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The comms insider: The never-ending release

13 December 2013

Celebration time! I’ve just sent out a press release! We send out a couple in an average week, but this wasn’t any old press release, this was the never-ending release.

These are often a product of: confused (or entirely absent) sign off processes, lack of clear deadlines or working with other organisations and disagreements over messaging.

I will save you from the ear-bleedingly dull series of steps taken to get this particular release out, and state only that it went through more than 25 drafts during four painful months. Every single member of the senior management team read and suggested edits on at least one draft. At one point it was ready to be released only to be gazumped by a similar story. It then had to be re-written because a new manager hadn’t had the opportunity to comment. In the end, it was over six pages long. I was ashamed to put my name on it.

About half-way through the process, a member of senior management suggested the whole thing be scrapped. My line manager fought against this, arguing so much of my time had been spent on the release it would be a waste to cancel it now. I wish they’d asked me, as my initial response was one of joy that I wouldn’t have to waste any further effort on it.

A press release created as part of a strategy that spans a period of months, if not the whole year, will almost always go out in a timely manner and in good shape, because it serves a particular purpose. Drafting a press release for a planned event is reasonably straightforward– you have until the deadline to get it signed off, and the release itself has a simple job to do. Press releases which develop from informal conversations outside of a press strategy are rarely so easy and usually have no natural deadline.

I’m a firm believer that managers, especially senior managers, need deadlines. Without a time limit, they have a tendency to let their egos run riot when editing; demanding hundreds of minor tweaks until the writing style matches their own. With two or more senior managers involved things can be changed and changed back every time the release is edited, each person desperate to assert their control over the sign-off process. This struggle for power is particularly pointless, because such releases are pointless.

If I ever run my own department, I’m going to have a very strict line on the never-ending release. If it’s not in the strategy, a release won’t be started without a very strong business case. Any release which reaches its fifth draft will be scrapped as a no-goer. Partnership work will be undertaken no more than once a year. I think the staff under me would appreciate it –after all, this might spell the end of the never-ending press release.

The first installment of the new comms insider.


Mystery UK charity

The comms insider is an anonymous comms professional working at a UK charity. S/he wishes to remain incognito so as to be able to write frankly about his/her experiences and opinions.