Why press releases are a waste of time

Why press releases are a waste of time

Recently I was asked to guest lecture at Massey University to their first-year media skills class. It's a group of people studying to become either journalists or communication practitioners.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to impart something that's taken me a long time to learn. That media engagement is a lot more than writing a press release. In fact press releases are not the magical panacea to get your brand out there and get you oodles of media coverage.

That's not to say that press releases don't have their place, but that they should not be your go-to when you have a story. The main thrust of my point was that we should be reaching out to journalists first, to talk to them and see if they're interested in our stories. If they're not, just spraying out a release and praying it will get a hit is not a sensible, efficient or effective tool.

You can see the presentation here (it's very short, don't worry!): 



The joy of awards

We’re a humble lot us New Zealanders, if we were going to have a slogan it would probably be “pull yer head in, you’re not an All Black”. Tall poppy, humility, call it what you want, but what it means is we have a great reputation overseas for being nice and approachable but sometimes we struggle to trumpet out own successes.

We shouldn’t though. Because there are huge numbers of Kiwi individuals and businesses succeeding and they should be allowed to talk proudly of that.

We’re proud because we have an amazing group of clients who were finalists at the recent Excellence in IT Awards. We put together nominations for five clients, four became finalists, and three won, two won the top awards. We’re proud of our amazing clients who do amazing things and we’re proud of the work we did in getting them to the awards.

But the sad thing is a number of organisations possibly didn’t bother to nominate themselves or didn’t feel right doing so. We got on the phone to our clients and said “hey we think that what you do is really excellent and there are these awards coming up and we think you should go for it.”

Then we sat down with them and talked about why they deserved to win and that was all reflected in the judges' comments for each of them which I’m going to replicate:

Excellence in Software: CricHQ

“The judges especially liked the team’s great technical leadership in its early adoption of crowdsourcing, and continuing to look for new opportunities to develop the product.”

Young IT Professional of the Year: Thomas Mitchell from Hunchbuzz

“All the finalists were amazing, but the judges found Thomas’ can-do attitude and sense of social responsibility humbling for someone in their early 20s. Operating at the intersection of innovation and entrepreneurialism, Thomas is an inspiration.”

New Zealand IT Professional of the Year: Victoria MacLennan from OptimalBI

“The judges felt Victoria was the epitome of the technology advocate, working at all levels to elevate the development and use of technology in New Zealand. She walks the walk and yet remains incredibly humble throughout. We’re very proud to recognise Victoria as the 2016 New Zealand IT Professional of the Year.”

Why would you bother to nominate yourself for an award? It can be time consuming, you don’t really get anything out of it, and winning doesn’t help your bottom line.

Well actually none of those things needs necessarily be true. Yes, nomination forms can be time consuming – or you could outsource it to a PR firm (cough). Not getting anything out of it? Well you get a validation of the work you do, which can be a huge morale booster for you and your organisation; and as for your bottom line – being able to say you’re a national award winner means that people know you’ve got the chops to do what you say you’ll do – and do it brilliantly.

It can be a jungle out there when it comes time to figure out what awards you should go for, but that doesn’t mean you throw your hands up and say “bugger them all”. Put yourselves out there. Be proud of the excellent work you do and own it.

Pokemon Go!

Pokemon Go!

An app has recently hit Android and iOS app stores that seems to have smashed the world right in its collective face.

I'm talking about Pokemon Go, a game that has really exploited the augmented reality we've been promised would be everywhere by now. In the game, people walk around with their faces buried in their mobile phones peering through their cameras. On their cameras wee Pokemon appear on the screen as though they were there in the real world.

It's the gamification of life.

And you might wonder, why are you telling me this Dave? What does this have to do with PR and reputation and publicity?

Well the answer is that this Pokemon Go craze has seen just about every single PR wave lap over it in just the one week it's been in existence.

There's been huge publicity in a positive way, two Pokemon hunters got a colour photo in the Dominion Post for kayaking out to a fountain and 'claiming' it for their side. Stories are emerging that talk of previously empty places 'teeming' with people hunting Pokemon. Businesses are asking that their employees stop hunting Pokemon and instead do their jobs. It's a good news bonanza!

Except on the other side we're seeing negative stories come out simultaneously. We've heard stories of people being mugged at popular hunting rounds, gang members using the game as a means to lure people into traps and people injuring themselves while trying to grab Pokemon in difficult ways.

Inevitably the snooping stories are emerging too, with suspicions being cast upon how much of your privacy you're giving up in order to hunt a Pokemon (this is a sentence I didn't think I'd ever type).

But the most telling story is the one of its success. Already Pokemon Go is bigger than Tinder on Android and is looking likely to surpass Twitter for active users. Not bad for a game that's a week old. And one that gets people out into the streets too!

So my point in all of this is that with every huge success you need to prepare for a backlash. There will always be haters. It's just part of society. You can either keep your head down and let success speak for itself (the riskier strategy), or you can do your due diligence and prep for all the possible terrible outcomes that may occur and what your answers will be. Obviously we'd recommend that you do that. But there are almost an infinite number of events that *could* occur, and to that say, well, ya gotta catch em all.

Managing expectations

Managing expectations

It's said that the gap between expectation and reality is the most depressing one of all. The millennial generation was all told we could be anything when we grew up, which is depressingly untrue. So when a number of us grew up and weren't astronauts, or film stars or ponies (my sister was weird) then we got upset about it. So we need to think about managing expectations.

