This week I turn the spotlight back on the press releases that journalists receive from public relations officers.
By Leigh Andrews
Two years ago, I blogged about keeping your opinion
in (or out of) news reporting. I wrote that most hardcore writers (and readers, for that matter) know that there is a place and time for opinion to shine through in your writing – particularly if you’re writing a review, a blog post or an opinion-based column. Journalism 101 teaches us that hard news should strive to be opinion-free, offering both sides of the story as neutrally as possible (easier said than done). One of the main ways to do so is to stick to the facts, and avoid flowery adjectives.
The main culprits who go over the bias border are PRs who tend to write ‘fabulous’ press releases that applaud each and every ‘fantastic’ new feature of their products (which usually end up being edited out before appearing in print, anyway), and news sites that are purposely satirical, blatantly not from the advocacy school of journalism, and thought-provoking, such as The Onion
or our local Hayibo
– some of these articles are so blatantly over-the-top that newbies ask ‘Is this for real?’ They soon learn that you need to take these articles with a sprinkling of salt as they provide a bit of ‘comic relief’ from the staid political standard.
Sticking with the ‘flowery press release
’ aspect, Marisa Louw of eMLo Communication feels that adjectives are an important part of a press release as “a good press release is short and to the point and the adjectives are there to provide a better description in a limited word count.”
Moving on to another of my issues with so many press releases, she says, “The ‘we are the best’ syndrome is something that a public relations officer should manage carefully. As a member of the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa I am bound to the code of ethics of a professional Public Relations Practitioner and I believe in telling the truth, based on facts.” So if the facts prove that ‘you are the best’, by all means, talk about it. Louw says this makes a lot of noise. “A good example is working with an advertising agency. If their work wins awards, then they have all the right to ‘brag’ about it. Another example is my work I do for South African opera singer, Stefan Louw. Christina Kennedy of Business Day
wrote in 2005 that his voice should be declared a national treasure. This is a standard sentence used in all press releases regarding his performances. But what makes the difference is that, in both examples, it is not the client who wants to say those things. The accolades have been awarded by others and I then use it to the client’s advantage.”
So what should a PRO do if their client wants a release to be issued that sings their praises but they know the press will tone it down drastically if they even use it? Louw says, “When a release is full of ‘we are the best’ statements that cannot be supported by awards or quotes by others, I certainly tone it down. I cannot imagine that a journo wants to read how ‘great’ companies are all the time ... especially if they know it has all been made up for the sake of getting published. This is where I attempt doing things differently. I’d much rather write a short press release and arrange for the journo to meet with client if the new story submitted is of interest to them. That way they can also put their own stamp on the angle they wish to take.” That sounds good to me. But what if things go wrong? Louw elaborates: “It has only happened to me once that a journo created a shoddy article from a press release I had sent. But that said, it was a journo with whom I did not have a relationship. This is where relationships with the journos are key. I believe that if I have a relationship with the journo, they will call me if they want to add more ‘meat’ to make up their own article.”
So we’ve again come full circle – it really is all about the relationship
. How best can the PR and media industry work together then? Franco D’Onofrio, owner of boutique PR agency Twiga Communications engaged with me on the topic on Twitter
. He says that it’s a simple equation, and he would argue what PRs want from journalists is “simply to be seen as partners in providing captivating and interesting content.”
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