Sales tax (unless you’re an Oregonian. Shoot, then that’s not everyone), death (unless you believe in afterlife or reincarnation. Awe, another fail) and sneezing (I haven’t witnessed this first hand with everyone in the world, so I could be wrong). See what I mean? Automatic delete.

“Promises to be”

Real-life example: “This summer promises to be a busy one for award-winning chef [I’m keeping quiet on this one].”

This phrase does nothing to enrich the quality of the message. Further, summer doesn’t promise anything; it’s a season, making it wholly incapable of making statements. In the above example, we could first cut the filler words, so that the sentence reads “This summer promises to be busy for award-winning chef…” and then cut the loathed term altogether, leaving us with “Award-winning chef [lips sealed] will be busy this summer.” Or, we could cut the entire sentence, because the sentences that follow likely exemplify the point.

Best advice: Imagine you’re a journalist. Begin reading articles written by good journalists about others in your industry and mirror their style in your press release. Strong lede followed by pertinent content. No fluff. Don’t write like a spin doctor.

For a humorous read or two, check out both Erin Meanley of San Diego Magazine’s graveyard for wacky press releases (her so far monthly posts include a fine selection of doozies) and the five year-old Bad Pitch Blog, often snarky, but mostly accurate.

About the Author

Brook Larios

Brook Larios

Brook's 14 years of professional communications experience spans newsroom reporting, national nonprofit and luxury public relations management and building a successful pr agency founded on uncommon connections and creativity. She's a lover of horses, fitness, reading, nature and good conversation. Zany and approachable, Brook prefers removing the surface rather than scratching it.