PR-wise, back when I was knee high to a grasshopper from 1992-1997, I had the privilege of working for the agency that represented Lotus Development Corp. before and during their acquisition by IBM for $3 billion, setting a record for a software co. sale at the time. For those of you born in the ‘80s, that program called Excel owes a lot of its DNA to Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, who co-developed VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is credited for kick-starting the entire PC industry, as that everyday-use application gave pencil pushers one good reason for buying a desktop PC. In 1983, a smart guy named Mitch Kapor cloned VisiCalc and created Lotus 1-2-3, the first spreadsheet to be heavily marketed and sold worldwide. It was the golden egg for Lotus… until an even smarter guy named Bill Gates developed a Windows version of it, and 1-2-3 was history. (Gates owes this stroke of good fortune to Steve Jobs, whose Windows-like Mac platform inspired Gates to copy it.) But I digress.
This industry is full of good stories. It’s up to PR people to convey and feed these stories to a receptive press. PR people are still conduits, if used right. The PR pro installed at Lotus during my tenure taught me a lesson about this. We were working on a press release about a new Lotus workflow product called Forms. You see, Lotus made so much money from 1-2-3 that it could afford toying with all sorts of new software, most of which flopped, with the exception of Notes, whose inventor Ray Ozzie now works for Microsoft. Anyways, the Lotus marketing head told us to Fax the PRel to him. It was 7 pm and he was eating in a restaurant. (I can’t imagine a press release so pressing that it must be Faxed to a client while they are sucking oysters.) But they were a public company, and thus news releases were given a lot of weight.
The Lotus head asked us one rhetorical question concerning the value of the press release we had Faxed him. He said: “Tell me why I should give a F__”. Meaning, if he was a reporter, what, in the PRel, mattered? What is the “why” behind this bit of news drivel? Tell the world why it should care. That’s the lesson, and something we don’t see nearly enough in press release writing.
Lesson Learned: Every release should answer the following questions: Why does it matter? Who should care about it? Why should they care about it? What problem is being addressed? What is the problem, exactly?
Sometimes we like to say that technology offers a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Well most press releases fall into that bucket.