EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT GENERATING A TECHNOBABBLE-FREE PRESS RELEASE BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK
Imagine yourself in the following situation: You’re the
chief engineer of an up-and-coming technology company, and you’ve just led the
launch of a ground-breaking systems control software package. You’re excited.
You know your new product can meet a wider range of needs for industrial
operators than competing solutions. You’ve published a detailed press release,
and now you’re waiting to hear back from the tech press and trade publications.
And … crickets. Your big announcement does not seem to have
drawn any attention or comments. You ask your team members to look into the
matter, and they tell you sheepishly that only a handful of newspapers and blogs
have taken note of your announcement. Moreover, they inform you that these
outlets have either run the company’s statement in full or have condensed it
into a brief blurb that uses exactly the same wording.
You’re disappointed – and not sure what to do next. You’re
proud of your new product and confident that it can find an audience. So far,
though, your audience seems to be yawning. What happened?
Perhaps you’ve fallen victim to technobabble.
That is, perhaps you – and your communications team — have spent enough time in the company of your fellow engineers, coders, systems architects, and other technical experts that you’re defaulting to the jargon you use with each other in the office. And as a result, the message you were trying to send out to potential buyers, not all of whom have the same level of familiarity with technical terms that you do, has been lost in a thicket of acronyms, abbreviations, and neologisms. Luckily, you aren’t alone. Many, many other companies have written press releases that are all but incomprehensible to the average reader. Take, for example, this statement from Borealis:
This press release is a difficult read for several reasons:
- The headline, “Borealis inaugurates EUR 15
million investment project mtm plastics GmbH,” gives few details about the
topic at hand.
- The first paragraph devotes more space to
describing the companies involved than to explaining what exactly is happening.
- The text is heavily loaded with technical terms.
- Most of the results of an internet search for
more information on the topic consist of articles that are slightly reworded
versions of the press release.
Press Releases: Like Doing a Root Canal
But how much does it matter if your press release is a difficult read? And if technobabble is truly a problem, how can you avoid it in press releases? To answer these questions, The Writers For Hire spoke to Joel Alpert, the founder and strategic and creative director of MarketPower, an Atlanta-based branding and marketing consultancy.
Alpert, who worked for multiple weekly newspapers in the New
York City market before moving into consulting, pointed out that press releases
have their own problems even if they’re light on technobabble. “Most press
releases are like doing a root canal,” he said. “They’re incredibly painful to
listen to [or] to read. They’re terrible. They do the wrong things … Just in
the course of [working in journalism], you learn to hate press releases.”
Journalists and editors are in a better position than most
to critique public statements from businesses because they see so many of them,
he explained. “Years ago in New York City, we certainly worked with press
releases,” he said, referring to his past experience. “We got hundreds each
week. You’d go through them; you’d throw most of them away. You’d edit them,
and then you’d publish [them] in some form. When you do that often enough, you
develop a sense of taste – of tolerance – for what you’re willing to put up
Your takeaway here?
Journalists get a ton of releases, and many are poorly written. So make their job easier, and they’ll be more
likely to pay attention to you. Tweet this
Telling Your Story
Unfortunately, the communication problem is not limited to
interactions with the press. Companies that struggle to draw the attention of
journalists and editors are also likely to have difficulty making a good
impression on potential clients and customers. According to Alpert, the best way
to avoid boring copy is to tell a story.
When telling that story, a strong start is crucial, he remarked. “The first thing to do is to make the story interesting. And it’s got to be enjoyable, preferably fun,” he added. “The lead has got to be very strong [and go] right into a story that really engages the reader. Otherwise, the reader will probably throw it away immediately.”
To achieve this aim, he said, companies may need to move
beyond describing their newest products and services in a straightforward,
just-the-facts-ma’am manner. Potential customers – even those who are looking
for technological solutions to complex problems – may respond more positively
to a different approach, he said.
“You might not tell a story about the brand or about the
company,” he said. “[Instead], you can tell something that expands on your
brand or your interests by telling something that’s interesting. It could be a
customer experience. So while that doesn’t seem, at face value, to be about the
brand, it really is because you’ve told about how a customer interacted with
HelloPackage seems to be thinking along the same lines, if its press release dated September 14 is any indication.
