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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  • 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, 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 ...

  • TIME WILL TELL IF TARGET’S PR TACTIC IS SUCCESSFUL

    Public Relations practitioners are experts at taking advantage of current events in order to generate positive publicity for clients.

    After the 911 attacks, companies lined up to show their support for the War on Terror.  Anything they could do for the troops and their families was fair game with the hope they would receive some media recognition for their efforts.

    Whenever there is a natural disaster anywhere in the country companies are quick to jump in with monetary support, supplies and other forms of assistance. They have learned their best chance for positive coverage is to announce a donation as soon as possible.

    The reason for all this corporate goodwill?   Obviously, to show their companies in a positive light.  However, the over-riding goal should be to generate additional revenue and profits in the short or long-term.

    In 2013, Target  experienced a major retail disaster when it had more than 40 million credit cards compromised during the 2013 holiday shopping season. That may have resulted in the theft of as many as 110 million people’s personal information, such as email addresses and phone numbers.

    After the breach, Target saw its profits fall an astounding 46 percent, according to Forbes (link).  To add insult to injury, just last month the company was forced to shell out $10 million in a class action lawsuit to settle credit card claims (link).

    Target needed some positive publicity and needed it quickly.  A current hot issue involved transgender people after North Carolina said transgender people must use the restroom that corresponds to their birth certificate.  Some performers like Bruce Springsteen immediately jumped on the issue, but no corporations had joined the fray.

    Target very likely saw an opportunity to general positive publicity for its “inclusivity” by jumping on the issue.  The beauty of it was there was virtually no cost for the PR effort.  To offer to build unisex restrooms could cost millions of dollars.  This involved no more than issuing a statement:

    “We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity,” the retailer said in a statement. “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong.”

    Target-boycott

    As the company likely anticipated, initial publicity was overwhelmingly positive.  The news media applauded the company for its politically correct stance on behalf of the LGBT community.

    However, within days, it seemed the tide of public opinion about Target started to turn in another direction.  In less than a week nearly one million customers signed a petition generated by the American Family Association saying they would boycott Target stores (Link).

    Stories began to appear involving men in Target restrooms attempting to take pictures.  The social media backlash to Target, particularly on the influential Breitbart News Network, was fierce.

    And now it seems Target is on an island with its controversial policy.  No other major retailer has jumped on the Target bandwagon.  Most, like Walmart, very likely staying quiet while hoping to skim off Target customers.

    Even Starbucks, considered a leader in political correctness, has not weighed in (Link).

    Was Target wrong to jump on the issue?   Only time will tell.  It obviously did not anticipate the fierce backlash by its customer base.  It most likely will not prove to be a move that will increase its bottom line.

    “The decision to weigh in so strongly on such a divisive issue has to be worrying for holders of Target stock,” noted InvestorPlace. “Since the retailer’s April 19 announcement, TGT stock has dropped 6.5%.”

    But of even greater concern to Target might be its new policy seems to be turning off its prime customers:  women.

    “The study further indicated that a growing number of shoppers — especially women — heard negative comments about the company,” said InvestorPlace. “Interestingly, brand perception of TGT is down to its lowest level in eight months.”

    Companies have to be very cautious when jumping on issues for publicity.  After Chick-fil-A’s CEO came out against gay marriage the LGBT community attempted a boycott of the chain.  Customers responded so strongly that Chick-fil-A’s sales actually increased.

    After a character on the TV show “Duck Dynasty” said he was against gay marriage the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel quickly announced it was removing all Duck Dynasty merchandise from its stores.  That hasty decision was not thought through very well despite Jesse Jackson throwing his support behind the restaurant.

    Cracker Barrel quickly realized it had made a huge mistake.  Its loyal customers were furious and let the chain know they would be taking their business elsewhere.  Within three days Cracker Barrel was forced to completely rescind its decision (Link) and ask for forgiveness.

    Target was quick to publicize its restroom policy, and now the company now steadfastly refuses to reveal if the boycott is hurting sales.  That will be the key whether this program is successful or not.

    Target’s decision may pan out in the long run as an effective PR tactic.  If sales and profits grow it will be time for high-fives in the corporate boardroom.

    However,  it could also be a decision its shareholders will regret for years to come.  Only time will tell.

    (Update: Signers to the petition have now surpassed the one-million mark.  Target’s stock has lost $1.5 billion.)

    Published April 28, 2016 at 10:35 am - 5 Comments Public Relations practitioners are experts at taking advantage of current events in order to generate positive publicity for clients. After the 911 attacks, companies lined up to show their support for the War on Terror.  Anythin ...

  • 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 ...