Tick tock. In the time it takes you to wash your hands, buckle your seat belt or start the dishwasher, your favorite journalist can finish reading your news release.
That’s right: Nearly 70 percent of journalists spend less than a minute reading a news release, according to a 2014 study by Greentarget. The rest spend one to five minutes. If your release is longer than 200 words, then seven out of 10 journalists probably won’t finish it.
Reporters likely aren’t lingering over your pieces because they get set so many of them. According to the Greentarget study:
- Forty-five percent of journalists surveyed get 50 or more releases per week.
- Twenty-one percent get at least 100 per week.
- Forty percent get 10 to 50 per week.
Journalists are drowning in an ocean of content. Plus, their time has become more constrained after years of media downsizing and increasing pressures to produce digital content.
As a result, “releases that are too long” is the fourth biggest pet peeve of the journalists surveyed by Greentarget. (“Releases that are poorly written” — ouch! — ranks third.) To reach these folks, you’ll need to learn how to get your point across in 60 seconds.
Thinking in minutes
What does one-minute mean with regard to word count? To find out, you’ll need to determine A.R.T., or average reading time.
Writers measure copy in words, inches or pages. Readers use a different metric: time. Therefore, instead of using writer-centric measures, think like your reader and calculate in terms of time, suggests Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at The Poynter Institute and author of the book “Writing Tools.”
Clark figures the average adult can read 200 words per minute. So, to find A.R.T., divide your word count by 200. Quick math tells us that a 400-word release will take two minutes to read. So: If you are aiming for a one-minute release, then you’ll want to limit it to 200 words.
Reducing your piece
Brevity is important for reasons other than journalists’ A.R.T, too. If your release is longer than 500 words, then portals may truncate it. If your piece is longer than 700 words, then Google News may reject it for being too long.
But don’t make your work too brief, either: If it is shorter than 125 words, then Google News may reject it for being too short. Plus, reading online can get onerous. Pieces of around 200 words are easier on real readers’ eyes.
Despite these guidelines, PR pros continue to send reporters elaborate pieces of content. We ran a quick sample of PR Newswire releases and found that they weighed in at a median of 600 words. They even ranged as high as 1,723 words — nearly a 9-minute read.
So, before you send an overworked journalist a release, hoping for a response, ask yourself: Wouldn’t this be twice as good if it were half as long?
Copyright © 2018 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.
Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services at WylieComm.com. Get more tips at FreeWritingTips.WylieComm.com.
NOT Your Father’s News Release
Would you like to learn more techniques for reaching journalists, bloggers and real readers with media relations pieces? If so, please join Ann at NOT Your Father’s News Release — a two-day PR-writing Master Class on Sept. 6-7 in Atlanta PRSA members: Save $100 with coupon code PRSA18.