Mar 03, 2011

Press Release Pitfalls: Prevent Math Mix-Ups

Last month, senior editor Amanda Hicken wrote “Avoid Common Press Release Pitfalls: Advice from our Eagle-Eyed Editors,” highlighting four of the most common types of mistakes PR Newswire editors have caught, and how to avoid them in your press release.

That blog post was the first in what is going to be a new series on Beyond PR, Catching Up with Editorial, where some of our editors will be highlighting a great catch that was made for a client during the course of that month, related mistakes or inconsistencies Editorial looks for in releases, and how you can make similar catches before the release is even submitted to PR Newswire’s Editorial department.

We will also be letting you know how many catches we make on your releases every month.  In January and February, the Editorial department made a total of 22,038 catches in approximately 25,108 releases.  This works out to be a catch on nearly every release!

This month we’re going to focus on the math that shows up in your release. You probably wouldn’t think that a group of editors would be the most math-savvy bunch since Editorial is mostly made up of journalism, public relations and English majors. However, there are many instances of math in a press release, and your editors are working hard to make sure we are adding, subtracting and multiplying for the right answers.

Below are some examples of possible math mix-ups that can occur in your release.

Inconsistencies in lists – exactly how many people won that award?

A lot of press releases talk about employees being honored, contracts being won, foundation efforts to local charities.  But you could trip up your best efforts by not listing the numbers you state.  If your headline states that the company has won four contracts for the coming year, you would be advised to make sure that you mention all four.  An easy way to check your own numbers is to use a bulleted list, and then all you would have to do is count your bullets!  Four contracts are claimed in the headline – four bullets, one describing each contract.

A recent release showcased this method, using the bulk of the release to talk about a recent event it had sponsored and mentioning that it had sponsored two more.  At the end of the release was a short bulleted list, describing the two other events.  Three events were named – three events were mentioned.

Those numbers don’t add up!

Another inconsistency that is a little easier for us to catch is when dollar amounts don’t match.  One of our editors, Heather Howard, made a great catch recently for a foundation when she noticed a difference in the amounts that were given.  The headline and first paragraph of the release gave the amount as “$88,700.”  Later in the release, the amount was broken into two separate amounts, one of $70,000 and one of $17,000.  That showed a $1,000 discrepancy in the total.  Heather reached out to the client, and they asked us to change the headline and first paragraph to reflect the correct amount, $87,700.

Not all of the numbers will be that easy for us to catch – in a lot of our clients’ earnings statements, Editorial may not know which column should add up exactly.  But, any time that an editor has a question or a situation arises that we don’t know which number amount is correct, we will always reach out to you for confirmation.

Finances, finances

With the first quarter earnings period just about over, Editorial is seeing fewer releases about the year’s progress and the long columns of numbers that go with them.  Every quarterly earnings period is a time of heightened concentration, with editors preparing themselves to look for some of the following mix-ups:

  • Day and date slips: Sometimes, templates are used in writing conference call or year end results releases.  Unfortunately, that also means that sometimes an outdated date is left in the release!  Our editors will try to check every date listed in a release – is the 6th really a Monday? – and many times will use the “Find” function in Microsoft Word to check if the year is listed correctly throughout the release.
  • Comparing text and tables: In the earlier example, when editor Heather Howard noticed a discrepancy between the amount in the headline and the amount later in the text, she did the math and called the client.  When our editors process financial tables, they will compare what is stated earlier in the release to what shows up in the financial tables.  When the release gives the amount of net income in the final quarter of 2010, the editor will compare it against the financial tables and check the heading of the table as well, to make sure that it is for the correct span of dates.
  • Footnotes: A lot of financial tables will need footnotes or references.  Editors will take a look at the release itself – taking into consideration how many there are and whether they’re listed as numbers or letters. Editorial will then compare this information with the end of the table and make sure that if the financial table lists four footnotes, that footnotes 1, 2, 3 and 4 appear.  And if the end of the financial table reference says “Please see Schedule X for the notes,” then Schedule X will get checked for the correct number of notes.

As Amanda wrote in the first Catching Up with Editorial post, every release really needs the second set of eyes that Editorial will give it, but we hope that these tips will help you catch these issues before the release leaves your desktop and comes to us.

Image courtesy of Flickr user re_birf

Kate GaloAuthor Kate Goebbel is a communications professional at PR Newswire, and loves to consult on press release techniques, SEO and results. She infrequently tweets at @kate_city and can be found on LinkedIn.

3 Comments on Blog Post Title

Amanda Miller 17:09 EST on Mar 3, 2011

It’s slightly ironic that some of the numbers in this story don’t add up. In ‘Those numbers don’t add up,’ the discrepancy is actually $1,700, not $1,000 ($70,000 + $17,000 = $87,000). We’ve all been there and know how easy it is to miss little things like this!

Sarah Skerik 19:09 EST on Mar 3, 2011

Amanda, you’re absolutely right! In PR Newswire parlance, kudos on a great catch. I suspect our author Kate didn’t have one of her colleagues in Editorial review the story. As you correctly, it’s very easy to make simple mistakes. That’s why the editorial review we include is so important. 🙂

Kate Galo 09:05 EST on Mar 4, 2011

You’re right – in this case, the error was in my transcribing something that was sent to me by someone else. The discrepancy should have been $17,700 – not $17,000. My supervisor would remind me that we should never type out an amount sent to us by a client – we should always copy and paste! Thank you for seeing that, Amanda.

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