The Pulp Mill Case materialized in the mid-2000s, when social networking Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, etc. were just coming onto the scene. Other internet based tools such as Google Earth and YouTube were also starting to become massively popular.

Rapidly exploding communications technologies brought instantaneous sharing of short public statements, images, documents, videos, songs, and other media.

Our own capacity to utilize these tools was also in its initiation stage. This case, for instance, was the first time we utilized Google Earth to actually see and analyze satellite imagery of the various localities that were affected by the pulp mill factories.

Several aspects of the advocacy work conducted on this case are worthy of mention and reflection. We will divide this chapter into 6 sections to examine:

  1. The philosophy and characteristics of social networking
  2. Evaluating your targets
  3. Outreach (breadth, frequency and selective targeting)
  4. Writing an effective press release
  5. Story Telling (forthcoming)
  6. Preaching to the Converted (forthcoming)

1. The philosophy and characteristics of social networking

Modern social networking has its foundations in the characteristics of our own natural communication habits. What’s so revolutionary about social networking is that instead of simply choosing a type or direction for a communication and then releasing all control of who views it and who does not, we have the freedom to pick and choose who we talk to, what we share, as well as when and how often. Social webs utilize our own actions to create an interwoven network of exchanges between the people we commonly interact with. Instead of defining the content of what we say and do, they simply provide a medium through which to do it. Understanding the difference for advocacy actors is critical to developing our own communication strategies.

One of the key challenges any advocacy group faces is defining a set of actors we want to communicate with. A typical or standard approach is to draft up a mailing list (the type we generally circulate at conferences, seminars, or other public or intercollegiate meetings). Sometimes we may take addresses through voluntary sign up sheets on the street, at a school, etc. We may also offer a place on our website for people who look favorably at our work or who have some particular interest in learning about what we are doing to enter their email addresses. Whenever we approach a new case, we brainstorm about new email addresses to add to our mailing lists- hoping to expand our outreach to new actors and reach beyond our horizons to new sets of stakeholders or other parties which we want to inform about our work.

In the Pulp Mill Case, we had such meetings, and carried out such email database expansion exercises, mostly geared at identifying 4 sets of actors with which we felt we needed to communicate events around the case. These were:

1)      Financial actors (private banks, export credit agencies, multilateral);

2)      Key news outlets (daily or sector specific newspapers/magazines) in the home countries of the financial actors;

3)      World Bank Staff (including high level IFC staff, Board of Directors);

4)      NGOs and NGO networks working on development finance issues, human rights issues, forestry, European based NGOs.

We used interns to conduct systematic email contact research in each of the categories, and made an effort to attractinterns from those countries where there were significant players in the pulp mill investment (Spain, Finland, Norway, Sweden, France, Netherlands, etc.). Each intern that joined our team was given (in addition to normal internship duties ) the task of identifying the key newspapers, radio stations, television programs, sector specific magazines, etc. in their home country which might be related to the pulp mill sector, the financial sector, or any other sector that that would be interested in knowing about the case. For instance, in the early stages of the case, because of ING’s involvement as a potential financial investor in Botnia, we utilized European interns to identify and collect emails of key news sources in the Netherlands, with the objective of generating public attention and scrutiny over ING’s involvement in the case.

Obtaining emails of the World Bank’s Executive Directors was also an extremely important task, as it went straight to the heart of our financial advocacy strategy (which was ultimately to freeze financing to Botnia and ENCE). We found, as the case moved forward, that despite the minimal feedback we obtained from the World Bank’s Executive Directors, they and their staff were indeed reading the press releases and updates that we sent, and were far more informed than we realized. It was also evident, for the most part, these directors are generally informed only by pro-investment actors (such as the IFC in this case), and have little balanced information to go by to develop a non-partial opinion.

