This recently in from a newly hired colleague working at a Silicon Valley tech company: “My boss was out of the office, after giving me my first (news release) assignment, all the way up until the morning it was supposed to go out. He wasn't available (to discuss the writing).” My response was, “This is a root problem! Going MIA on your PR manager at critical times is a sure set-up for failure. Gotta fix that right away!”
On a news release draft, revised while the boss was absent, the bosses' feedback to my PR manager friend was, “Well, he said (the writing) was much better but the messaging was off.” Then the question is, when did the boss communicate the “messaging” that your news release apparently missed? If the communications strategy has been established, is it written somewhere for those in communications roles to see and apply? If not, have the marketing director share it so everyone can incorporate it into content being developed. But don't let them expect you to read minds. Lots of organizations keep strategy locked up with top management. That's just nuts!
Get Clear On Effective Process
This situation requires a summit meeting on how news releases and publicity content gets effectively created. Critical information doesn't get transmitted from marketing to the PR pro through osmosis. Marketing doesn't tell the PR agency to just “go research it.” They don't get to run off somewhere (vacation, business trips, whatever) and expect content to be created without their participation. People can communicate from anywhere. Not doing that is irresponsible.
The typical process somewhat mimics what goes on in journalistic news operations. (Not that marketers or PR pros are doing journalism.) The editor (that would be your boss) assigns a story or the reporter, that would be you, the PR pro, suggests a story idea. They discuss/agree on the angle they're going to take, reporter gathers info from people with information, that would be your boss and/or other content experts inside the company who make themselves available. Then the story is written and the editor checks it for accuracy. They may make suggestions for a few changes but they don't drill down into stylistic changes. Then the story/news announcement is sent off for distribution and hopefully published by media interested in the information.
Huddle On the Facts
What comes first is a briefing capturing the facts and what outcomes are desired. People have to share what they know and want PR to transmit. A questionnaire/worksheet getting at what's truly significant is one way of discovering relevant facts. A phone call or email exchanges are other ways. Otherwise, how are PR pros supposed to know what management wants to communicate? An effective fact-sourcing process is essential and a structured editing process is critical. Random, subjective comments don't work.
Get a Slice of Management Involvement
Don't be taken advantage of or beat up by arbitrary, immature, lazy, or inexperienced management behavior. Don't let management underestimate the challenge of creating effective news material. The boss going MIA speaks loads about dysfunction that needs to be addressed. PR is a management function. They need to be in the game. Otherwise, you're being set up for failure. Get it fixed.
The alternative, if management won't address these problems, is to get busy finding another job. Otherwise, get serious with these jokers. Manage UP! As a PR pro you've most likely done far more content writing than all of them put together. Remind them they hired you as the expert. Tell them what they need to do to be successful.
You can improve situations like this by helping managers learn how to become part of the PR program rather than just throwing stuff at you. PR is a management function requiring time and involvement. It's not like paying the electric bill.
If people are too busy to pay attention to their participation in the PR effort, then they're paying attention to the wrong stuff or over-committed. PR involvement needs to be a top priority and that doesn't mean tinkering repeatedly with news release copy and criticizing the writer after not providing adequate or sometimes not providing any input.
The news development and PR content development process isn't rocket science. It's just logical input capture and agreement prior to developing the information, not creating something and then painfully repeatedly reiterating it until all concerned are appeased. Keep the number of cooks in the kitchen to a bare minimum unless you really enjoy spinning your wheels on copy approvals.
Keeping It Real
Your boss needs to trust the people they've hired, delegate authority as well as responsibility, get their ego out of the game and understand that news release copy writing sure isn't the same as advertising copy. Sometimes its necessary to remind marketing managers that promotional copy writing is very different from PR writing. PR needs to focus on effectively communicating information value to earn content acceptance use by media pros. We don't buy media exposure.
Promo writing style is death in PR. Promotional, techno-buzz-word copy will get trashed by media pros. They hate it and make fun of it. They love straightforward, clean, simple, understandable, newsworthy information which they can use and that their readers will benefit from receiving. Quite simply, if a news release won't do that, it shouldn't exist.