I was contacted recently by a friend and ex-colleague who is Marketing Director at a large, but specialist, global organisation. Over the last year, and bucking the trend completely, the company’s been on the acquisition and expansion trail and, as such, is starting to attract attention outside of its immediate trade media. They’re quite used to issuing media announcements, but it’s now got to the point where the managing director feels the company needs to develop its own persona – in his words “our press releases are too ‘corporatey'”. Actually, my heart sank when I heard that – those are the words of someone who knows it should be different, but doesn’t know enough about communication to express how different it should be, but that’s another story. (Soon to be addressed here.)
A couple of their latest releases were sent to me, and I’ll simply reproduce my response – with the names and places changed to protect the innocent.
“If you wanted a template for the construction of future releases, there are a few things you might consider:
1) Snappy headline. I know it sounds a bit trite and obvious, but the headline is what sells the story. A good headline saves the journalist writing his own, so if you can provide something clever, then – chances are – it’ll get used. The other thing about the headline (and the sub-head, if you choose to use one) is that it should contain the essence of the story – what’s the key fact, what’s the news.
2) Less is more. The old adage goes ‘tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them it, then tell them what you’ve told them’ – this is the three paragraph model of the press release. The first para – and forgive me if I’m teaching my granny to suck eggs – should have the five Ws – who, what, why, when and where – and the sixth W if necessary – (w)how. The rest is icing.
3) Develop a few key messages or phrases about your business – “Cxxxx, the world’s fastest growing xxxx organisation”. “Cxxxx, the leader in the utilities xxxx sector”, “Cxxxx, the leading provider of xxxx solutions” – and use them wherever possible. Also develop a ‘boiler plate’ paragraph, a ‘this is Cxxxx’ statement, which you should append to every release. Given that you have so many subsidiaries, each one of them should also develop their own boiler plate – eg Sxxxx should have its own.
4) Develop your own company ‘language’. Some companies are happy with the straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is, corporate stuff – others (and being lazy, I’ll cite Innocent) have their own way of presenting themselves – irreverent, rebellious, iconoclastic – choose which suits. But bear in mind that this is what corporate reputation is built on and if you choose a particular style or language, it becomes part of the corporate ethos and you have to stick with it – and you have to have someone who can write it, consistently.
5) When it comes to quotations, be a little more creative. It’s a representative of the company, talking about the company – it’s a person, not a machine. Here you can use colloquialisms and be a bit more gung-ho. Don’t attribute a quotation to two people – a journalist will never attribute a quote to two people – so it’s better to give each spokesperson their own quotation. They may not get used, but at least the journalist has something to choose from.
6) Give it context – this is the ‘why’ piece. Is there background, relevant reasoning to what you’re doing. I like the piece in the Singapore release about opportunity out of turmoil – this makes the story relevant and part of a bigger picture and thus more newsworthy.
7) A minor thing, but worth pointing out – it’s not ‘Cxxxx subsidiary, Sxxxx has opened an office……….’ It’s ‘Cxxxx, leading international xxxx organiser has opened an office through subsidiary Sxxxx’. Sxxxx’s not the story – Cxxxx is.
8) Ultimately, when you’ve decided what your communication’s going to look like, make sure that everyone in the organisation knows about it. Any communication coming out of Cxxxx should have the same look and feel and be recognisable as news from the global brand.”