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
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Listen up everyone, Ann Wylie is revealing one of the most important, sensible, useful, valuable and powerful insights you’ll ever read about that each of us should already know: communication is about talking and writing to time (that’s the reader or listener’s time). Two powerful metrics: reading speed (in English speaking cultures) 200 words per minute; speaking velocity about 150 words per minute.
Want to be heard or read stop wasting reader’s and listener’s time . . .they, in fact, won’t let you either. Adopt two powerful personal principles:
1. Say less but make it more important to the listener from their perspective
2. Write less but make it more valuable to the reader from their perspective.
A quick story: Some years ago I was on a panel with the editor of the Denver post who said very matter of factly,” Most releases come in on Saturday (still true today) when I have a skeleton staff. We sift through the piles and the emails, pick a few from people we know, and the rest (she made a sweeping gesture with her arm), just go into the waste basket, or are deleted.” The audience drew a huge, sudden and very loud breath and there were a lot of pale faces. Pay attention to Ann’s powerful advice. Much of your career depends on it.
What about longer stories, human interest features, etc? What is the best way to pitch those?
Thank you, Jim. I appreciate the speaking velocity stat, which I hadn’t seen, the Denver Post story … and your kind words!
Thanks for the post, Ann. Terrific data, too.
I’m still baffled that we have to keep repeating this – reporters, editors, etc. have been telling PR pros this for years but the message isn’t getting through. I can’t tell you how many news releases that have been sent to me by reporter friends asking why “we” keep writing like this and sending information that is not helpful nor relevant nor presented in a way that makes their job easier. This is not rocket science. Sigh.
Agreed, Bonnie. We keep learning this over and over, yet we still send out “XYZ Company today announced” leads atop long, self-serving releases with 125-word incomprehensible quotes. Then we ask ourselves why it’s not working. Sigh, indeed!
One of our interns at our company has been writing our press releases for a few weeks. Thankfully, I think the message being taught to young journalists is exactly what you’re speaking to- keep it short, get the point across early. Give just enough detail, including a good quote, that the journalist could pick up the story without having to reach back out. Great article!
ps- one quick thing. “…To reach these folks, you’ll need to learn how to get your point across is 60 seconds.” (maybe “in” instead of “is”?)
Thanks again for an awesome article, Ann.
A lot of the work that I’ve been doing at my internship has been news releases. I tend to keep it to one page but sometimes I feel like there is not enough content. It is good to know that I should keep my work short and sweet as the average human reads 200 words per minute.
[…] Take a minute to think about how much information YOU receive daily. How do you prioritize what you’re going to read, listen to, watch? What stops you in your tracks? […]
To take the advice of this post, I’ll keep this response short.
In today’s fast-paced social media society, people don’t have the time or attention span for much of anything that takes over a minute to do. You have to learn to say what you need and give journalists what they want. Not more, but certainly not less than they need.
So, be kind to your journalist colleagues and trim all the fluff from your news releases.
[…] to be around 600 words or more. Assume your competition is writing news releases that are too long. Stand out with short releases that get your main point across […]
The numbers given in this piece provide tangible evidence of the importance of condensed news releases. Additionally, the statistics show just how many news releases journalists receive daily. This is important for all aspiring PR professionals to read!