As I was going through my RSS reader earlier today, I came across an post on paidContent detailing the launch of Sharecare, a new online health and wellness website that is set to launch in 2010.

I was intrigued because of the number, and identity, of the co-founders: celebrity doctor Dr. Mehmet Oz, WebMD founder Jeff Arnold, Discovery Communications, Harpo Productions (Oprah!), Sony Pictures Television and HSW International. Wow, I thought, this must be good.

There wasn’t much going on at the Sharecare website so I decided to read the official press release. What I found is a case study in how to write a bad one.

The title: “Dr. Mehmet Oz and Internet Entrepreneur, Jeff Arnold, Announce Sharecare Inc., a Web 3.0 Platform, Organizing and Answering the Questions of Health“. A Web 3.0 platform? I groaned. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better.

The first paragraph of the press release calls Sharecare “the first healthcare platform for consumers to ask, learn and act on the questions of health“. If that’s seems a bit incredible to believe, that’s because it is. From MedHelp to Healthboards to WebMD, there are plenty of online services that allow “consumers to ask, learn and act on the questions of health” in a variety of ways.

The press release goes on:

HSW International is developing Sharecare’s customizable social QA platform, which is built on a comprehensive information architecture. The platform features social and portability tools which will shift the paradigm for interaction between professional and consumer content and seamlessly extend the content experience to other websites.

If you remember the Web Economy BS Generator, you might wonder where some of this language came from.

And when it comes to Sharecare’s business model, you have to love how ‘sponsored conversations‘ are spinned:

As part of Sharecare’s unique business model, answers are also provided by “Knowledge Partners,” private sector sponsoring companies that have compiled substantial research through product development, pharmaceutical and medical device discovery, or consumer product development. This unique engagement allows a brand to develop a direct relationship with consumers by transparently participating in the conversations of health, as opposed to simply purchasing a traditional banner ad.

Of course, while it’s certainly conceivable that a pharmaceutical company rep may be able to answer questions about a prescription drug, for instance, I’m not sure consumers will necessarily want ‘sponsored conversations‘ when it comes to a discussion of their health issues.

All told, Sharecare’s press release runs over three pages. To be fair, Sharecare may very well turn out to be a great company offering a valuable service. Time will tell. But from a press release standpoint, I almost became sick.

Here are a few suggestions on how to avoid writing a bad press release based on the mistakes discussed above:

  • Don’t use technojargon. After all these years, there’s still debate over what ‘Web 2.0‘ means. So calling yourself a ‘Web 3.0 platform‘ or something similar probably isn’t a good idea simply because it will either have no meaning to the reader or will have different meanings to different readers.
  • Don’t make claims that you can’t back up. Chances are you want your press release to reach sophisticated readers (e.g. journalists that write about your market). But any good journalist is going to be skeptical about claims that you’re “the first [fill in the blank]” because 99.9% of the time, it’s not true.
  • Ease off the marketing speak. While you may think it’s cool that your product enables customers to cultivate extensible convergence while at the same time syndicating efficient communities, but please translate that into Human for the rest of us. As a general rule, please also stay away from ‘paradigm shifts‘ of all kinds.
  • Don’t sugar coat. It took me all of two seconds to understand that Sharecare’s “Knowledge Partners” are big companies paying to participate in conversations about something very important: health and wellness. You can try to wrap that up in a pretty package, but I think most people will sort of get the idea. Which is why it’s often best not to create a pretty package. Say what needs to be said, if it really needs to be said, and move on.
  • KISS. In my opinion, the best press releases are usually a single page. Anything over one and a half pages is troublesome in my opinion, especially on a Monday.

By following these tips, you’ll have much better shot at receiving a healthy response to your press release.

Photo credit: Guerry via Flickr.