Simplifying the Complicated News Release

There has been a lot of discussion among public relations professionals about the value of a press release. I don’t think the concept of a press release is “dead” especially went it comes to a complicated issue such as a court filing or a motion to dismiss.

In these instances, the news release is very much alive but the dilemma on how to explain a complicated issue is real. It brings into opposition two essential objectives of communication that are extremely relevant in our efforts to reach out to the media and gain coverage: clarity and accuracy. It is possible to communicate effectively with the media and achieve our PR objectives without dumbing down the press release or making key details confusing.

Here are five good rules for doing this.

  1. Take time to understand the details. You will write a much better press release if you fully understand what it’s about. You won’t end up using most of these details in the release, but understanding them will give you a fluency with the subject matter that will help you write a release that is both accurate and understandable. Before you sit down at your computer to write, ask the attorneys all the questions you may have about the matter. Don’t be afraid to keep asking till you understand it well.
  2. Know your audience.This will help you determine how much to simplify. In a press release intended for media that cover the online world, you won’t need to define a term like “SEO” or “intranet.” In a release intended for the general media, you might wish to explain these terms.
  3. Avoid the use of arcane legal terms that don’t add anything.In a press release about the denial of a summary judgment motion in an employment discrimination case, you should feel free to use the terms “employment discrimination” or “sexual harassment” or “class action.” These are widely understood. Don’t use the term “summary judgment,” as its meaning and implications are not understood by people without legal training. Instead, explain what the judge’s decision means for the case, going forward.
  4. Use analogies and metaphors to explain the significance of what you’re writing about.People learn by analogy. You can even use analogies that lawyers employ frequently but will sound new to the media and the public. For example, “The trial judge ruled that once the door had been opened to any testimony on this subject, it would remain open for the rest of the trial.”
  5. Read your release out loud to see what it sounds like. If it sounds too complex, simplify something in it. Then read it out loud again.

These techniques will help you write a press release that cuts through the jargon, appeals to your reader and gets you the publicity that you want, while avoiding errors in explaining the law.