Basic Tips On Writing Releases

JohnLandsberg
January 4th, 2012

    The area’s most-read blogger, Tony Botello of Tonyskansascity.com, 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.
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(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. www.bottomlinecom.com. Please credit this site when reprinting.)

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  • MR. PRESIDENT: UNFILTERED TWEETS MUST END!!

    Since the presidency of Donald Trump began in January the public has had a unique view in seeing how many, many executives act when their true remarks/feelings/views go public. Unfiltered.

    It is often not a pretty scene.  It’s like the old joke where you really don’t want to know how sausage is actually made.

    Trump, in his effort to show “transparency” to the public, has been sending unfiltered, unedited Tweets out on a random basis since he began running for President.  They can come at any time of the day or night, and often seem to follow the “Ready, Fire, Aim!!” theory of communications.

    His latest missives aimed at C-list TV personalities MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough have totally derailed a series of recent legislative successes (LINK).  Not only that, but his Tweets have actually enhanced the couple’s standing.

    Communications professionals around the globe have been left scratching their collective heads and wondering, “In his wildest dreams how did he ever think talking about Brzezinski’s facelift would be a good idea?”

    I have been in top-level corporate meetings literally hundreds of times.  If the public was privy to many of the actual discussions they would be stunned.  After one meeting where the company president repeatedly stressed the need for diversity I heard him casually remark to the HR director as we were leaving, “Okay, does that cover my ass legally now if we don’t hire minorities?”

    It is impossible for President Trump to have an overall coherent communications message when he is shooting out Tweets from the hip.  His staffers end up spending all their time and effort trying to clean up the most recent mess he created rather than focusing on any type of overall communications strategy.

    Someone needs to stress to the President that his personal, off-the-cuff,  tweeting must stop.  If he won’t heed that advice he should at least agree that someone must read his Tweets before they go out.

    The days of unfiltered Tweets from the President must end.

     

     

     

    Published July 1, 2017 at 7:59 am - One Comment Since the presidency of Donald Trump began in January the public has had a unique view in seeing how many, many executives act when their true remarks/feelings/views go public. Unfiltered. It is often not a pretty scene.  It̵ ...

  • EX-KCTV ANCHOR KAREN FULLER FILES LAWSUIT

    Regular viewers of KCTV were stunned in February 2015 when long-time anchor Karen Fuller was suddenly yanked off the air at the Meredith-owned station.

    After all, Fuller, 47 at the time, had been a staple at the CBS station for 12 years. Viewers were accustomed to her entering their living rooms on a regular basis and were shocked at her departure.

    In April, Fuller revealed to Bottom Line (link) that her departure was not her decision. Sources say she had requested 15 seconds of airtime to thank her loyal viewers, but instead was yanked mid-shift and escorted out of the station.

    In August 2015 we reported she had landed a new position as an anchor at the Sinclair Group’s KGAN in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.   It should be noted Kansas City is the 31st largest TV market in the country; Cedar Rapids 88.

    The Kansas City Star has now broken the story that Fuller is now suing her former parent company over age and gender discrimination.  She filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., against the Meredith Corporation.

    “Fuller alleges in the suit that the company has created an ‘age ceiling’ for its female anchors but not for male anchors,” the Star reported.  “Women age out in their mid- to late 40s. The company does not enforce the same age-related job requirement for male prime-time anchors.

    “The company’s strong-arm behavior assaulted her dignity, cast aspersion on Ms. Fuller’s many years of hard work, professionalism, and loyalty to her job, and took away Ms. Fuller’s ability to say goodbye to co-workers, friends and viewers,” the suit alleges.

    Fuller’s case is being handled by R. Pete Smith, chairman of the Kansas City-based law firm of McDowell, Rice, Smith, and Buchanan.

    Bottom Line has learned Fuller was given the green light to sue Meredith in March following an EEOC investigation of possible systemic issues with age/gender at other Meredith-owned stations.

     

     

     

    Published June 8, 2017 at 8:06 am - 2 Comments Regular viewers of KCTV were stunned in February 2015 when long-time anchor Karen Fuller was suddenly yanked off the air at the Meredith-owned station. After all, Fuller, 47 at the time, had been a staple at the CBS station for 1 ...

  • UNITED AIRLINES BLEW INITIAL CRISIS MESSAGE

    You’ve probably heard the slogan, “You never have a second chance to make a good impression.”

    The same is true in crisis communications.  When a crisis hits, as it did with United Airlines removing a passenger from a flight, the company had to come out with a strong message.  Unfortunately, it didn’t and today has to figure out how to pick up the pieces from a PR disaster.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t and today has to figure out how to pick up the pieces from a PR disaster.

    We have all seen the videos of a man being forcibly taken off a plane that was overbooked.  The man was bloodied and dragged off the aircraft.

    The company’s CEO Oscar Munoz initially blabbered about re-accommodating a passenger.  He also fired off an internal note to employees commending them for their actions.

    United Airlines

    Both were bad moves.

    The media, and particularly social media and talk shows,  jumped all over the airline for its insensitivity to a Chinese passenger and highlighted how offended the Chinese public was.  The next day it was revealed the passenger was actually Vietnamese and new stories about how offended the Vietnamese were flourished.

    What did United Airlines do wrong with its initial response? It is very likely the company conferred with its legal team and were told everything it did was legal.  While true, the biggest mistake was not addressing the emotional part of the issue.

    The average passenger was thinking “They could have done that to me!!” The guy had paid for a ticket and was waiting for his flight to depart when all hell broke loose.

    Years ago a phone company in Lima, Ohio, issued new phone books.  That’s not exactly “stop the presses kind of news,” but in this case it was.  The phone books contained coupons for various discounts:  pizza, dry cleaning, home goods, etc.

