Posts tagged ‘PR’

Are Press Releases Useful?

Every week, key company executives receive emails from their marketing and communications teams with press releases attached for review. No doubt these documents elicit groans at times. More than one managing partner or president has thought, “Do these things ever generate any business, or are we just spinning our wheels?” The question at prima facie is not unreasonable. After all, a lot of time goes into writing, editing and disseminating these documents.

While PR styles differ in many aspects, the press release itself tends to follow a fairly simple formula:

  • Headline – Factual introduction of release, needs to include firm name and (if applicable) name of individual involved.
  • Paragraph one – Who, what, where, when, how and why.
  • Paragraph two – Often a quote from senior company official offering commentary.
  • Body paragraph(s) – More explanation of the event/and or individual involved.
  • Issuer Description Who the issuing organization is and what they do.

In an ideal world, a press release clocks in at 300-500 words. Press releases have never been a vehicle designed for calling an organization “great” or “first-class.” They are fact-driven documents with a sliver of strategic commentary included via the quote. Every statement should be verifiable and direct.

The reason for this sort of rigidity is that different readers are looking for different things:

  • Media – They generally use only the information in paragraph one.
  • Alumni Organizations –They generally use paragraph one and school-specific information found in the body copy.
  • General Public – The entire release. This is why, while you shouldn’t expect the media to run the release’s quote, you should anticipate clients and potential clients will be reading it. Also, this is why both the body paragraph’s firm-specific portion and the release’s boilerplate content matter.

(It should be noted that releases for publicly traded companies that could materially affect a company are entirely different from those in discussion.)

But, who really reads this stuff?

Press releases, absent a compelling reason, are rarely read by the general public. However, when doing due diligence on an organization, they are essential vetting material. The value of a well-crafted, strategic press release may not manifest itself for months or years. Consider, however, the alternative wherein a firm de-values these sorts of communications. That firm’s website will provide a great deal less content, leading some to think that it either: a) is not being proactive in marketing the organization; or b) is a place where nothing seems to happen.

Top-of-mind

Press releases also serve a vital role in helping to keep an organization’s name in circulation, both with the public and the media. Being proactive about promoting partner elevations, office openings and expansions and awards garnered, keep a firm’s name in front of key editors and reporters. It is not uncommon for a press release to either: a) lead to a story about an organization; or b) see a new company member suddenly tapped by a reporter for commentary.

PR has changed a great deal since we first opened our doors 23 years ago. However, a core deliverable of the profession remains as valuable as ever. While certainly not as glamorous as being quoted in the New York Times, press releases are fundamental to an organization’s well-being and well worth the effort.

Michael Bond

November 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment

A Holiday Reminder: Unlike Fruitcake, “News” has a Short Shelf Life

Listen up, litigators (and dealmakers)!  We are aware of the amazing high you get when the jury delivers that winning verdict after a hard-fought trial for which years of your life were spent in preparation – or when those transactional documents are signed, sealed and delivered after many days and nights of intense negotiations in an enclosed room with recirculated air. Ah, sweet VICTORY!!!

But wait, you want to share the news, right? You want the world (or at least your friends and foes) to know it was you and your amazing team that got the job done. Well, remember to call in your communications team before you send out an all-firm email celebrating your success. After all, news – unlike the ubiquitous holiday fruitcake or the recently departed Twinkie – has a shelf life. Reporters like it when it is fresh.

The news cycle is never-ending. News breaks 24/7. Citizens (and reporters) are tweeting from the courtroom, so results are circulated within minutes of being read. The recent Apple-Samsung verdict – which had many components – was live tweeted. Investors are speculating and corporate PR machines humming along and poised for immediate disclosure. There are no “presses” to stop for breaking news. Reporters need the “news” of your victory within minutes because the deadlines for the web are relentless. Good news is like milk on your countertop – wait too long and no one wants to touch it.

We’ve been “breaking” legal news for more than two decades, and we used to have the luxury of “picking” our timing. A verdict read late on a Friday – traditionally undesirable news timing because you don’t want to be in that skinny, overlooked Saturday edition – might be held for release on Monday morning, after the celebratory hangovers have subsided, talking points have been vetted and client approvals confirmed twice. Well, just like sending press releases via U.S. Postal Service, this is a communications practice of the past.

If you’d like news coverage of your case or deal, it needs to be communicated as soon as possible after the big verdict is read or deal closure secured. Better yet, let’s chat in advance and get it all ready to go – “just in case.” Consider creating a mini-communications “strike force” – prepared with sources, talking points and materials for all possible outcomes. Bear in mind that confidentiality agreements exist for a reason and we are disciplined when it comes to safeguarding your information.

Competition is stiff. If you’re not sharing the news, but the other side is beating its chest and screaming about an appeal, you may see some coverage, but it will likely quote the attorney who was sitting on the other side of the courtroom or across the table.

We PR-types don’t mean to be buzzkills, but please don’t wait to move on big news. We exist in symbiotic relationships with you, our clients – and we enjoy popping a few bottles ourselves upon getting the right message out at the right time and into the right vehicles.

When it comes to news, think fresh.

Traci Stuart

December 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm Leave a comment

For Press Releases: Stick to the Facts

Writing good press releases is not as simple as it would seem. The right words in the right place can make an enormous difference, as can a good message-focused quote versus a stock, throwaway one.

Continue Reading July 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm Leave a comment

Timeline = Time for Social Media Audit, Plan

Auditing what you and your company are revealing is critical to protecting privacy and minimizing potential PR issues.

