A Tale of Two Press Releases: Lessons Learned From Corporate Giants

Apple vs. Amazon: Tips for Press Releases

Lead with the news. Clever leads are great and can attract attention. But get to the point quickly.

Make your press release read like a news story. Don’t use over-the-top marketing language suitable for an advertisement.

Avoid jargon and explain your brand terms. Readers should understand what you’re telling them immediately.

If you’re going to use a quote, make it fresh and newsworthy. Don’t rephrase other elements of the press release. Do make it memorable.

Always attribute quotes. If you’re quoting customers or the “man on the street,” tell us who they are and why we should care.

Provide easy-to-use collateral such as image downloads and product fact sheets.

Provide a point of contact for media follow-up. This needs to be a real person, not your main phone number and a generic email address.

Corporate icons Apple and Amazon battled in the PR sphere on the same day, giving us opportunity to see how two marketing heavyweights measure up against each other. In most respects it’s a fair fight. Both are high-tech brands with loyal fan bases and virtually unlimited PR resources. In last year’s Harris Interactive survey of public perceptions of major companies, Amazon and Apple ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively.

On Sept. 9, Apple held one of its infamous launch events in which it introduced a number of new products and services. The company issued five separate press releases for the Apple Watch, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Play, iOS 8 and the exclusive U2 album release for iTunes customers. It was a media bonanza.

In attempt to undercut Apple a bit, Amazon announced the day before that it was dropping the cost of its Amazon Fire phone to 99 cents with a two-year contract. On the day of Apple’s event, Amazon announced that Prime Instant Video was now available on Android phones.

I want to focus on two specific releases — Amazon’s phone price decrease and Apple’s iPhone 6 launch. The two press releases are distinct in their differences, and offer an opportunity to dissect what works and what doesn’t in a press release.

First, let’s take a look at the lead paragraph from Amazon’s announcement:

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Sep. 8, 2014– (NASDAQ: AMZN)—Dynamic Perspective, Firefly, world-class customer support with Mayday, free unlimited cloud storage for photos, 32GB of storage—and, for a limited time, customers get 12 months of Prime membership with Fire phone, which includes unlimited streaming of tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes from Prime Instant Video, access to over a million songs to download or stream from Prime Music, over 500,000 books to borrow from Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and free two-day shipping on tens of millions of items.

I’m cutting off there to make a few notes:

1. This is not a sentence. Can you tell me what the subject is in this sentence? It’s a 78-word rambling manifesto with no point whatsoever.

2. It is full of marketing jargon lost on new consumers. What is Dynamic Perspective, Firefly and Mayday? If you don’t already have a Fire phone, you probably don’t know. Prime Instant Video is more well known and it’s explained more than the other features, but it isn’t critical to the announcement, nor is it news.

3. Oh, yes. We still haven’t gotten to the news yet!

Now there’s another great reason to buy Fire—it’s just 99 cents with a two-year contract. Customers can purchase Fire on www.amazon.com, www.att.com and in AT&T stores nationwide.

We finally get to the news. Any editor or reporter will tell you if you can’t get to the point faster than this, they don’t care. If this press release didn’t have Amazon stamped on it, it would have been pitched in the trash bin long before the reader got to the lead.

Next up is the quote:

“Fire is now 99 cents with a two-year contract, plus customers get one full year of Prime included,” said Ian Freed, Vice President, Amazon Devices. “With access to all of the Prime content, Mayday, 32GB of memory and free unlimited cloud storage for photos, plus the exclusive Dynamic Perspective and Firefly features, Fire is another example of the value Amazon delivers to customers.”

Wait a minute … this sounds familiar. It’s a complete rephrasing of the first paragraph. We have the same buzzwords with no definitions. The only thing new is Ian Freed telling us that “Fire is another example of the value Amazon delivers to customers.” How? We don’t know, he doesn’t tell us.

