Blog: The hidden power of the humble press release

It’s easy to think of the press release as old hat.  Comms 1.0 if you will. 

And I’d guess that, as soon as the printing press was invented, there was some proto-PR officer thinking “How can I get my story onto that thing…?”

As the well-documented demise of the local newspaper continues, maybe the traditional audience for our press releases is shrinking too.  And we are now talking to a wider variety of people in more different ways than ever before.

With the plethora of comms channels, products and opportunities available to us today, it can seem that the good old press release has been neutered; once, perhaps, the principal weapon in the PR’s armoury, now, just another small blade on the comms multi-tool.

But something has become increasingly apparent to me over the years, even as the unique utility of the release has been eroded. And, surprisingly, it’s something, that helps to further establish comms as a truly strategic function.

I would like us to rethink the very process of creating a press release as a key moment in our organisations’ decision making – not just the bolt on at the end.

I’d like us to see it as an everyday manifestation of exactly why comms is a strategic function.  And why your organisation should see it as such.

Here’s why: Sometimes, it is only when bringing together the various decision-makers to refine and approve the press release, that they can truly come to a consensus and common understanding of an issue.

There is something about putting down on paper (OK, pixels) the public story you want to tell, that really tests your decision-makers’ common understanding of the matter at hand.

Through all the stages of decision making, there can still linger differing assumptions and motivations hidden away in our decision-makers’ minds.  Setting the narrative out in black and white, for public consumption, in simple terms, that will both catch the eye and withstand the scrutiny of journalists and editors, means that some of those lingering differences must be confronted – things that were not put under the spotlight through internal or public reports, discussion or debate.

The question of “How do we talk to the public about this decision?” can prove just as important for our decision makers, as other questions, like “Can we afford it?”, “Who does this affect?” and “How does it align with our wider policy framework…?”

A good press release is clear and concise, it grabs the attention and sets out the story in simple, everyday terms that everyone can understand. The process of writing and agreeing a release should iron out all the wrinkles and creases behind a decision and its impacts that can otherwise remain.  It serves the organisation by being a filter to remove potential misapprehensions.

That’s the hidden power.

It forces consensus and clarity.

So, my plea to you is don’t fall into the trap of dismissing the press release old hat, boring one-dimensional comms serving a waning audience. Seize it as a unique opportunity to help your organisation refine its collective thinking about the decisions it makes and positions it takes.  Sometimes, it’s only when we think about how we’re going to talk about a subject that we fully understand it.

Michael Moore (@michaelswmoore) is an Interim Communications Manager at Cheshire East Council


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