Communication to other NGOs and NGO networks was also an important dimension of our strategy, helping to achieve global visibility of the case amongst other groups. Targeting these very specialized like-minded audiences was a fundamental step in the process, which helped not only with global visibility, but also with the forging of key advocacy partnerships. Such was the case for example, with OECD Watch (which monitors corporate compliance with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises) and with Bank Track (which looks at social and environmental compliance of banking institutions, particularly those that are signatories to the Equator Principles), which were two key networks whose help was integral to this case. CEDHA ended up joining both networks as a result of this case and we’ve maintained contact and obtained assistance from these and other networks ever since. Another important dimension and benefit of connecting with other networks for such assistance is the potential for obtaining financing in the form of grants, which can be given to assist with any aspects of the case that are pertinent to the network’s own programmatic agenda.

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We started this section speaking of social networking. So far we’ve spoken only, however, of a more traditional approach to identifying and targeting communications to specific audiences. Those which have a specific interest in the issue focus of the advocacy.

These targeted sector or actor approaches are important, and are ultimately the foundations of our strategy. They add to our database and expand the number of people who find out about our work. They also leverage impacts in the various stakeholder circles engaged or potentially engaged in the case. They might leverage visibility, assistance in advocacy, or even financing.

However, more modern social web based philosophies for communication reach far beyond the limits of traditional strategies, and are based on completely and radically different approaches to communication. We now consider some of the characteristics of social networking which are critical to understand and to utilize in our work.

Social networking thrives on free individual associations and not on pre-established communications channels that we might guess at in an intellectual exercise of profiling actors. So while we might guess that the Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) interacts with the Chief Compliance Officer of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), we’d have a harder time guessing who she might chat with on Google Chat, or share personal information with on Facebook. And if we believe in the idea that “birds of a feather flock together”, then the sorts of people she might associate with in her social networks may in fact also be very interested in the sorts of issues we are sharing with her.

Further, we shouldn’t presume that “friends” on Facebook, or professional associates through Linked In, are the only important contacts to reach through these networks. The social web approach relies on the individual to make the links, tapping into networks voluntarily and based on the daily habits that each of us go through in our normal everyday lives. Because of this we need to worry less about “guessing” who a person will share information with, and more about the format and content of the message in order to insure that it can and will be transmitted through the channels and instruments available today.

So while in a more traditional setting, sending out a 25 page report about how both the IFC and Botnia  are violating the IFC Social and Environmental Performance Standards, what we may need today is a catchy 25 words sentence on how 5 year old children and their grandmothers scared off IFC’s staff team at a programmed consultation over the project.

In a more traditional approach to communication we worry about producing a solid 25 page document, and doing a thorough job of vetting out who the best target audience is (probably World Bank Staff, private bank staff, etc.) while in a more modern social networking setting we draft a creative short title criticizing IFC’s staff and publishing a photograph of a granny and her grandchild with a protest poster,  and send it out on twitter to lists which we know IFC staff possibly read. This doesn’t forego the need to produce the 25 page report to buttress the advocacy work with serious research or a strong position, but it does mean that our communication strategy needs to have a balanced and diversified approach.

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The important point to take away from this section is that a good communication strategy must reach beyond the traditional approach of seeking out likeminded actors through pre-established channels and instruments of communications, and instead give our targets some flexibility and choice over how they process, analyze, react to, repackage and resend our information to their own contacts.

2. Evaluating your targets

We spoke in the last section about choosing targets. We distinguished between going through the motions of picking out interested actors and instead designing information that those actors can be the protagonists in communicating. In this section we will focus again on more traditional approaches to communication, that is, on developing a more defined target audience. What we should stress however, is that we can do this in a more innovative way, rather than merely focusing on the obvious stakeholders or interest groups that we can identify. In this respect, we should not loose site of what we are learning about social networks. The guessing game that takes place in the development of an email database can be very effectively channeled if we are open to considering less traditional actors.

Let’s consider an example to illustrate this point.

