What Lies Beneath

Via an entry at Neill Archer Roan’s blog on PR, I came across a great entry on a blog called Bad Language regarding writing press releases well. In past entries I have written on the subject urging people not to use the trite phrases everyone uses in press releases and brochure copy. (spectacular, tour de force, illustrating what it means to be human, etc.)

Matthew Stibbe, who writes Bad Language, makes many of the same points and his simple list of how to make releases better is worth reading.

I almost left his blog without following a link to an even more interesting topic, however. Stibbe points out that unless you take the proper steps, every press release you send out electronically contains a record of all the changes you made to that document.

What might really be interesting to media outlets might not be what you wrote, but what you took out. So if you happen to not like a performer and to air your frustrations, you write “his pedantic lyrics and bombastic stage presence only serve as a facade for his inadequacies in other areas,” before writing something more appropriate, your true feelings will be available for any who are interested to see.

Certainly that might be a little embarassing at most. What happens though if you are copying and pasting information from a newspaper article and accidently drop a sentence about the new president of your organization being cleared of fiscal malfeasance at his previous job after a two year investigation? A record of that information being deleted has a good chance of being included and will be of much greater interest to the local paper than how happy you are that he has accepted the position.

“Yeah,” you say, “but who uses those settings and is anyone going to really turn them on to see what secrets my museum might be hiding?” Well actually, probably not. But then they don’t have to intentionally turn them on. Editors and reporters are the most likely group to have those settings active on their word processors by default. They send stories with changes and comments included in the document back and forth to each other all day long. They are probably turning all those things off while reading your press release so they don’t have to bear witness to your agonizing search for the right wording.

But if they just happen to see something interesting before they deactivate that view….

So how do you avoid broadcasting your dirty laundry? Fortunately, Mr. Stibbe has found a solution provided by those who get paid to poke through our dirty laundry…the NSA.

As amusing as it is to think of yourself adopting NSA anti-espionage techniques, it is a pretty through guide and worth employing to avoid a faux pas or two.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “What Lies Beneath”

  1. Thanks for the link.

    In fact, I have seen at least two stories in the British media in the last year where journalists have deliberately checked for hidden information in press releases and discovered something embarassing. It’s not really the case that they accidentally discover this stuff – they go loooking for it. Of course another way to solve this problem is to send the press release text in a text-only email, or publish it on a website and email a link and a summary (my recommendation) or to use a PDF.

    Cheers, Matthew

  2. Matthew-

    Thanks for the notice. I guess my comments about reporters not actively looking for a story in the document history was generally wishful hoping that my local arts reporters and editors aren’t doing that sort of thing.

    Thanks for doing a post on the whole subject. The comment and document history info is the type of thing you use all the time yourself but never consider might be used in a negative manner.


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