Basic Tips On Writing Releases

January 4th, 2012

    The area’s most-read blogger, Tony Botello of, recently reprinted a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.
   It is a classic example of executive egos getting in the way of a quality release that would help make the media’s job easier—which should be its goal.
   First, it should be called a “news” release and not a “press” release because some TV and radio people think a “press” release is something written for newspapers.
   Secondly, a news release should be organized in the same basic way as a news story with the key facts in the lede.
   Sorry, but U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips making an announcement is not newsworthy at all.
   Have you ever heard a newscaster say, “US Attorney Beth Phillips, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today…?”  For a TV and radio item just announcing her name and title would take up half the story.
   The prime newsmaker is Denny Ray Hardin, the person who was found guilty of being involved in a $100 million fraud. He should have been the initial focus of the release. 
    The next information then should have been the Judge who made the ruling and the potential sentence he could apply in the future. At that point the prosecutors who actually did the tough work in the courtoom should have been mentioned.
    After those facts have been presented a vanity quote from Phillips would be appropriate:
   “The attorneys in our office did a superb job of presenting the facts and helping to protect the public from predators like Denny Ray Hardin,” says Beth Phillips, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.
   The rest of the release can outline the specifics of the case.
    Here was the actual release that was issued:
     KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Kansas City, Mo., man was convicted in federal court today of creating false obligations and of mail fraud as part of an attempted $100 million fraud scheme.
     Denny Ray Hardin, 52, of Kansas City, was found guilty of 21 charges contained in a May 5, 2010, federal indictment.
    Hardin produced and issued numerous “Bonded Promissory Notes” (BPNs), which are completely fictitious financial instruments that Hardin claimed to be backed by an account with the U.S. Department of Treasury. Hardin falsely claimed that he was authorized by the U.S. Department of Treasury to produce and issue the worthless documents, which he claimed had monetary value and could be used to eliminate debt.
     Hardin claimed to have produced and issued more than 2,000 bonded promissory notes, totaling more than $100 million, from September 2008 to September 2009, for himself as well as for his girlfriend, his daughter, and many customers who paid a fee. Hardin created the notes on his computer and used them to attempt to discharge student loan debts, to purchase a car and a house, and for other personal items and debts. Hardin charged purchasers of the notes a fee – initially $100 per note, which was later increased based on the amount of debt Hardin falsely claimed to be discharged by the note.
     Hardin falsely claimed that he was authorized to issue the bonded promissory notes because he was a private banker. As part of his scheme to defraud both the individuals for whom he created BPNs and the creditors to whom he issued BPNs, Hardin claimed that he had created his own private bank – The Private Bank of Denny Ray Hardin, which operated out of his residence.
     Hardin defrauded customers by selling them BPNs with the false promise that these fictitious instruments can discharge debts. Hardin defrauded creditors by presenting them with worthless BPNs.
     Hardin operated a Web site for the purpose of marketing BPNs to potential purchasers. On his Web site, Hardin claimed that BPNs had been accepted by various institutions, which was false. Hardin marketed this scheme by spreading false stories to make his fraud sound legitimate and to try and force creditors into accepting BPNs through threats of legal action.
    As part of the fraud scheme, Hardin would mail a BPN to creditors, along with various other documents that included a letter from Hardin stating that the account had been paid in full by the note. When he was notified that the BPN had been refused as payment, Hardin threatened the creditor with a lawsuit.
     U.S. District Judge Gary A. Fenner found Hardin guilty of 11 counts of creating fictitious obligations and 10 counts of mail fraud at the conclusion of a bench trial that began Monday, Sept. 12, 2011.
      Under federal statutes, Hardin is subject to a sentence of up to 25 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 for each count of creating fictitious obligations, a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $1 million, for each of the four counts of mail fraud affecting a financial institution, and a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000, for each of the remaining counts of mail fraud. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
     This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian P. Casey and Patrick D. Daly. It was investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Education – Office of Inspector General, the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

(John Landsberg is the president of Bottom Line Communications, a Public Relations firm based in Leawood. He is also an adjunct professor of marketing, sales and public relations. Please credit this site when reprinting.)

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