You write with ease, to show your breeding, but easy writing's vile hard reading

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Dec 15, 2015

Go Figure

If you want your press release published - do the math

“Now what I want is Facts,’’ said Charles Dickens’ fictional teacher Thomas Gradgrind.

The same can be said of the news editor or business editor when he’s confronted with your press release.

And if your press release deals with a business matter then the facts he or she is particularly interested in are figures. They are not interested in generalities but in cold hard numbers.

If your release is announcing that your client has signed a contract then you must tell them what it’s worth. If they have received an investment from a bank or a venture capitalist then your press release should declare – preferably in the intro – the value of that investment.

I appreciate here that the stumbling block is almost always the client and not the PR adviser. It is the client who declines to disclose such information, usually on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.

I’m convinced, however, that most PR advisers don’t work hard enough to persuade their clients of the errors of their ways. In many cases the figures in question are not particularly sensitive and, for a limited company, will become public knowledge at some point anyway.

While advising on PR I have often met resistance to putting hard figures in a forecast of jobs or turnover with the argument being that `we’ll look bad if we don’t met these targets’. The simple answer is: `No you won’t, because two or three years from now nobody will remember them or care about them. Not unless you’re Microsoft’.

If you don’t provide figures your press release will not gain exposure for two reasons. The first is encapsulated by an email exchange I had a few months ago with a PR adviser (name has been changed to protect the guilty).

Me: Re release sent to me re Cannybody Ltd. What was the cash injection - £50 or £50m?  "Substantially increasing our staff headcount'' - from what to what?

PR Person: Client won’t release the figure I’m afraid. There is a recruitment story in a few weeks and I can feed you further info on that side of things when details are available to me.

Me: So, do you want to get back to me in a few weeks?

PR Person: Hi Peter. Yes, will do.  Are you able to run the investment angle on Thurs at all still?

Me: I can't see much of an angle as it stands - an unknown investment creating an unknown number of jobs.

PR Person: Hello Peter. Understand.

So, they understand. Great.

How can people not understand? What if a friend announced that they had won the Lottery? Would that be all you wanted to know? Wouldn’t you press them for just a little more information? What would your first question be?

That’s one reason why a release without figures goes straight on the business editor’s spike – no numbers, no story.

The second is the underlying attitude it betrays on the part of the client withholding the figures - they might want publicity, but only on their terms and the media will just have to lump it.

Never forget, journalists are sensitive souls and are easily upset.