See what Amazon Fire customers are saying:

“The best part of the phone is the integration with Prime – I’ve switched all of my iTunes music over to Amazon Music and have bought a few albums from my phone. The sound from the included headphones is amazing. I’ve watched some movies and read some books – all synced to my Kindle Fire HDX and the movies with my Fire TV.”
“Mayday: I feel this truly separates this phone from every other phone in the market. It’s like having someone available 24×7 to help you out with your phone…and, there is no charge for that ‘ever.’”
“Love it, better than the iPhone I had, Better pictures and better screen…My wife is switching from her iPhone 5 to Fire since she has checked out my FIRE.”
“I’ve had three Kindle Fire tablets, and this Fire phone hooks seamlessly to their ecosystem of books and videos, which I use heavily in my professional work so that’s important to me.”
“The Firefly feature is fun, and the camera takes fabulous pictures and videos.”
“If you’re an Amazon Prime user, it can’t get better than this. The support for the Amazon ecosystem is amazing.”

Here’s where the release completely goes off the rails. Amazon is introducing to us “the man on the street” quotes. First, none of these quotes are about the story of the day, which is that the phone is now 99 cents. It’s just a recitation of why the Fire is a great phone. Second, there is no attribution of who these customers are. How can a reporter verify these are accurate quotes? Are they customers? Employees? Invented? Impossible to know, since Amazon doesn’t tell us.

Fire is the only smartphone with Dynamic Perspective and Firefly, two breakthrough technologies that allow you to see and interact with the world through a whole new lens. Fire features an advanced, 13MP rear-facing camera with backside illumination, LED flash, 5-element f/2.0 lens, Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), and high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities for beautiful, crisp photos, even in low-light conditions. Fire also includes a 2.1MP front-facing camera, and photos taken with Fire receive free, unlimited cloud storage.

Now Amazon has finally told us what all these mysterious features are. If you’re an existing customer, you would know. But since these press release is to announce a price break, one would conclude that this is designed to attract new customers who have no idea what the features are. Using the brand terms and jargon early in the press release means that until now, I had no idea the phone has a 13 megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera.

Additionally, the Amazon Appstore has seen tremendous growth with the rate of app submissions to the Appstore more than doubling in the weeks following the Fire phone launch in the U.S. Recent additions include: MLB.com At Bat, Tetris Blitz, Venmo, and World Series of Poker as well as the tens of thousands of others already available for Fire – Facebook , Facebook Messenger, Flixster, Instagram, Pandora, Pinterest, Spotify, StubHub, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Customers are also enjoying the use of Dynamic Perspective within apps and games—3 of the top 7 downloaded apps and games, incorporate features of Dynamic Perspective. Learn more about the Fire developer SDK at http://developer.amazon.com/firephone.

This paragraph is not entirely newsworthy, but it could have been — and it could have been used to bolted the reputation of the Fire phone. Buried near the end of the release tells the reader it’s not important. Much of the news coverage from this press release focused on what is not in the press release — if the phone’s price is being cut, it means it’s a flop. Had the announcement been that the phone’s price is now 99 cents and developers are embracing the phone by doubling the number of app submissions since its launch, Amazon might have buffered some of the negative conclusions. For all we know, maybe Amazon always intended the Fire to be a loss leader and hoped cutting the price right before the iPhone 6 launch would help their sales and hurt Apple’s sales.

Now, let’s look at Apple’s press release for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus:

CUPERTINO, California—September 9, 2014—Apple® today announced iPhone® 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the biggest advancements in iPhone history, featuring two new models with stunning 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch Retina HD displays, and packed with innovative technologies in an all-new dramatically thin and seamless design. The new iPhones feature a precision unibody enclosure of anodized aluminum that conforms seamlessly with the shaped glass of the display, resulting in a completely smooth and continuous surface. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are engineered to be the thinnest ever, delivering a bigger display in a design that is still comfortable to hold and easy to use.

