The most valuable press release may be the one an organization never actually releases to the press. My boss at the University of Missouri News Bureau taught me that lesson. Whenever she caught a whiff of controversy, she would write a press release and get it approved by the chancellor and other brass before whatever issue it was ever reached public consciousness. Often, she never actually sent these press releases to media contacts, yet these documents still served a valuable purpose. Pet food industry professionals can benefit from preparing a factual press release as soon as they learn of a potential problem.
Most importantly, these preemptive press releases ensure that pet food industry companies can get official messages out to journalists as quickly as possible. One of the cardinal rules of public relations is to control the conversation. This involves trying to make sure your truthful version of the situation influences journalists’ framing of their articles. In a breaking news situation, reporters need facts, background information, quotes and contact info for follow-up questions. Having a pre-approved press release can provide all of these quickly. Humans tend to have a cognitive bias towards believing information they hear first and frequently, so getting a pet food company’s factual story out quickly, and disseminating that information widely, may add to its efficacy.
Crafting a pet food company’s perspective on an event into a coherent message creates another benefit of the preemptive press release, even the unused ones. The process develops a coherent message that others throughout the organization can rely on for talking points and data. A preemptive press release can inform key personnel within a pet food company of an issue, so reporters, co-workers or even family members don’t catch them unaware.
Uncomfortable questions from an inquiring teenager at the dinner table likely won’t be the worst part of a pet food industry crisis, such as a major recall or high-profile lawsuit. Being unprepared to answer journalists’ questions can lead to muddled or misleading messaging, but keeping quiet can be worse. When a pet food company provides no statement, it allows others to project their own interpretations on the situation and often humans tend to believe the worst. Silence seems like guilt. A preemptive press release can provide well-phrased, informational answers ahead of time.
Like the proverb about trees in which the best time to plant one was 20 years ago and the second best time is right now, the best time to write a press release was before a problem went public.