Is the press release dead?* This was just one of the many thought-provoking questions that capped off an interesting session on ‘writing for the media’ at Cobseo – The Confederation of Service Charities – that I had the privilege of leading last week.

The session was part of the first-ever Cobseo ‘Communications Clinic’ for staff from 18 military service charities, most of whom deal with communications as part of their jobs. Participants networked, swapped ideas and heard from speakers on all elements of the communications ‘mix’ – from the opportunities presented by different communications channels, to how to handle the media when a crisis strikes.

This writer gave a whistle-stop tour of the basic principles of writing for media – from how to structure a press release (weightiest information at the top), what language to use (avoid corporate waffle) and the length (not War and Peace). The PR Office’s experience of working with a number of military charities provided plenty of opportunity to illustrate our points with real life examples.

For such an ostensibly straightforward subject, the questions from the floor were stimulating and sparked plenty of interesting discussion – showing what happens when PR theory meets the messy reality of day-to-day media relations. Some questions included: what do you do when a chief executive gives you a quote that is full of jargon (one answer: write the quote for them to ‘save them the trouble’); what happens when there are multiple story angles vying for top spot (tailor the release for different media depending on likely areas of interest); and how to balance relationships with key funders (carefully weigh the short term gain from media coverage against the possible long-term and irreparable damage to carefully cultivated relationships).

All in all, a splendid and interesting session that showed that even the most straightforward aspects of PR can be, in reality, far from straightforward.

*The answer, in the humble opinion of this PR consultant, is absolutely not. Used intelligently as just one part of the wider PR ‘toolbox’, rather than as a substitute for relationship-building and creativity, they remain an invaluable way of imparting news concisely, clearly and simply.

Alex Goldup, Account Director

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