Let’s say that Company X is contaminating a local waterway, and we want them to hear our complaint and cease the contamination, which may mean also that they need to clean a given site, cease a specific production process, modify that process, or maybe even relocate their operation.

A traditional approach may involve actions such as the following:

  • writing to the company president;
  • publishing or getting a journalist to publish a media article criticizing the company;
  • write a letter to the congressional/parliamentarian representative;
  • conducting a public protest in front of the company;
  • filing a complaint to a regulatory agency that oversees the company’s compliance of social/environmental norms;
  • sending out a press release to a list of NGO contacts.

If we look at the case through a social networking lens, and think more carefully about likely communicational interests between actors, we might consider other advocacy roads and strategies. To do so we need to think more carefully about the people behind the institutions. Social networks are about people talking to eachother, and not necessarily about the bricks and mortar those people represent.

For each of these more traditional approaches, we offer below some new ideas you might consider which could lead to other advocacy channels or strategies:

  • Writing to the company president to point out the errors made by a specific staff person of the company which have led to contamination, community conflict, etc. This tactic has the potential of troubling the responsible party within the company, who will likely fear that his or her career may be blemished. It might also create internal conflict within the company which may work to the benefit of spawning change, as opposed to pushing the company towards unification against the cause;
  • Consider publishing press pieces in media beyond the case’s immediate impact area. For instance, by identifying problems the company may be having in other countries or communities and publishing information about your case there. This will help to achieve a broader reach for the case, resounding in more media sources. As we project a case at a higher or broader level we should also consider sending our press articles to affiliated press agencies (such as Reuters) instead of limiting our articles to a local audience In our Pulp Mill Case, the massive protests that the companies Botnia and ENCE faced locally were hardly heard in Finland or in Spain, and as such, it was not until we penetrated Finnish and Spanish press that we stared to get more traction both with the companies as well as with the banking institutions and the respective governments;
  • Instead of simply writing a letter to a congressional/parliamentarian representative, which is always a good idea, it would be beneficial to know a little bit more about the various committees which different parliamentarians serve on. Perhaps we should be looking at an environmental committee, or one charged with foreign investments, or maybe we should be looking at the parliamentarians of another country because the project belongs to a multinational company and benefits from public funds;
  • Conducting a public protest in front of the company is always a good way to draw attention to a local problem, but may not always move a global company to change its behavior, especially of the company headquarters are in another country. Societies are sensitive to abuses by multinational companies abroad and are willing to be extremely critical of companies for what they do across borders and so it’s important to reach out to communities other than that which is directly affected by the case. Always consider to what extent public opinion of the company in a foreign country may actually be an ally for your cause. Get to know the people working for other NGOs in other communities or countries. Share your advocacy approaches with them and sometimes you’ll be able to learn from one another and more effectively channel your advocacy energies and resources, to have a greater impact.
  • Filing a complaint to a regulatory agency that oversees the company’s compliance with social/environmental norms is a good way to draw attention to sensitive legalities or regulatory issues around a case, however compliance processes can be lengthy and cumbersome. It’s a good idea to get to know compliance agencies themselves. Talk to compliance officers, make visits to their offices to communicate your concerns directly and personally; human relations can be a strong foundation to obtaining greater compliance controls;
  • Instead of simply sending out a press release to your list of NGO contacts, also take a few moments to personally target a few of the NGOs that are more pertinent to your work. If you’re working on a forestry issue, for instance, take the time to find out who are the staff at Greenpeace, or Sierra Club, or Friends of the Earth, that work on forestry and send a personal message to that staff. Find out about their work, their program, and why your case is relevant to them. Send them an email that is more directed at a specific aspect of their work and you are likely to get a personal response with ideas, with interest, or with some other advocacy element which will likely help your organizations forge a relationship around your case;