The package management system platform’s statement succeeds
on several fronts:
- The headline and first paragraph draw attention
to an easily relatable problem – namely, that of keeping track of more and more
packages thanks to the expansion of delivery options.
- The second paragraph provides data to support
the company’s argument without leaving readers to drown in a sea of numbers.
- The overall tone is collegial and engaging – and
non-technical, despite the technical nature of the product.
- The statement explains clearly how the company
can help resolve a real-world problem.
If Borealis had taken this approach, the first paragraph of
its press release might have read as follows: “For both manufacturers and
consumers, plastics are cheap and convenient. They are also disposable – and
piling up around the world, creating environmental hazards. Borealis, a leading
provider of innovative solutions in the chemical industry, is contributing to
clean-up efforts through the expansion of a plastics recycling facility in
The Eyes Have It
Hitting these high notes may seem like a tall order for
companies involved in complex, high-tech operations. But there are concrete
ways to optimize the content of press releases to help them reach laymen and
experts alike, Alpert told The Writers For Hire.
One technique is to keep press releases and other marketing
materials brief, he said. “Keep it short because if you’ve got something that
can be told more [succinctly], you’re getting that story published the way you
want to have it, [rather] than getting it sliced to bits because someone feels
like they have to take a pen or cursor to it,” he said.
Another helpful strategy is to seek out striking imagery, he said. “There’s something you can do that really helps a lot, and that is [to be] visual,” he said. “Instead of saying something like ‘we’re growing quickly,’ you say ‘we’re growing in leaps and bounds.’ If that happens to [catch the reader’s eye], it’s a little more visual.”
Even companies involved in heavily technical projects should
make use of striking imagery, Alpert asserted. “Everything has an angle that
can be made interesting,” he said. “I worked for a client in insurance
compliance consulting, which is pretty dry stuff. And we had a whole theme of
getting through the jungle of insurance compliance that was very visual, with
all kinds of illustrations about escaping from the paper tiger in the jungle
and cutting through the jungle with machetes. Everything became a way of
cutting through the bureaucratic clutter that this industry is known for, and
we made that interesting. And this particular client’s business started growing
radically once we started doing this kind of stuff because it has a way of
gaining the attention and interest of the target audience.”
He continued: “[Something] that’s more engaging and more
entertaining and more interesting will gain the attention of your audience –
wherever it is, every single time, no exceptions. There’s no industry that
can’t create some interesting thinking or analogy.”
Borealis would probably have benefited from this approach.
For example, the German company could have tweaked its statement to include a more
evocative headline, such as “Borealis to scoop up more litter with EUR 15
million push to expand plastics recycling facility.”
Likewise, with a few modifications to the original text, it
could have offered a clear and succinct explanation of its investment program.
More specifically, it could have used the following as its second paragraph: “The
company is set to spend EUR 15 million on the expansion of a plastics recycling
facility that it acquired through the acquisition of another German firm, mtm
plastics GmbH, in 2016. The project aims to boost the capacity of the plant,
which is located in Niedergebra, Germany, while also improving its ability to
navigate the high-end market of plastic re-granulates.”
When reworked in this fashion, press releases can do a
better job of capturing readers’ interest. But if the topic at hand is
technical in nature, will an overhaul really do justice to it?
According to Alpert, avoiding technobabble doesn’t have to
entail a loss of credibility. “Sometimes a company has something that’s highly
technical and it’s a big innovation, and you have to explain to [readers] why
this big innovation has value,” he said. “That can and should be able to be
done. That can also be made interesting and engaging.”
He explained: “Sometimes in the cases of a technical product, you can be a little more technical in what you do because you want to gain some credibility … [Your press release] may be seen by a CFO as well as a CTO, or it may be seen by a programmer or someone in customer service, and [those] audiences are really different. They have different tolerances for what they want to read.”
Even so, he said, the desire to cater to expert readers is
no excuse for a badly crafted press release. “No matter who it is, even if they
have a technical background, they still want to be able to read it like a
normal sentence and not [have it] sound like they’re sitting in a science class
looking at the periodic table of elements,” he commented.
This target is not out of reach, as the organizers of a technology conference in Wuxi, China can demonstrate.
