As editor of MedLatest, everyone’s favourite medtech news vehicle, I receive dozens of identikit press releases for consideration. And even today, as much as I (don’t) understand the black art of PR, they leave me scratching my head. Almost always.
If there’s a definition of “boiler plate” the medtech press release has to be it. And that’s fair enough. The formula is easy to write, easy to read, easy to understand and easy enough to pick the bones out of. Job done.
But as someone who’s always challenged the “today” with the question of “will we still be doing it this way in ten years time?” I do wonder about the press release. Will companies continue to pay for PR puff that’s dull, biased and dare I say often badly written? I suppose they will for as long as said PR professional is able to demonstrate how many vehicles have picked up the story.
So is that it? Sorrowful recognition that boiler-plating about this show, that study, this launch, that clinical paper, is enough to keep the industry turning?
I could list all my PR contacts and I’ll be honest in saying I like them all. They’ve got a job to do and I respect that, especially the way they skilfully persuade (manipulate!) me into covering their story. Makes our job a little easier too… when the “news” comes to us.
The MedLatest Difference
Except we’re not regurgitators of press release puff. We like to put a bit more of a shift in than that. First we decide whether the story fits our content parameters… ie, Is it news? Is it interesting? Is it medical technology-related? Then we take out the hyperbole, the hanging comparatives, the repetition and so on. Add an editorial twist if you like.
If there’s an image we usually need to fanny about with that too. 5Mb does not a fast-loading page make.
And finally, when that all looks dandy, we check the SEO score – the thing that actually really matters – to see whether Google is likely to consider that the tale has enough relevance to gain a bit of “authority status”. Will it get it listing somewhere near its closest Wikipedia counterpart. This is where it gets tricky, because Google is a very picky customer. And medically-orientated copy is about as far off the mark as it can get, at least before we start the process. Google likes short words and short sentences. It doesn’t like passive voice, the very essence of medical speak. And it likes “transition words” and short titles, and metadescriptions of 160 characters. It likes internal links. It likes external links. It likes keywords to be of appropriate density and used in first paragraph and at least one subtitle. It likes embedded pictures with alt text. And don’t mention the title… “Company X has announced the commencement of enrollment in its pivotal study that it expects will lead to FDA approval and market launch, all supported by new $50trillion funding round”… is a bit too long. Like 20 words too long.
You get the picture? So when a PR piece lands in the inbox and our analysis says >50% of its sentences are over 20 words, >50% of sentences use passive voice (should be 10% max) and only 10% of sentences use transition words (should be much much more), you get the picture. Oh, and the Flesch reading ease score is 18%… when it also needs to be much much more.
I honestly don’t know what to do with all this sometimes. How can we stop using long words? And when medics use passive voice all the darned time, what’s the sense in speaking to them in a different language?
And at the end of the day it’s not like we can easily compare results from our posts that have rubbish scores with those that have good ones.
So we plug away… up to a point. After all that’s what sets us apart. If you’re a PR exec, don’t even think about optimising for Google… that’s our job.
And by the way… no, I haven’t crunched the numbers on this piece.