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Mea Culpa for a Failed Press Release

In April 2003, I wrote a column entitled “Anatomy of a Failed Press Release” in which I ripped apart a press release I’d received from Bridges TV, a then yet-to-be-launched television network targeting American Muslims.

“Bridges TV may have a bright future, and I wish them the best of luck. But this press release was a bad way to start a relationship with the media. And if the most important thing in life is perception, the second most important thing is probably relationships,” I wrote last year.

Woe is me.

Bridges TV does indeed to have a bright future, as the network launched last week with an avalanche of press. I caught interviews with Bridges TV founder Mo Hassan on CNN and CNBC, and I’m sure there were others. Wire services such as the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services ran stories on Bridges TV that were picked up by newspapers, television websites and other news websites around the world. The Chicago Tribune, New York Times and Sydney Morning Herald were among that papers that ran their own stories on the new channel. Suffice it to say, Bridges TV scored a knockout in round two of the public relations fight, but that’s not the end of the story.

I have a confession to make. I helped Bridges TV with their press release this time around. I didn’t get paid, so don’t worry about conflicts, and I didn’t approach them, which is one reason why I think this story is so compelling. Believe me, I don’t make it a practice of helping people with press releases because I do get paid for such work, but considering how I bashed the company before, I felt I had an obligation to put my time where my mouth was. (Aren’t we all tired of hearing people telling us how we can do better, only to find out they can’t even practice what they preach?)

For about four years on my website and in the newspaper, I wrote negative story after negative story about companies small and large. Rarely did anyone ever complain, lest they incur my further wrath. Those who did complain, however, were often surprised. On my website, my editorial policy was to publish – unedited – rebuttals, clarifications, etc. given to me by a proper company representative. Only a few companies took me up on the offer (I was always accurate, but my smarminess did serve to cloud the issues sometimes) and only a few PR representatives ever bothered to follow up with me and announce their displeasure with my work. I always received valid complaints warmly because I knew the end result would be that my own would improve, and perhaps a rocky start would help foster a new and exciting relationship.

Bridges TV, however, did not complain. They rightfully ignored me, as the press release I knocked a year ago did, in fact, get the company some substantial ink. This year when it came time to launch, the company contacted me and asked a simple question, “Since you ripped apart our press release last time, how about looking at it this time before it goes out?” I was surprised, then flattered, then a bit concerned. Did I have anything to offer these people?

The release I initially received from Bridges TV a few weeks ago was solid, if not spectacular. I didn’t like the headline because it didn’t include the company name, and I wasn’t too excited about some of the phrasing in the release or how the release flowed. How a release is organized is essential not only to grabbing people’s attention but also to determining what the media will concentrate on. Information buried at the bottom of a release is often ignored by journalists, who assume that the information isn’t very relevant if it’s just “tacked on.” If that’s the case, ask yourself if the information was necessary to include in the first place.

The major element I thought the original release was lacking is a key part of Bridges TV’s story. The network launched after a year of drumming up support from the American Muslim community – not just support in terms of community backing, but in real dollars: 10,000 subscribers had already paid for a yet-to-be-launched television network. That, to me, is the big story inside a bigger story. It’s not often that a product has paying customers before it has actually launched, especially in the increasingly competitive cable television space. (I have a friend who is trying to get a new network off the ground. Believe me, it’s hard.)

My nitpicking aside, the press release needed just a bit of tweaking. Bridges TV’s strength comes from the company’s compelling story – one that it timely and topical, no less. After a few days of checking out the release, I got on the phone with the PR person for Bridges TV and we went over my suggestions. To be honest, she didn’t need my help, as pretty much everything I was going to suggest (getting a direct quote from company supporter Muhammad Ali, cutting down on the amount of contacts listed on the release, simplifying the message, etc.) was already being changed by the time we spoke. This is important to note because a press release is not a simple concept, and with something as important as a company launch announcement, the press release has to evolve over time. Looking at the final release, a couple of my ideas made it in, but I can’t take credit for any of the success they’ve had in drumming up press.

The kudos, of course, belong to the people at Bridges TV. They delivered a solid press release and an excellent media strategy that apparently included a few embargoed stories, as well as a media alert ahead of the release announcing a press conference. Hassan, Bridges TV’s CEO, is clearly comfortable dealing with the media, and that’s an amazing asset for a PR person to have. In his interviews, he talks passionately about the company’s concept, and he offers a good anecdote about how he got the idea for the network. To put it simply, he has a story to tell, and that translates into news coverage.

Bridges TV’s compelling story has now received the attention it deserves. More importantly, I feel Bridges TV deserves a lot of credit in that they reached out to a critic for advice, even if that critic – me – was probably wrong in the first place.

Bridges TV didn’t need my help, but they had nothing to lose by asking for it. Too often in our professional lives do we let things fester, and we let slights – perceived and real – grow from small annoyances to big problems. In an age where most that is written will be forever catalogued, my bashing of Bridges TV probably stood out as one of the few negative things associated with the company. I’m not The New York Times or Newsweek, but Google doesn’t discriminate, and I think the folks at Bridges TV understand this.

For a company that says it wants to build bridges between people of all faiths, Bridges TV is off to an excellent start.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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