All in all, a very solid lead paragraph. Everything is in there. The first sentence tells us what the news is and explains the key features without using any brand terms or jargon. Everything is understandable. However, I do dock Apple for doing something Amazon did not do — using trademark logos in a press release. This press release is primarily intended for the media and should adhere to Associated Press Style to make it easier and more likely reporters will use Apple’s language. News stories never use trademarks, and they are inappropriate in press releases — never use them.

Packed with innovative new technologies, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus include: the Apple-designed A8 chip with second generation 64-bit desktop-class architecture for blazing fast performance and power efficiency; advanced iSight® and FaceTime® HD cameras; ultrafast wireless technologies; and Apple Pay™, an easier way to simply and securely make payments with just the touch of a finger.¹ Both models include iOS 8, the latest version of the world’s most advanced mobile operating system, featuring a simpler, faster and more intuitive user experience with new Messages and Photos features, QuickType™ keyboard, a new Health app, Family Sharing and iCloud Drive℠.

Apple goes in the reverse order of Amazon’s release, starting with the news and then getting to the features. It’s an approach that makes sense. There is still too much unexplained jargon, but we are told what some features are or they are used in context that helps us better assume what they are. Again, the trademark logos are a distraction. Apple also commits another big no-no, which is the inclusion of footnotes. Footnotes are used to cite sources. If you’re using footnotes in a press release — which you shouldn’t — you’re attempting to hide something in the details. If it’s pertinent information, it needs to be in the release.

“iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are the biggest advancements in iPhone history,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “The iPhone is the most loved smartphone in the world with the highest customer satisfaction in the industry and we are making it much better in every way. Only Apple can combine the best hardware, software and services at this unprecedented level and we think customers are going to love it.”

This is a very effective use of the quote. Much of the media coverage used the phrase describing the new iPhone as the biggest advancements in the product’s history, and much of that is because of this quote. Had Apple just claimed it in the body of the press release, it wouldn’t have much value. Here CEO Tim Cook says it, making it attributable. Cook’s quote says what cannot be said in a news story without attribution. It also gives us new information not included elsewhere in the press release. Whereas Freed’s quote is forgettable, Apple has made Cook’s quote the headline.

For the first time iPhone is available in two new sizes: iPhone 6 features a stunning 4.7-inch Retina® HD display with 1334 x 750 resolution, providing 38 percent more viewing area than iPhone 5s, while iPhone 6 Plus features an even bigger 5.5-inch Retina HD display with 1920 x 1080 resolution, providing 88 percent more viewing area and nearly three times the pixels than iPhone 5s. The Retina HD displays offer advanced technologies including higher contrast for deeper blacks and dual-domain pixels for more accurate colors at wider viewing angles.

Much of the rest of Apple’s press release is dedicated to paragraphs such as this, detailing the individual features and prices. The release is a bit too long, logging in at nearly 1,400 words. Could it be pared down? Certainly. I would have favored a shorter press release along with a “fact sheet” that detailed the individual features in-depth.

Apple also beat Amazon on two other details. Apple provided links on the press release page to download images of the new phones. Most if not all of the product shots you’ve seen in the media coverage came from those downloads. Amazon featured no links to download photos of the Fire. News stories focusing on the iPhone 6 entirely used new photos, while stories about the Fire featured a hodgepodge of stock photos from past stories.

Curiously, Amazon also goes with an anonymous PR approach. If you want to contact Amazon for more information, you have to call a generic phone number or email a generic address. Apple listed two distinct media contacts with direct phone numbers and email addresses.

In fairness to Amazon, most of their press releases are better than the Amazon Fire price reduction release. The introductory release in June was on par with Apple’s release in terms of depth, even though it suffered from the same fatal flaw of leading with too many brand terms and product jargon. The follow-up release in July when the phone hit market featured product reviews from third-parties, which are appropriate for advertising and marketing but in appropriate in a press release.

If you want to a cue from a major company on how to write press releases, Apple is the clear winner.

%d bloggers like this: