Jan 27, 2011

Avoid Common Press Release Pitfalls: Advice from our Eagle-Eyed Editors

The Catch of the Month board in our Albuquerque office

Even the most careful writer is susceptible to making a mistake. If that typo is in a company’s news release or other marketing materials, it can lead to substantial embarrassment and come at a great cost to you and your company’s reputation.

Fortunately, the most common pitfalls are easy to avoid if you know how to watch for them. Throughout 2010, PR Newswire editors caught more than 127,000 mistakes in press releases. Here are four of the most common mistakes we found, and how to avoid them.

Misspellings that could be caught in a spell check

From your company’s name to the spelling of a common word, conscientious use of a spell checker can prevent many embarrassing spelling errors.

The underused Ignore All button is your friend. When a word pops up that you know is correct, select the Ignore All – instead of the Ignore – button.  This often helps catch inconsistencies in the spelling of acronyms, proper nouns, and industry jargon mentioned multiple times throughout your text.

Of course, spell-checking programs aren’t perfect. They will pick up words that are spelled correctly in the text but not in the application’s dictionary. Don’t select Change or Change All unless you are absolutely certain the change is correct.  The last thing you want to do is accidentally change your CEO’s name from Galo to Gala because that’s what your spellchecker  suggested.

The spelling program won’t pick up all misspellings. It will overlook mistakes such as manger versus manager and the misuse of homophones like affect/effect, complement/compliment or it’s/its. To avoid a dependence on spellcheck, read your writing a few times out loud before running it through your spell checking program.

Nonworking or incorrect website links

Including the wrong website in a press release can carry significant consequences. Inverting two letters in a URL, typing .com instead of .org, or breaking the link with a space can keep readers from visiting your website.  You also lower the effectiveness of your SEO efforts by backlinking incorrectly or not at all.

Fortunately, there is a fast fix for preventing these mistakes – you just need to check that all of the links work (even the ones in your company boilerplate).

You can check a website by copying and pasting the link into your browser or hovering over the hyperlink in Word, hitting CTRL and clicking it.  To check an embedded backlink, right-click the linked phrase and select Edit Hyperlink.

When you visit the URL, check for two things:  one, that you don’t get a page error; and two, that the link actually takes you to the correct page. Sometimes a minor typo will take you to the homepage of another organization who uses a slight variation on your name. Or you may have linked to the webpage for Product X, when you intended to link to Product Y.

Don’t forget that websites aren’t the only hyperlinks prone to this mistake — more often than not, email addresses are incorrectly linked as well.  Although your text may include the correct email address, check that the backlink goes to the same place.  If the backlink in your address goes to your colleague’s email address, readers who click on it will be directed there instead of to your email.

Incorrect Contact Information

Incorrect email addresses are just one type of error that can crop up in contact information. You should also check that all phone numbers and names are correct.

Common phone number typos include using “800” instead of “877” in a toll-free number, providing the wrong extension, or accidentally including a mobile number instead of an office line. Check all numbers against an office directory or company website you know is accurate. If you’re still unsure, call the number. You should also use a trusted resource and follow the spell checking tips above to prevent the misspelling of a contact’s name.

What if the contact information is your own?  Don’t assume you’re safe from a mistake. Typos in our own name or phone number are the most common because we’re so used to seeing it and assume it’s correct.

Number Discrepancies

Discrepancies in numbers are not only common, but frequently difficult to spot. The good news? You can train yourself to keep an eye out for these most common culprits:

The date and day of the week don’t match: When you mention a day of the week in connection with a specific date, check it against your calendar. Make sure that January 31, 2011 is a Monday and not a Tuesday.

The year is wrong: Although this most frequently happens at the end and beginning of a calendar year, you should be on the safe side and always check that the year you’re referring to is the correct one.

The time zone conversion is wrong: If it’s necessary to write “12 p.m. Eastern Time (9 a.m. Pacific Time),” make sure you’ve converted your times correctly. Fortunately, you can find global time zone converters online that will convert both domestic and international time zones.

Errors in monetary amounts: From product pricing to a public company’s financials, an error in a monetary amount can have serious consequences. Be careful that decimal points are in the correct place, numbers haven’t been inverted, parentheses are included when you’re referring to a negative amount, and that you’ve included million and billion when necessary.

Multiple references to amounts are inconsistent: When a headline says there were 25 scholarship winners, make sure it says 25 throughout. If a bulleted or numbered list details each item, count them to doublecheck that the sum equals the total number you mentioned in other places.

Why you need a second set of eyes

It is essential to proofread, then proofread again to ensure a well-written and error-free press release. However, even if you’ve read the piece a few times and followed the above advice, it’s easy to overlook something on occasion.  Ask someone else to also proofread your work. A fresh set of eyes will often catch something you missed because you wrote it.

PR Newswire understands the importance of a second set of eyes – it’s why our Editorial department checks over your press release before distributing it.  We’re experts at proofreading, catching 127,584 mistakes in press releases in 2010 alone. From minor typos to incorrect financial figures, PR Newswire’s editors are the last line of defense – saving you not only the cost of fixing it after the fact, but also your company’s reputation.   In the meantime, we hope these tips help you catch mistakes in copy before it leaves your desktop.

Authored by Amanda Hicken, senior editor, PR Newswire.  Amanda pens the Clue Into Cleveland blog.

Want to fine-tune your press release SEO, and build visibility in search engines?  Read Press Release SEO: Writing Press Releases Effectively for Search Engines.

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