How to Reconfigure a (Bad) Press Release

Reg Rowe
Reg Rowe

Some senior-level corporate PR pros claim they are hamstrung by upper management and the legal department in what they can write. So, why rock the boat and put real news into a news release? The answer is simple: If you want news professionals to publish or comment on your news release, it has to be news, and has to provide benefits to the media outlet’s audience.

The following is an actual news release. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

BIFFCO Announces Repositioning Actions to Further Reduce Expenses and Improve Efficiency

HILL VALLEY, CA— BIFFCO today announced a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining BIFFCO’s unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets. These actions will result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.

“These actions are logical next steps in BIFFCO’s transformation. While we are committed to—and our strategy continues to leverage—our unparalleled global network and footprint, we have identified areas and products where our scale does not provide for meaningful returns,” said CEO Biff Tannen.

At the end of the next paragraph, filled with financial estimates, we finally get to the news: “These actions will result in a reduction of more than 11,000 positions.” The release goes on for another 800 words.

In a previous column (PR News, Nov. 25, 2013) I wrote about the “Five Gospels of News.” Let’s use those to deconstruct the release.

Topicality. Is the news contained in the release topical? Unable to decipher what a “repurposing action” is, we don’t know if it’s topical until we learn that 11,000 “positions” are being cut.

Conflict. Eleven thousand employees are being laid off. That is serious internal conflict that goes unaddressed for the first 205 words, but still doesn’t use the word employees. The media will turn this into an “angry employees versus uncaring corporation” story.

Locality. You have to dig much further into the release to find how many employees will be laid off from which departments and localities. If you’re not a Hill Valley Telegraph reporter, why should you or your audience care?

Human interest. Nowhere in the release are employees mentioned; they are merely “positions.” Nowhere in the release does the CEO express any concern for the company’s most important asset: employees. Horrible.

▶ ‘ Visuality.’ No images are included, for obvious reasons. But the media will locate terminated employees to humanize the story and use video or photos to tell the heartbreaking tale of American dreams crushed.

BIFFCO’s public relations team has managed to please upper management, investor relations and the legal department by focusing on the financial ramifications and never mentioning the human costs of the layoffs.

Journalists, however, will track down union leaders, affected employees, vendors, suppliers, city fathers, faith-based leaders and others for comments, and frame the story around them.

I understand that public companies have to please stakeholders by cutting expenses to improve the bottom line. But such cuts can be handled with compassion. Here’s how:

1. Don’t hide the truth or bury the news in corporate speak. The financial estimations are not the news. Corporate writers must think like journalists and ask: What’s the news? Where’s the benefit for my readers, listeners or viewers?

2. Show compassion. By adhering to a financial only message and not addressing employees in his quotes, the CEO comes off as cold, calculating and uncaring. That may play well on Wall Street, but it doesn’t give employees—both those being laid off and those remaining—any comfort.

3. Let the world know what the company is doing to help dismissed employees. Including information about severance packages, job search assistance, counseling and other efforts can go a long way in showing remaining employees that the company does care about them.

4. Humanize leadership. Ditch the corporate speak quotes and talk about how difficult it is to lay off employees, how hard the leadership team worked to try to avoid layoffs and how the corporate culture must pull together in this difficult period. Never let someone else tell your story.


Reg Rowe is founder of GrayHairPR, a virtual PR agency based in Dallas, Tx. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the November 17, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.

  • Mickie E Kennedy

    Great advice.