Continue Reading December 16, 2011 at 11:16 pm 3 comments

It’s Tough to Beat a PR Message Delivered by Cannonball

It’s that time of year. The publications, trade and consumer, online and traditional, are proclaiming their best and worst of 2011. I’ll just give you one recent and personal chart-topper.

The Discovery Channel show, “MythBusters,” while filming at a Bay Area sheriff’s department bomb range, accidentally launched a cannonball into a home and a minivan. The news and the program’s often odd-ball hosts were named in major news outlets around the country.

The Discovery Channel’s and “MythBusters’” response was thoughtful and complete on day one. Resulting coverage assured the public that

  1. no one was hurt;
  2. Discovery Channel took responsibility;
  3. all appropriate and proper safety protocols were followed (in fact, a sheriff’s department safety expert was on the scene when the “bounce” happened);
  4. the incident was bizarre and unprecedented in show’s history (with details on the cannonball’s trajectory); and
  5. the incident would not air.

Then, on day two, when many a successful crisis communicator might have been content to rest on the mountain of not-terribly-damaging coverage clippings, the show’s two hosts went out to publicly survey the damage, express their “embarrassment” (look at that, raw emotion!) and personally apologize to those impacted – even going so far as to decline to smile in fan photos since it wasn’t “a smiling time.”

Nicely done, Discovery Channel and “MythBusters.”  There’s definitely something to be said for a human response to a PR crisis!

–          Traci Stuart

December 16, 2011 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

Go Ahead Switch to Decaf, There’s Better Ways to Refill Your Energy Tank

Having worked in-house at law firms for four years, I am acutely aware of the strains that are generally put on legal marketers. Wearing many different hats and being able to effectively manage numerous channels of information and projects is – even to the very best at doing it – an extremely difficult and energy intensive thing to do. This is why I found a recent New York Times article so interesting.

Near the beginning of the article, an extremely spot-on exchange is relayed:

Tony, it’s unsustainable,” he said, almost as if he was making a confession.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I have 1,000 unread e-mails in my inbox,” he told me. “I can’t imagine I’m ever going to get through all of them.”

“Are any of them important?” I asked.

“How would I know?” he said ruefully.

How many busy professionals, if being entirely honest, would say the same thing? But, listen to this:

During the day, we oscillate every 90 minutes from higher to lower alertness. In effect, our bodies are asking us for a break every 90 minutes. But we override the signals with coffee, sugar and our stress hormones.

For professionals, one of the answers to this avalanche of emails and endless coffee (of which I am an offender) – and one that deviates from suggestions in the article such as integrating nap pods – is to be smarter by managing the flow of information and tasks into and out of our virtual “In Box.” By employing third-party service providers – such as public relations firms – companies can do more in a shorter time period. Branding agencies and PR firms can off-load pivotal tasks so strained departments can focus on the other 800 emails coming. Forming partnerships can virtually grow a firm’s marketing department and reduce stress for marketers.

Speaking from personal experience, the other key advantage of forming partnerships with content specialists is the outside perspective they bring in. Any organization will miss opportunities and fall into the dreaded group-think if they do not seek answers outside their walls. Remember, someone at GM must have thought the Pontiac Aztek was a pretty good looking car.

Michael Bond

July 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm 1 comment

Lack of Ethics Leads to Black Eye for PR Industry

As a public relations agency, we adhere to the ethics guidelines set forth and agreed upon by our industry.  Not only do we owe this to the PR trade but to our clients and journalists, who are bound by their own respective industry ethics.  The key word here is ethics, a concept central to effectively representing clients and building relationships with journalists.

So it is unfortunate that Burson-Marsteller ignored its commitment to PR ethics. The mega-agency created a whisper campaign to get top-tier media outlets, including USA Today, to run news stories and editorials berating Google’s privacy.  Former CNBC news anchor Jim Goldman and former political columnist John Mercurio, both recent Burson-Marsteller hires, were active in the media pitching – until they were asked which client they represented.  The radio signal then went silent.

Burson-Marsteller even approached an influential blogger, Chris Soghoian, offering to assist in writing a Google-bashing op-ed and promising to place it in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico and The Huffington Post.  Again, when asked about the client involved, the radio signal went silent.  So Soghoian denied the request and posted the entire email exchange.

After the email exchange went public and USA Today reported that many claims in Burson-Marsteller’s pitch were false, The Daily Beast’s Dan Lyons became suspicious and eventually outed Facebook as the anonymous client.  Describing the scenario, Lyons wrote:

Here were two guys from one of the biggest PR agencies in the world, blustering aroundSilicon Valleylike a pair of Keystone Kops.

Here are two former journalists, working for one of the world’s largest PR firms, making false claims and refusing transparency.  Only after Facebook admitted its role, did Burson-Marsteller release the following statement:

Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.

 The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media. Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources.

Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.

Too little, too late.  As Media Bistro points out, Burson-Marsteller should have refused the campaign:

For publicists, one of the many lessons of this story is that, as a PR professional, sometimes you have to discuss alternatives or decline a client’s request when the work is improper.

One the six core tenets of the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Code is “honesty.”  PR firms are expected to “reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented” and “avoid deceptive practices.”

If Burson-Marsteller had followed this tenet, been upfront about its client and used solid facts when pitching, the story would have ended quite differently (avoiding the black eye the PR industry wears today).   As PRSA points out on its blog, “the ironic thing is that Burson-Marsteller got exactly what it wanted: a big article in USA Today talking about privacy concerns with Google’s services.”

–          Chuck Brown

May 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm Leave a comment

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