When H.J. Heinz Co. announced its acquisition of Kraft Foods Group recently—creating the third-largest food and beverage company in North America—a smorgasbord of PR accompanied the move. A deal this potentially transformative demands messaging via multiple channels. In all likelihood, though, the press release was the most vital element in the mix. Obits for press releases come fast, but the reality is they continue to be the lifeblood for how brands communicate with the largest audiences possible.
And on that account, Kraft Heinz’s release got high marks, although it also offers lessons for communicators.
“They did some things really well and some things that could be improved upon,” said Diane Gage Lofgren, senior VP of marketing and communications at Sharp HealthCare. “I like that it starts off with a number of bullet points up top and includes subheads,” which help readability.
KILL THE CLICHÉS
Gage Lofgren stressed, though, that the release tends to suffer—as many do—from an overeliance on clichés and promotional terms.
Indeed, the five-page release, which can be found on both companies’ websites, includes phrases such as “significant synergistic opportunities,” “winning companies,” and “unparalleled portfolio of iconic brands.”
“There’s a way to get information out without overstating it,” she said. “If it gets too promotional it gets away from what a press release can be. Focus on what’s new and what’s different and let reporters and the media come back to you to ask questions.”
While the release focuses on investors, which some said narrowed it too much, it also includes information about plans to maintain two headquarters and continue supporting communities in Pittsburgh and Chicago, which addresses questions employees and communities had, said Jill Schmidt, senior principal, director of strategy at Spong.
“Of course you should care about shareholders, they have the money. But you’re not just talking to investors, you’re talking about some of the most lovable brands. Why wouldn’t you want to increase the appeal beyond investors?” said a PR exec specializing in written communications, who requested anonymity.
This exec added that when public (and mega) companies put out a news release, “it’s hard for PR to get past the lawyers, but you can at least [use the release] to start to answer some of the questions consumers will have. If the company addresses those types of questions, it has a better chance of controlling the message.”
Some questions the Kraft Heinz release could have answered in the release, this person said, might include: Will my favorite foods be any cheaper or more expensive? Will you change any ingredients in your recipes? Will there be layoffs?
The combined company also may have missed an opportunity to sustain the initial momentum about the merger via social channels.
For instance, the press release was tweeted via each company’s Twitter account the day of the announcement. Just two days after the announcement, however, it was difficult to find evidence of the merger on the companies’ Twitter accounts, with @kraftfoods promoting its new “Fiery Kraft Natural Cheese,” for example.
Still, the process has just started for the proposed merger, which has to clear regulatory procedures.
With any significant deal, announcement or program, the press release must tell a compelling story but also act as a springboard for what eventually may emerge in the future.
“The release is fine for what it is, but it’s only a starting point,” said Dan Ronan, senior director, media relations and communications for the American Bus Association.
He added: “From a PR standpoint, the release answers about 90 percent of the questions, in terms of who is going to do what. It also provides one-stop shopping for reporters, but they could have broadened it to be more of a consumer-facing story.”
The companies provided their consumer relations teams with talking points to explain the deal to the public, according to Russ Dyer, VP of corporate affairs at Kraft Foods, who could not comment further on the deal.
In addition to a joint press release, the acquisition announcement included a presentation for analysts, a media call with more than 100 national and local media reps attending and an infographic highlighting The Kraft Heinz company brands, such as Kool-Aid, Oscar Meyer and Planters.
In a video presentation, John Cahill, chairman-CEO of Kraft Foods, enumerated the reasons why the acquisition is good for both companies. Valued at roughly $49 billion, the deal is expected to close in the second half of 2015.
The message was pitched to every constituency, including an all-employee town hall. The companies also used email, video boards and intranet postings, as well as letters to key stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, partners and government officials.
Sidebar: The Jargon Trap
For PR pros, bad habits die hard. And perhaps none more so than using hackneyed and clichéd terms in press releases and other written materials. Like a Greek chorus, PR News repeatedly reminds communicators of the dangers of distributing jargon-laced news releases. However, the advice doesn’t seem to be getting through because we constantly get releases that suffer from way too much gobbledygook. PR News hosted its own version of “March Madness,” with its “Most Overused PR Words & Phrases Tournament.” The list of words/phrases included is below. To see which one emerged victorious, please go to: prnewsonline.com/wordsbracket.
Diane Gage Lofgren, firstname.lastname@example.org; Dan Ronan, email@example.com; Jill Schmidt, firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the April 6, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.