In this press release, the Organizing Committee of 2018
World Internet of Things Expo has accomplished several important goals:
- In the headline and first paragraph, it uses
evocative phrases such as “pivotal leap,” “great breakthrough” and “years of
- It presents readers with a striking visual image
by referring to the event as the “pearl” of Wuxi.
- The statement explains how consumers can benefit
from the technologies showcased at the event.
- It references new technological developments
without taking refuge in technobabble.
Borealis would have done well to adopt a similar approach.
For example, it could have played up the positive environmental impact of its
plans by playing up the theme of cleaning up litter along the following lines:
“The expansion project will add value to mtm plastics GmbH, which is already in
the vanguard of efforts to recycle items that might otherwise be sent to
landfills, including mixed post-consumer plastic waste and as one of Europe’s
largest producers of post-consumer polyolefin recyclates.”
In any event, companies should certainly aim to stand out,
given that media markets have changed so much over the last two decades. “I
don’t think it’s a secret to say that press releases have been fighting for
their survival for years,” Alpert said. “In electronic media, there are so many
places to go for information, and social media tends to dominate over press
releases. So press releases are not as popular as they used to be.”
Even so, companies can attain the best of both worlds by
writing press releases that bear more resemblance to social media posts. Alpert
explained: “A press release tends to have a more corporate style, and social
media tends to be more conversational. I would argue that press releases should
be more conversational, or if not conversational, then minimally they should be
engaging and absolutely interesting and readable.”
The press release mentioned above serves as a good example of this informal approach. In similar fashion, this September 13 statement from MyRepChat strikes a friendly note:
Instead of listing the software’s technical features at
length, it uses brief summaries and quotes from its CEO to highlight the ways
that the software helps its users.
By contrast, Borealis uses a quote from its acting CEO that comes across as plodding and overloaded with buzzwords: “This investment in our mechanical recycling capabilities at mtm is key in realising our growth ambitions in the circular economy, and it underlines our continuing commitment to mtm. We need stepwise expansion projects to minimize down time, but also need to maintain existing facilities and business.” The company might have done better to preface this statement with something more descriptive, such as: “Borealis’ acting CEO Alfred Stern emphasized his company’s dedication to expanding its activities in the area of plastics recycling – and doing so without forcing mtm plastics GmbH to take a break from the important business of responsible handling of post-consumer waste.”
In short, according to Alpert, avoidance (or judicious use) of
technobabble is valuable for any company looking to bolster its bottom line.
Clear communication “absolutely leads to sales,” he said. “That’s why we have
so much marketing communication [and] so much chatter across every imaginable
medium, from email and Twitter and Facebook on your phone to electronic
billboards and ads in elevators.”
As noted here, good writing skills are a crucial part of the
solution, especially for companies involved in complex and technical industries
that are not easy to describe to laymen. But they do not have to be the only
tool in use. Indeed, technology – in the form of content management systems
(CMSs) – can play a role.
CMSs are software packages or apps that allow their users to
collect, store, manage, and publish information, including text, graphics, and
other materials. As companies accumulate collections of press releases and
other public statements, they can use CMSs as an archive that stores older
material: as a smart index that tags text and graphics so that they can be used
in the most effective context, as a template that generates new material and
calibrates it to specific audiences, as a sounding board that allows staff
members to update and comment on press releases and other public statements,
and as a publishing solution that formats material attractively.
Pimcore, a German open-source software vendor, has pointed out that these systems help companies access the technological resources needed to streamline the process of composing and releasing marketing materials: “You don’t need to know HTML or any other programming language to build a website using a CMS. All you really need to know is how to use Microsoft Word and you will be able to create (using) your CMS to create web pages, blog posts, news articles, landing pages, and press releases.” (hyperlink to https://pimcore.com/en/resources/blog/why-you-should-be-using-a-content-management-system-cms_a981)
In other words, CMSs can be a helpful complement to good
writing skills. They can streamline the process of drafting press releases by
helping companies to draw on their most successful marketing campaigns and
statements of the past. Through tagging, they can help companies tailor their
press releases to different audiences with different tolerances for technical
information, while ensuring that the final product is well formatted and