Can you get your story across in 200 words?
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% of journalists spend less than a minute reading a news release, according to a 2014 study by Greentarget (PDF). The rest spend one to five minutes.
So if your release is longer than 200 words, seven out of 10 journalists won’t finish it.
Why so short?
No wonder reporters don’t linger over your release:
- 45% of journalists surveyed get 50 or more releases per week.
- 21% get at least 100 per week.
- 40% get 10 to 50.
These folks are drowning in an ocean of content. Plus, years of media downsizing and increasing demands on journalists to produce digital content mean that their time is even more constrained.
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! — is No. 3.)
To reach these folks, you need to write a one-minute release.
How long is a one-minute release?
So how short is that?
To find out, you need to figure A.R.T., or average reading time.
Writers measure copy in words, inches or pages. Readers use a different measure: time.
So instead of using writer-centric measures, think like your reader and measure in time, suggests Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at The Poynter Institute and author of 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.
So if your release is 400 words long, it will take two minutes to read.
You can also start with A.R.T. and divide by 200 words per minute to get your word count.
So if you are aiming for a one-minute release, you’ll want to limit it to 200 words.
Reduce the piece.
Journalists’ A.R.T. is just one reason to reduce the length of your release. If your release is:
- Longer than 700 words, Google News may reject it for being too long.
- Longer than 500 words, portals may truncate your release.
But don’t make it too short. If your release is:
- Shorter than 125 words, Google News may reject it for being too short.
Plus, reading online is onerous. Releases of 200 words or so are easier on real readers’ eyes.
Releases are too long.
Yet despite these guidelines, PR pros persist in writing really long releases.
We ran a quick sample of PR Newswire releases and found that they weighed in at a median of 600 words. They ranged as high as 1,723 words — about a 9-minute read.
Some PR pros on the other hand, are finding ways to drastically reduce the length of their releases:
- Nokia cuts its earnings release to 41 words.
- Pizza Hut famously introduced a new product with this 19-word release: “‘There’s bacon. In the crust! You’re welcome, America!’ said country music superstar and Stuffed Crust pizza aficionado Blake Shelton.”
- Christopher S. Penn boils his releases down to tweets.
- And I’m nuts for this one-word release.
After all, how much room do you really need?
How long are your releases? Would they be twice as good if they were half as long?
Sources: “Why Your Release Might Not Make It In to Google News,” BusinessWired, March 24, 2010
Rebecca Corliss and Mike Volpe, “How to Be Smarter Than Your PR Agency: New Research on News Release Best Practices,” HubSpot, May 20, 2009