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Press Releases Still a Useful Tool for Your Utility

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner, Freelancer

I hold 35 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
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  • Jul 20, 2021

Naval gazers in the public relations industry love to talk about new trends – often the latest social media platform – and sneer at tried-and-true methods of communications.

Maybe I’m reaching the “get off of my lawn” grouchy old man stage of my life, but the often-maligned press release should remain a main tool in your PR arsenal.

For one thing, press releases have a certain gravitas to them. They can include as much or as little information in them as you want (more on that later). All the information is before the audience immediately – with a video, for example, you might have to wait to learn the key point.

More importantly, the written press release is customizable by the audience. A journalist can read the lead and made a decision right then and there whether to continue reading. If they’re intrigued, there’s more to follow.

Don’t forget that the editors who often determine what does and doesn’t get covered are older may not be hip to the latest social media. But even the crustiest old editor can open a press release, print it out or save it to an email or desktop folder.

That said, many press releases are terrible, so you need to take steps to make sure that people pay attention to what you do send.

Remember that a press release is not intended to be all-encompassing. Journalists get dozens of press releases daily and usually only have time to scan them. That means you have to make your mark right away.

Keep press releases as short as possible. That means two pages at most and, if possible, just one. This may not always be feasible for publicly traded utilities, which must incorporate assorted boilerplate content and legalese into their documents. But, in general, less is always more in terms of writing.

Perhaps the best way to streamline a release is to minimize the number of quotes. I know C-level executives always want to be included, but resist if you can and keep to quoting the CEO and one or two others. Pro tip: Most reporters aren’t going to use your quotes anyway, preferring to get their own.

When it comes to quotes, avoid self-serving, boring and repetitive talk. Keep them short, punchy and make them sound as if they were said by a real person, but a corporate robot repeating the company line. Also avoid saying the obvious or parroting what’s said in the paragraph before.

It’s a good idea to make a quote its own paragraph because it sets it off, adding emphasis.

For all public writing, use Associated Press (AP) style, which is the standard that most news organizations follow. It’s usually practical and contains a solid dose of common sense. If you don’t already do so, subscribe online at

It’s important to keep your paragraphs short – despite what your fourth-grade teacher told you, paragraphs can be just one or two sentences. Long blocks of copy are hard to read and tend to be skipped.

Your sentences should vary in length of your sentences. By doing so, you improve your overall readability by helping the reader to avoid patterns of brief or long passages; that improves comprehension.

If you notice, the preceding paragraph contains a short, simple sentence and a more complex one.

Now let’s talk about some common mistakes found in bad writing.

● Limit jargon. Your peers may be familiar with industry terms, but you’re not writing for them. Consider that a general audience will need you to speak plainly and explain unfamiliar terms. Write, wherever possible in a conversational tone

● Avoid the urge to randomly capitalize words. It seems to be a trend in both the public relations world and the general public to capitalize words to make them seem more important. Hint: It doesn’t. Also remember that titles appearing before a name are capitalized; when they appear after a name, they aren’t. So, you would refer to Executive Vice President Michael Smith, but Michael Smith, executive vice president.

● Ditto with exclamation points. You simply look like you’re writing for a high school yearbook – the football team won a game! – than for a professional audience. Limit exclamation points to one per release, if that.

● in the same vein, watch the flowery adjectives and terms. Calling everything “great,” “terrific,” “game-changing” and so on will have jaded journalists rolling their eyes and clicking the delete button.

● Watch out for unneeded big words. Why say “utilize” when “use” works just fine. People might get confused by “capital,” but everyone understands “money.” It’s easier to “buy” something than “purchase” it.

● Speaking of quote marks, they’re overused as well. Key words don’t need to be put in quotes to be highlighted.

● Use the active voice in writing. For example, don’t say, “XYZ Utilities has been developing a new program ...” It’s much better to say, “XYZ Utilities developed a new program …”

Finally, be judicious about your use of press releases. Hewing to the less is more mantra, don’t send out releases for every mundane thing – journalists will start to look at you as the boy who cried wolf. Send releases out for the truly important things only.


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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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