It's Time For the Long-winded Press Release to Die
One thousand, six hundred and fifty-three words.
That may not sound like a lot. The reviews and features we publish at TTAC routinely go beyond that. Alex Dykes, when he really sweats the details, can easily reach 3,000 words in his reviews. Jack, when he isn’t even trying, will end up writing 1,600 words on a Matrix — just because. My reviews will easily eclipse the 2,000 word mark, even as I sit here complaining about not knowing what to say.
But 1,653 words equals approximately 8 minutes and 12 seconds of reading time, according to Read-o-Meter. That also may not seem like much, but the latest press release for the “all-new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS” is a massive time waster, even at its sub-10 minute read time.
Why? Because the only two things I learned from it were: Mercedes-Benz has renamed and slightly updated the GLS, and Mercedes-Benz writes press releases that are at least five times longer than they need to be.
Before you complain, “How does this affect me? I’m not the one reading press releases. You are. That’s your job!” We’ll get there. I promise.
I don’t mean to pick on Mercedes-Benz in particular. The tri-star automaker is just the latest offender in what is a widespread problem for us media folk.
Audi uses the word “dynamic” so often that it’s become a meme amongst automotive journalists. At the Civic media drive, Honda gave journalists a press release that can only be described as The Most Boring Book Ever, measuring in at — no word of a lie — over 100 pages. When I can describe the length of a press release in easy fractions of a ream of paper — 1/5th of a ream in this case — there’s definitely something wrong.
Yes, it is my job to find what’s important. That’s the job of all automotive journalists. However, when given the choice of two tasks you must determine two things about those tasks: the return (or benefit) and the effort required. Assuming the benefit of those jobs is the same, humans will tend to pick the option requiring less effort. Why would I pick the more time consuming option if the return for that effort is the same? If picking apples and being a lawyer paid the same, we would eat a lot more apple pies and sue each other far less, I’d say.
That’s the reason why Nissan is in the news almost every single day. Their media relations department understands brevity. They understand that the time journalists will spend researching a piece is inversely proportional to the chances of that piece being written. So, what do they do? They give you the facts, usually in point form at the very top, above a well-written — but to the point — press release.
And it works. I can skim through a Nissan press release, pick out the important bits, and have an article up in around 30 minutes.
In the case of this particular Mercedes press release, here’s what I could gleam from it at first glance:
- The GL has been renamed GLS (we knew that already);
- It gets additional DYNAMIC SELECT (all caps, because every automotive feature must be shouted) transmission modes;
- A new nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission is used on all models except the GLS 63 AMG;
- The GLS 63 AMG gets 27 more horsepower, and other models see performance gains too;
- The front has been redesigned (even though it looks exactly as it did);
- There are new paint and wheel options;
- The steering wheel and instrument panel with color Media Display have been updated.
That’s 90 words, and I’m guessing that I missed a few really important points about the “all-new” GLS, which seems to be almost exactly like the old GL, just newer.
I totally realize my point-form version is a completely over-simplified of the original release (which can be found here if you’re interested), but burying the important bits with this does neither you (the car buyer), the automaker, nor the journalist any favors:
Once again the dimensions of the GLS bear witness to its full-size format, and form the best possible basis for providing its seven passengers with a generous amount of space.
Really, Mercedes-Benz? Is it “the best possible basis for providing its seven passengers with a generous amount of space?” I’m sure that the Grand Caravan could do the same thing, and probably at 1/4th the price. And “bear witness”? You aren’t rewriting John 5:31.
When a press release is burying the facts with phrases such as “bear witness,” it really makes me question everything else in the release. Why can’t you just give me the facts? Is my time worth that little to you that you must force me to wade through the fluff before double-checking every claim you make?
How does this affect you, the reader, the car buyer, the enthusiast, the industry professional?
It means that some automakers, regardless of the importance of their products, will perennially be in the lead when it comes to media coverage, and others will be constantly playing catch up. There’s a reason why I rarely write about BMW and Mercedes and write about Nissan and General Motors instead.
And that makes me look biased. And it makes you wonder why we are either biased in favor of one automaker or against another.
In a world that’s more connected than ever, where our audience expects up-to-the-minute news and information on either the latest vehicles or industry events, and where our resources are limited, we are constantly forced to decide where to best spend our time.
In a perfect world, I would treat each automaker equitably. However, in a perfect world, they would treat us equitably, too.
(Word count: 958.)
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