Thursday, 23 June 2011


It’s always so easy to critique the handling of announcements when you’re not in the midst of the maelstrom of preparation, but (without naming names) there have been a couple of real clangers this week. These bring to mind a couple of rules:

If your brand is under pressure and your performance is poor, it is loose talk to say that you are “flattered” at the idea that a competitor might be considering acquiring you. It is, in the same breath, both an acceptance that you are the weaker party and a betrayal of your lack of faith in your own brand.

If you are a worldwide superstar announcing an initiative that has been teased in the most spectacular fashion you need to be damn sure that the thing that you are announcing is genuinely newsworthy and groundbreaking. It doesn’t matter how big you are – if the initiative doesn’t warrant much attention you’ll get a critical pummeling.

If you’re a CEO or President of an organization and you have a Twitter account, be very careful what you tweet, especially in response to a tweeted complaint. Even if you feel you’re mildly in the right, take pains to diffuse the situation and be personal and reflective in your responses. Reflect back (assuming questions of legal liability don’t apply) the way that the complainant feels so that he/she gets a sense that you are really listening. If you find yourself in trouble, with the complainant’s fellow twitterers on the case and spreading the word, take the time to deal with the issue, quickly, professionally and politely. The consequences, otherwise, could be huge.

If your CFO is leaving the business, announce it immediately. If you are a PLC, you have a disclosure obligation. If you think that by hanging on for a bit and slipping it out as part of your results announcement you’re going to get a better press, you’re mistaken, especially if the CFO is setting sail for a relatively unknown business and your numbers are under pressure. You might think that he’ll in part take the heat for poor performance, if that’s a current issue, but it doesn’t work that way.

Right, that’s that off my chest.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

E is for entertain

It's easy to forget that one of the fastest routes to media coverage - and as importantly, creating a conversation about your story - is injecting a bit of humour into whatever it is you're writing about. Now clearly if you're in crisis management mode you don't want to be joking, but if you're in the throes of promoting something and it seems a bit dry, a bit of humour can really help.

One of my daily disciplines is to look at what the subs at the Sun make of the news of the day. Their ability to find a pun or a neologism that gets to the heart of the subject, often with a bit of humour, is unrivalled.

Write your release, or your email, or your blog post or your tweet and before you send it pause and ask yourself, what would the Sun do?

D is for delete

When I did B, I should have said that it stood for brevity, but I didn't, so rather than go on and on and on and on [That's enough ons - Ed] about it, I'll talk about delete.

I have seen stacks of press releases, briefing notes, case studies, blah, blah, that are much too long. If you're writing a press release and it goes on for more than a page and a half in 1.5 spacing, then you're saying too much.


Once you've finished a draft, do something else to take your mind off it so that you partially forget - and then flip back to your draft quickly. If, as you read it, it feels baggy, or if, more importantly, you don't get the gist of the story in the first two or three sentences, hover your hand over the delete key and don't hesitate to press.

If there's a superfluous quote, kill it. If there's a piece of jargon that you know that the recipient(s) will hate, get rid of it. Moreover, if it's all rubbish, delete the lot and start again.

There are a couple of books that I recommend: Strunk and White: "The Elements of Style" and William Zinsser: "On Writing Well". They're short, profound and proof that "less is more." Buy them.

C is for "CC"

Oh, it's so tempting. You're in a rush and you need to get your story out to as many correspondents, newsdesks, bloggers, wires as possible. So why not just CC them all? Or better still BCC them all? Try tapping CC on your keyboard now. Then try tapping your backspace button or delete button twice. Notice the similarity in the noise? I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure that Einstein or some other brainiac came up with a theory that said that every action had an equal and opposite or some such thing. The point I'm making, if it isn't achingly clear, is that correspondents like to be treated as individuals and if they aren't.....well.

When I started out in PR it was the days before email. PRs these days will not recognise the sensation of thin paper cuts and envelope glue on tongues. Nor will they recognise the hand ache that went with individualised, legible, handwritten notes. It was an occupational hazard. Or more accurately, an occupational opportunity. Back then, everything was personalised - and if you want something to work today it should still be personalised. You want a correspondent to respect you? Treat them with respect. Get to know what they want, get to know what they're like, amuse them, entertain them and never treat them like a commodity. "CC" is a no-no.

B is for brand mentions

A little obvious, this one, but over-use of brand mentions in press releases, tweets, interviews, etc, is never a good thing. Far better to make your brand the essence of the story. A few thoughts on this:

The survey industry that has grown up over the last decade (spurious stories based on research) is a direct result of a frantic chase to get a brand mention in papers on on the TV. The trouble is (a) that this is really an irrelevance for big brands (which don't need the mentions as much) and (b) the tortuous lengths that some agencies go to to get a brand mention take the storytelling miles away for anything approaching strategic relevance for the client.

For example, I saw a story a few years ago along the lines of "76% of us see Terry Wogan as the nation's favourite uncle says XYZ building society". How this advances the cause of XYZ building society defies belief, unless it catalyses an agency review.

Another big mistake with brand mentions comes when an inexperienced interviewee goes on the radio or TV to plug something. One contextual mention is OK, or maybe two, but I have heard people use their brand as a verb, rattling it off three times in a sentence. This is a bad thing. The viewer / listener hates it, the interviewer gets frustrated and the interviewee enters the "never again" database of the broadcaster.

No, the best approach with brand mentions is to construct a strong story which has your brand at the heart of it. By doing so, you make it impossible for journalists to avoid referencing your brand and you create a real sense of depth and relevance to the storytelling. It isn't that hard to do - it just takes a bit of imagination.