Never mind the quality

Public relations is not, says Vast PR’s Paul Godwin, simply a case of churning out as many releases as possible. Quality is everything.

Website: sorted, Ad campaign: done. Brochures: printed and out. PR? We’ll get that girl in marketing with a GCSE in English to do it: box ticked.

And sadly, that is the qualifier for too many companies. And that includes many quite substantial organisations that are too easily satisfied – as long as X number of releases and features go out every month/year, and the magazines are picking them up and publishing them, then that part of the marketing mix is taken care of.

What is often overlooked is that the words themselves – the way the release or feature is written – form a key part of the reader’s perceptions about your organisation, not just that they take up a large chunk of a page: “Oooh, a half page on our new FanDabbyDoby 2150, aren’t we doing well.”

And indeed, in terms of exposure, a certain amount of mutual backslapping is justified. But what has the copy said about your product, your company, and how does it portray you?

When a reader turns to the press release about your organisation that has appeared in a magazine, then a subliminal process takes place. Hopefully, the editor will have done their job and if the copy supplied was of poor quality, they will have rewritten it. Simple, you might think, someone is doing the job for you.

But the downside of this is that you will have lost control of what does and does not appear to a third party – if they run it at all.

The goal of any PR professional will be to have a press release or editorial feature published as close to word-for-word as possible. This is to retain control over the content and tone, thus presenting the desired impression of the organisation they are representing. And the best way to achieve this is to present well-written, factual, creative and imaginative copy.

I hope that I don’t put too many noses out of joint by revealing that the editors’ favourite whinge is the amount of poor copy that they receive from so-called PR and marketing professionals, that has to be rewritten.

That’s their job I hear you say, but while every editor is on the look-out for an exclusive on the Next Big Thing and even better, when it comes from a small, innovative and interesting company, they will fall over themselves to help out. The objection comes from rewriting material from people that are paid to do better.

In fact, one veteran editor told me this: “In a media landscape where anyone can get any release run for a couple of quid, then simply achieving coverage is nothing more than seduction in a brothel. As an editor I accept that, to a degree, it is my job to ensure that what goes into the publication is relevant and appropriate for the readership. But when copy is mindlessly poorly written, and I struggle to understand the point of the release, I am very likely to ‘spike’ the copy – that is bin it, rather than spend time doing the job of the ‘professional’ that sent the copy in.

“The rules are simple: Have something to say; say it clearly and truthfully; and the editor (and in turn the reader) will read, remember, and trust what you say.

“The last six months have seen a distinct upturn in the issue of ‘pot-boiler’ press releases – trying to say something when you have nothing to say. All you are saying is: you have nothing to say. Your media coverage is a part of the personality of your brand; if all you put out is a sea of verbal vanilla, it will reflect on the whole brand.

“Here’s an exercise: take any 300-word press release at random, delete every reference to ‘delighted’, ‘commitment’, ‘leading’, ‘industry-leading’, ‘state-of-the-art’, ‘ground-breaking’, ‘game-changing’, ‘ticks all the boxes’, ‘comes with a wealth of experience’, ‘cutting-edge’, ‘future-proof’, ‘revolutionary’, ‘key driver’, ‘exciting’, ‘advanced’, ‘world-class’, and count how many words you have left.

“If the PR industry continues to flood the media with ever more fact-free and vacuous flannel, they will not only devalue their clients’ message but eventually erode the credibility of the whole of the trade press as a valuable communication medium.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.