Brands & Advertising
Wasted positioning opportunities in unframed press releases
As rudimentary as a press release is as a Public Relations tool, its effective application could contribute significantly to the attainment of organizational objectives: financial and non-financial. Unfortunately, observed utilization of this all-time important Public Relations resource by most businesses has shown that they lose out on valuable positioning and messaging opportunities as a result of Public Relations writers’ inability to construct appropriate social reality for their organizations through contextualization.
From a review of selected reports in newspapers, which were obviously generated from press releases issued by organizations, deductions were made that beyond compliance with the ‘5 Ws and H’ rule, Public Relations writers frequently fail to demonstrate the essence in their story telling.
They tend to forget that unlike journalism that seeks to keep the public abreast of developments in the society, Public Relations’ role is not as straightforward. As a hidden voice, promoting businesses and organizations, Public Relations requires that writings such as press releases, should be contextualized for meaningfulness and effectiveness.
Often times, published materials suggest that authors of most press releases only seek to get mentions for their organizations with little or no consideration to the fact that with the right context set. Public Relations writers fail to consider the fact that properly couched messages easily cut through the cluster to reach the target audience in a manner that makes meaning and creates positive impression about their organizations.
In the bid to hit the bullseye as practitioners, we should be aware that our job involves constructing social reality. Beyond content creation, the rhetorical approach deals with how Public Relations engages in the construction of messages and meanings intended to influence key publics important to an organization. This, therefore, suggests that content creation (press release writing) is a craft that requires exercising a certain degree of mental judgment and consideration of proven concepts, not the tons of smooth-reading sentences that litter the pages of newspapers!
A related and very important concept in this regard is framing. In the context of our practice, framing is conceptually connected to the underlying psychological processes that people use to examine information, make judgments, and draw inferences about the world around them. According to scholars, “[the] framing metaphor is better understood as a window or portrait drawn around information that delimits the subject matter and, thus, focuses attention on key elements within”.
For these reasons, it is expected that Public Relations writers know that framing is a property of a message that limits or defines the meaning of messages by shaping the inferences that individuals make about the message. Accordingly, press releases and other forms of Public Relations writings should demonstrate sentient efforts to define reality as related to their organizations, for the publics upon whom the institutions depend for prosperity.
In practical terms, Public Relations writers should treat every announcement or written material as an opportunity to reinforce the vision, mission and values of the organization for whom they write about. With this awareness, there will be increased dexterity and intelligence in content created and issued as press releases. This will remedy the persisting situation where businesses are deprived of valuable positioning and messaging opportunities, beyond mere mentions in the newspapers, which deficiently framed messages in press releases can only earn organizations.
While only a handful of business executives have the insight to detect the hollow value of these mentions, which readers file-off with every blink of the eyes, the opportunity to sow fertile messaging seeds that will bring forth positive interpretation and perception, patronage and increased loyalty, on the stakeholders’ minds in an environment of proactive Public Relations, where suspicion is low and context is considered natural, continues to fritter away.
Even, organizations get implicated in reactive Public Relations situations owing to weak understanding of relevant messaging concepts and their inability to situate messages in the right context. Such that the relationship-strengthening opportunities that typically accompany crisis situations are squandered because of the perception of indiscretion wrongly framed messages foist on organisations.
It is therefore important that practitioners apply typology of the seven models of framing relevant to Public Relations in creating and presenting content or messages with which organizations engage their publics. Public Relations writers need to become more methodical and demonstrate mental perspicacity in the creative process that delivers these messages, such that when an organization’s publics read the materials, they go away with a positive impression and inspiring mental picture of the organization.
Then, headlines like ‘XYZ Bank launches new e-banking product’ will give way to titles like ‘XYZ Bank eliminates banking hall queues with new e-banking product’ and ‘WSP wins XYZ Awards’ now captioned as “WSP affirms industry leadership with XYZ Award’. Similarly, ‘ABC hosts international conference on HIV/AIDS’ will be better framed as ‘ABC joins global discussion on eradication of HIV/AIDS” and “BBB adopts global best practice in risk management’ as “BBB extends risk management frontiers in Nigeria with subscription to international best practices’.
Yes, Public Relations writers may not have absolute control over headlines as they are finally drawn by newspaper editors, but our writings provide the milieu for their ingenuity. Revelatory writings will not only result in creation of frames that accentuate the organizational values, mission and vision, but also lead to an era where every press release will become intelligent marketing messages.
By this, businesses will begin to advantage of the unpaid advertising opportunity that distinguishes Public Relations from the other specialist areas of communications, exploitable through Public Relations writers’ cleverness and aptitude.
Olusegun is lead Strategist at ReputationPlus Limited, Lagos.
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