    It also contained a coupon offering $25 off on an abortion!!

    The phone book coupon issue exploded locally and then nationally.  The local Catholic hospital in Lima was beyond upset.  People on both sides of the abortion issue agreed that offering a discount coupon for it was tacky.

    The phone company’s legal team initially was quick to point out it was perfectly legal for the abortion clinic to offer a coupon since abortions were legal.  But the average person did not care if the coupon was legal.  They thought it was tacky and insensitive.

    The company spokesman ignored the legalities of the message and instead profusely apologized to everyone for the offensive coupon. He promised controversial coupons would never find their way into the phone book again.   The message resonated and the furor died down in a few days.

    CEO Munoz blew his initial message, but a day later had developed a new, stronger one. It should have been his initial message.

    “The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened,” noted Munoz.

    After all the facts have come out about the incident some cooler heads have risen over the incident.  However, it will be tough to overcome the initial horrible publicity and a reported $255 million loss in stock value.

     

     

    Published April 12, 2017 at 3:25 pm - 2 Comments You’ve probably heard the slogan, “You never have a second chance to make a good impression.” The same is true in crisis communications.  When a crisis hits, as it did with United Airlines removing a passenger ...

  • COURIC TRICK SHOWS VALUE OF RECORDING INTERVIEWS

    It has been called “appalling journalism.”

    That might be considered a positive comment regarding an editing trick inserted into a documentary on gun ownership that has come to light.

    Long-time NBC Today Show star and anchor at all three major networks, Katie Couric, now with Yahoo! News, is being severely criticized for highly questionable editing in her documentary titled “Under the Gun” after it was revealed an eight-second pause was inserted to make it look as if the people interviewed could not answer her question (LINK).

    Luckily for the individuals being interviewed, one person was wise enough to record the Q&A (LINK TO AUDIO). Otherwise, questioning the bubbly media icon would have been virtually impossible and fruitless.

    Couric was executive producer, host and narrator of the piece.  Anti-gun activist Stephanie Soechtig produced and directed it.

    In the documentary, a group of Virginia gun owners was asked by Couric: “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”

    Not only did Couric/Soechtig insert a pause (8-10 seconds), but they also inserted “B” roll of the gun owners taken before the interview even began.  There is little doubt the editing was clearly designed to make it look as if Couric’s tough question made them speechless and uncomfortable.

    Couric is now calling the edit an “unnecessary mistake,” according to an individual with knowledge of her thinking (LINK).

    In an official statement, Soechtig countered, “my intention was to provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question before presenting the facts on Americans’ opinions on background checks. I never intended to make anyone look bad and I apologize if anyone felt that way.”

    Couric now says she supports Soechtig’s statement “and am very proud of the film.” However, a few days later she admitted she regretted how she portrayed gun activists (LINK).

    However, the National Review and Washington Post now say Couric should be fired over the deliberate misrepresentation (LINK).

    This is a classic reason why at Bottom Line Communications we strongly advise clients to always record media interviews.  Without actual audio evidence (below) the Yahoo! crew would have denied inserting the pause.

    However, with the evidence journalism takes another huge credibility hit.

     

    Published May 29, 2016 at 8:30 am - 2 Comments It has been called “appalling journalism.” That might be considered a positive comment regarding an editing trick inserted into a documentary on gun ownership that has come to light. Long-time NBC Today Show star and ...

  • MIZZOU NEEDS CRISIS PLAN TO RESTORE IMAGE

    In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious.

    When rankings for the best “J” schools in the nation are posted the University of Missouri is almost guaranteed to be in the Top 10 or Top 5.  However, that may have all changed due to the actions of a single media professor during the recent student uprising at the school.

    A Mass Media Professor, Melissa Click, is shown in a video asking for “muscle” to remove a student photojournalist, Tim Tai,  who was working for ESPN and in a public place.   It is a horrible act by a college professor and shows a total disregard for the Journalist’s First Amendment rights, which is against what the school has taught for decades.

    “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here,” says Click.

    A video of Click’s actions against Tai has gone viral and has well over 500,000 views (LINK) on a single site.  The New York Times has written an extensive story about her actions.

    What was once a sympathetic media for the protesters has now changed with the actions of students and faculty against them.

    Technically some have pointed out Click works in the Mass Media Division of the Department of Communications in College of Arts & Sciences, which is separate from the J-school.  However, she is listed on the School of Journalism’s site (LINK), which tars the entire Journalism program whether it deserves it or not.

    Click had earlier Tweeted out that she she was looking for coverage of the event by Journalists.  Later on she is clearly leading the charge against other Journalists with total disregard for their rights to cover the event.

    With the resignation of the school’s President and Chancellor the University of Missouri is clearly being painted as a college where the inmates are running the asylum.   Rather than act like a Professor, Click and other faculty members have clearly shown they were behind the student protests against the administration.

    If the University of Missouri doesn’t hire a crisis communications team immediately its entire image for producing quality Journalism graduates could likely be tarnished forever. If the school was wise it already had a crisis communications plan in place for such an incident, but that is unlikely.

    The first move would be to remove Click. But that would be a stop-gap measure since a faculty member helping foment the disturbance was an indictment on all the faculty.  The school hired her, and whether tacitly or not, approved of her actions.

    A statement issued today by the Dean of the Journalism School denied she was part of the faculty and sounded as if her days as a professor at Missouri were numbered. Click has also been forced to apologize in an attempt to save her job and resigned her “courtesy” appointment to the J-School.

    However, a Kansas City reporter told BLC that the protesters are refusing to speak with local reporters and will only do interviews with national media outlets.  That is the kind of move that will turn sympathetic local media against them now and in the future.

    It’s a bad move.

     

     

    Published November 10, 2015 at 10:23 am - 5 Comments In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious. When rankings for the best ...