Online tool rates press releases’ readability By Russell Working | Posted: May 12, 2015

Interesting article about a new online tool for writers, public relations and communications pros to see if your press release is news worthy and up to snuff.  — Peter Cento, Wild Cats Enterprises, Inc.

Online tool rates press releases’ readability By Russell Working

Posted: May 12, 2015

Unsure about whether that press release of yours is up to snuff? Why not run it through an automated Web tool and see how you score?

That’s the logic behind a new site, Better PR Writer, which offers an online tool for measuring the readability of your press release.

Paste your press release into the form, and punch the “submit” button to test your publicity writing smarts. The tool is the brainchild of Matt Swayne.

“From my own experience, press releases are still important to marketing and PR campaigns, but are just one piece in a suite of content contributions to campaigns,” Swayne writes. “Releases are often written by junior writers, or—as I am finding out as a research writer at Penn State—by people who have no PR or writing experience.

“What Better PR Writer will do—hopefully—is set an automatic threshold for releases to attain before they are entered into the distribution pipeline.”

The tool also offers advice such as this: “Use simple sentences when possible. The average reader spends only a few seconds making a decision to read the rest of your release, or not.”

Plug in your copy

The tool, which is now at the beta stage, works thus: In an online form, you paste in your lede in the top window, plug the rest of your text in the next box and hit a button to submit your masterpiece. The site will rate you in several areas, including word count score, sentence complexity and paragraph length.

We asked several communicators what they think. Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs, offered qualified praise.

“In general, I’m a fan of any tool that aims to help raise the level of writing for anything and raise awareness of the need for good writing,” writes Handley, author of “Everybody Writes.” “That alone is worth a high-five.”

She adds, however, that it’s hard to tell how effective the platform is as a PR tool. The key to it seems to be that it also optimizes and scores a piece of writing according to best practices for press releases, Handley says. It’s hard to say how well that will work, given that she isn’t quite sure what it’s measuring.

“There are other tools that can help with the clarity, brevity, wordiness, readability and so on—including HemingwayApp and Grammarly (I use them both all the time),” Handley writes.

A communications consultant who asked not to be identified was skeptical about its value.

“I’m not entirely sure how you can analyze the art of press release writing,” the consultant said in an email. “There’s something very human about a person’s ability to understand an idea/concept/story. It’s not something you can automate. I don’t think this is something we’d ever use.”

Related: Start winning with words, stories, and message mapping at our PR Writing Summit in Chicago, Aug. 5. ​

A Ragan screed?

Well, all right then. Time to test it. Any volunteers?

No? Well, I’ll be brave. I have been known to write at least one (1) press release since arriving at Ragan Communications, the now-classic “Ragan Communications partners with PressPage to offer digital publishing platform.” (Feel free to print it out and paste it on your cubicle wall for inspiration.) It begins:

CHICAGO, May 23, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — A brand journalism pioneer today announced a new partnership that brings an easy-to-use publishing platform to the U.S., giving communicators new control over their digital newsrooms.

Better PR Writer gave me several perfect 100s, although I went blind trying to read BPRW’s pale, pale text and from now on will have to rely on interns to read copy aloud to me. The bad news: In the lede (if my intern is interpreting the scores correctly), I got a big fat zero for sentence complexity. That improved to 100 for the rest of the copy.

Sentence crispness? I flunked, with a score of 38.81. The first five paragraphs of the domestic terrorist Ted Kaczynski’s insane Unabomber Manifesto beat me on the crispness scale, with a 49. (For our younger readers, the manifesto is a 34,000-word screed that Kaczynski successfully blackmailed The Washington Post into publishing, a tactic we do not recommend for your PR campaigns.) The manifesto did draw mostly zeros in other scoring areas.

The manifesto highlighted Kaczynski’s frequent use of the word “may,” but then it also marked the month of May in my copy.

On the positive side, I tested the Gettysburg Address, and it got several 100s in its rating, even with all that four-score-and-seven-years-ago humbug. I think we can all agree that Abraham Lincoln missed his calling as a publicity writer.

As for Better PR Writer, Jonathan Rick of Jonathan Rick Group was unimpressed with the tool. “As a PR pro, I welcome services like this,” he says. “Rather than jeopardizing my job, they unintentionally underscore how difficult it is.”

Some dream of a future beyond even the capabilities of Better PR Writer—a time when bots will crank out those irritating press releases on minor business developments that poobahs make us deluge reporters with.

Dream on, Rick says. “There’s just too much to good writing—creating a narrative, developing a flow, delighting readers with surprises—which machines can’t replicate,” he says. “Yet.”​

@r_working