We buried the news, I’m afraid

A client issued a news release recently. Without going into detail, let’s just say it was the work of a loose-knit committee with more finance experts and lawyers than communications folks (me). That’s the way with all financial announcements.

The release was dense with technical matters only an expert could understand. Then again, those experts were our target audience.

What brought me up short was one bit of press coverage. The day of the release, a wire service published a well-reported story, putting the news into perspective, citing actions by others in the industry, and so on. The next day, the wire service wrote a second story. This one focused almost entirely on a scrap of information that also was in the release: the client’s plans to launch its major product by year end.

The second story made me realize: We buried the news – the launch date was down in the eighth paragraph of the release. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 … 8!

If you say anything in the eighth paragraph, most people get the unspoken message that this is not the most important part. In this case the first reporter mentioned the launch plan – in the 15th paragraph. Only a committed reader gets that far into a story. The second-day story came along and highlighted the launch – I was glad it did.

Some companies want to bury the news, of course. This is the not-so-honest technique of putting a fact to which shareholders should pay the most attention down on the second or third page of the release, rather than in the first or second paragraph. If a reporter catches you burying the news, you may catch grief in the story – not to mention the reactions of investors, who may never come calling again.

In this situation, we didn’t intend to disguise anything – it was simply not the main event the company set out to announce. Given another chance, I’d probably say let’s do two releases, focus each more narrowly and make each piece of news clear. A lesson learned.

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