It's particularly true in the service industry like PR - when you work by the hour you need to make sure your client is very clear on how long something will take and also of the impact that will have. The media landscape is changing so it's not so easy to promise multiple column inches devoted to your company's new colour-scheme.

It's been budget week and for the first time in its 8 years of budget delivery the Government failed on managing expectations. Previous budgets have been very carefully sign-posted about what will be in them from a negative perspective. In 2010, John Key sign-posted that there would be tax cuts that would benefit the rich more than the poor. He got out early so that by the time Bill English delivered the budget people were all "oh yeah, John Key said that would happen, so there we go". Brilliant. He managed expectations of the public exceedingly well. The reverse of this was when the benefit increase was kept secret and suddenly bam! "First benefit increase in 40 years" the National Government crowed and nobody saw it coming. It caught the opposition as they looked foolish arguing against it.

But this time around something went a bit haywire. There were large expectations about some kind of panacea for the housing crisis but we got very little. So people are angry about that. Also there were a number of media reports that the Government might extend paid parental leave - when asked about it, Bill English was cryptic and said we'd have to wait and see. Bad move Bill. What you needed to do was stamp that out - "no there will not be anything in there extending paid parental leave". By not doing this he created an expectation that there might be, and for the majority of people this would be a great thing. It wasn't there and so we're unhappy.

The huge increases of health spending which should have been the good news (when in actual fact it's just meeting the bare minimum requirements) has been overshadowed by the fact that the Auckland Housing Crisis remains unfixed. And even if they weren't going to / couldn't fix it, the Government needed to be clearer about this so we knew it was coming. Surprise is the enemy of goodwill in this instance. 

The lessons for us all are clear - don't try and be cryptic if you're not going to deliver something that  people want. Be up front and honest about it, because people will forgive that, but they won't be so quick to forgive the attempts to be sneaky.

I've got a wonderful idea, said a Farmers creative...

I've got a wonderful idea, said a Farmers creative...

Oh boy, Farmers.  What a palaver! Sending an email to your list of thousands saying their mum has been in touch and created a wish list for Mother's Day is not your finest moment.

Here's the news coverage for context  but essentially, someone at Farmers or their agency has come up with this idea and not a single person on the campaign, in the agency, in store - no one who had a shred of knowledge, pointed out the glaringly obvious error.

Not all Mothers have connectivity with Farmers because, you know, they're dead.  Or estranged. Or simply don't subscribe to Mother's Day promotion.

Mistakes happen.  Farmers have managed it well, they've apologised, acknowledged their mistake and contributed towards how they'll do better next time, but what could they have done to prevent it happening in the first place?  And what can you do to make sure a similar thing doesn't happen to you?

Put your audience at the heart of your communications.  Create personas for your customer segments.  Get to know those personas inside and out and learn how to talk to them best.  Peer review.  Have a sign off process, 3 people deep.  Mostly though, ask yourself the questions your comms is asking of your customers.  Any hint of uneasiness and it's back to the drawing board.



“How are you?” “Oh I’m so busy”. It’s such a common refrain. Probably the most common refrain heard in elevators up and down the country. Maybe second to “How was your weekend?” “Not long enough...” followed by a soulless chuckle. But it’s really the wrong question to be focusing on.


It’s a famous question because 3-year-olds love to ask it. Why? Why? Why? Until we run out of answers and sometimes just resort to “because I said so” or the more humbling “because God”. But the thing with “why” is it seems we forget to ask it when we’re older.

Why are you busy? Why are you doing what you are doing? What is the outcome you’re trying to achieve? We all just plough on without actually thinking about why we’re ploughing. And yet it’s the most important question to ask, because if we ask it we might find that what we’re doing isn’t the right thing at all. And we could be better spent doing other things.

People don’t really care about process. They care about outcomes. And they especially care about those outcomes if they relate directly to them. So if you’re in business, don’t talk about what your business will do for a customer, talk about how your actions will help that customer. It’s all about the why. Why do you do what you do? Keep asking why until you can no longer ask. And at this point you have your reason.

I work in PR and communications. Why? Because I like to help people tell their stories. Why? So that they present themselves in the best way possible and help them in whatever industry they work.

That was a quick example, but in a chain of just two “whys” we got from what I do for a job to how it can help you.

Another example is from when I was working in parliament. The Green Party has a policy to clean up New Zealand’s rivers. Which is a well-meaning and nice-sounding policy but it doesn’t really connect with anyone on an emotional level. What’s in it for them? So why is that the Green Party policy? Well it’s the policy so that the rivers are clean. Why should they be clean? So that we can swim in them again. Ah so your policy – cleaning rivers – will have the outcome of allowing me to swim in the rivers. I understand this now and I can connect with it. So instead of talking about a clean rivers policy, we used to talk about “making our rivers clean so your kids can swim in them again like you did when you were a child”. It’s a shift away from the tool – cleaning rivers – to the outcome – you can now swim in them again. And this linguistic shift connects far better when you’re trying to convince someone of something.

So the next time you’re doing something at work, ask why you’re doing it, and keep going. And if you can’t find an answer then maybe re-think what you’re doing. Why? Because it’ll be a better outcome for you if you know the reason.

Image courtesy of Ksayer