Friday, July 10, 2009

Leadership and the Importance of Press Releases

Who knew? The last post on "What about Leadership (Redux)" led to a fair amount of dialog. It also led me to believe that I should probably advocate an unpopular subject: the importance press releases.

In short, we believe that a well-crafted press release is a big opportunity to clearly and effectively tell a company's story. And that's true whether the news hook is mundane or earth-shattering. Along with the many other means of communications available today, press releases are part of the entire communications architecture.

This is, to some, a fairly radical view. Many "modern" communicators think that whispers, blogs, and tweets are the right way to get a story told. We believe all of these are a valuable part of the mix. But we also believe that it's critical to lay out the story clearly and simply in a few places that are broadly available. Therefore, more than ever, we think press releases are a tremendously important communications tool.

In thinking about this position, you may be interested to know that, in years past, I have been very conservative about press releases: when they were just a tool for communicating to a very limited audience, it was key to make sure you didn't flood people with paper. But today, the press release plays a different and more important role:

1. It is a tool, at the appropriate time, to tell a company's story to the appropriate audiences. It should be written clearly and without hyperbole.
2. It can have a viral benefit.
3. In this environment, many constituencies look for and read press releases (not just press and analysts) and this can be helpful to companies on many levels.
4. It can be very helpful in reinforcing leadership messaging and communications architecture.
5. There are lots of other comments -- let me know if you want to discuss them.

This odd topic arose because I have recently seen a few companies that may be squandering their opportunities to help the market understand who they are and how they fit into the world. Hence, these companies may be leaving their market leadership position unsupported and unexplained -- leaving it to chance that the market will figure it out. And, on the flip side, we have seen when we are working with companies who are leaders, the ongoing explanation about important news and nuances of their stories helps the leadership positioning emerge over time.

A few thoughts/caveats about this viewpoint.

1. A press release should always have added value. That is, it should be interesting and provocative.
2. We are not talking here about press release that have two paragraphs (one with the lead and the second with some innocuous quote.) If you are going to bother, explain enough to be meaningful.
3. The purpose of a press release today is not always just to get "ink". It should be viewed as an important part of the toolset to create leadership in the long term.
4. Of course, press releases alone are not the whole communications mix. They should be built into the plan along with thoughts about the Web site, blogs, tweets, conferences, one on one communications, etc.
5. Some press releases are tactical in their nature. That's fine. But never squander an opportunity to tell the story well.
6. Keep the bar high. Don't tell people "what the CEO had for lunch."
7. A press release should be objective and educational; the more boastful, the less believable.
8. Yes. Some recipients might be skeptical of a press release. Sometimes that means you shouldn't do it. And sometimes if means you just have to move ahead and keep the long term in mind.
9. A well-conceived press release takes a lot of work -- to understand what the news is, why it is important, and how to explain this clearly.

Remember, the goal is leadership. (Oh yeah. I already said that.)

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Blogger Louis said...

Great points, especially about squandering real opportunities for the sake of using a trendy communications mode alone. I made some similar points here:

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Philip said...

Though you use the term 'press release', it sounds really as though we're talking about something that is adapting as the information environment re-casts our understanding of 'media'. As you mention, today a press release becomes known before most 'traditional' news can publish it. This makes it less of a 'press release' and more of a statement of belief, position, situation analysis and values to be picked up by anyone who cares to know. I agree with you as well the importance of getting the statement right. After all, you want it to shape discussion in the right way.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Abigail Johnson said...

Really good points. Thanks for the insights.

9:14 PM  

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