We tend to presume that our case deserves a public interest, and that simply because of the injustice that is taking place, society will rise up behind us and pitch in to help. And while it is probably true that case does indeed merit such a response, this support will not simply materialize solely upon the virtues of the case. Those responses come when they are solicited, and even more so when they are solicited in a targeted and intentional way. Institutional actions, such as getting a prosecutor to file a case before the courts, or getting a compliance officer to conduct and audit, can be slow and cumbersome, but they are even slower if there is no personal stake in the matter. A simple letter to a compliance officer, with a cc: to a superior, or a communication with a company director, with a cc: to a CEO or to various Executive Board members, can elicit fast action.  There may be concern that if no action is taken administrative responsibilities will require some sort of reprimand. Take a moment to look at the human faces behind the institution that you are engaging, and target your communications to them and to their networks.

3. Outreach (breadth, frequency and selective targeting)

Breadth and frequency of communications are important. Sometimes you need a short-term approach with a very specific target audience and a very specific point of communication (eg. sending the message that Community Blocks Road). This is an individual event, which informs a particular situation. It may not be a critical moment in the case but the point of communication does offer an opportunity to bring the case back to public attention, maintaining your informed audience. This sort of communication is useful and important to “sustain” the case, in media terms, reminding others that the situation or conflict persists. For this sort of communication you will probably use your existing email database, not necessarily making an extra effort to reach out to a specific audience.

In Pulp Mill Case, such “regular” points of communication occurred at irregular intervals, but usually not surpassing a period of one month during the height of the case. It was our rule of thumb to generate at least one press release per month during the case, and to send these regular communications to all of our mailing lists.

At other times, important events require more targeted press releases. These are press releases with a very specific intention, and usually a very specific audience in mind.

For instance, at several points in this case we wished to highlight IFC’s ineptitude in following its social and environmental safeguards, or to bring attention to a particular fault of the Finish company Botnia, or to stress a private bank’s decision to “do the right thing” by stalling a loan to one of the companies. In such cases, sending a general press release without considering the audience you want to influence is a lost opportunity. In the case of revealing an IFC staff error, the real message which may have some advocacy leverage is that an employee has committed an error that is placing the institution in a position to be criticized. In this case, merely stating the facts about the impact of the error, and sending it to a broad email database, may not be the most effective way to communicate. Instead, we would suggest, modifying the press release slightly and sending a personalized version of it to the IFC staff’s superior, or to IFC’s Board of Directors, specifically alluding to the incompetence of the institution. The same press release might be modified again for an associated private bank (such as Nordea, or Calyon), emphasizing instead the “complicity” of the private bank because of IFC’s incompetence. In fact, the more general issue of the press release could be modified several times for a number of audiences, each with a new intention and specific message.

We should also stress that as issues come up, and as actors to be influenced appear in a case (for example, we started with one key private bank (ING) and two export credit agencies (Finnvera and CESCE) and later expanded to Nordea, Calyon, ICO, Santander, NIC, etc.) there may be a need to expanded the email database. For instance, if a new bank appears as potential financial source (in the Pulp Mill case, Calyon of France and Nordea of Sweden appeared to replace ING after they pulled their US$480 million), then you may need to do some quick internet searching to collect e-mails/contact information for persons in the communication sphere of this new bank (i.e. French and Swedish media outlets, Calyon’s and Nordea’s Board of Director members, etc.). You should have enough flexibility and staff capacity, and be able to act quickly enough to generate these contacts at a moment’s notice. Delaying, or sending press releases without having done this homework, reduces the effectiveness of your communications. Utilizing interns for these tasks is a good way to put your interns to work on very influential dimensions of your advocacy. In the Pulp Mill case, not only did we utilize the participation of interns of the nationality of countries that had a stake in the Pulp Mill case, but we required all interns to conduct systematic identification and email searches for their home countries and provinces of key actors we might want to influence in this case and in other work conducted by CEDHA.

As our own communication strategy developed, we subdivided our email database into specific sets of actors, for example:

a)      World Bank Board of Directors + World Bank Executive Staff + IFC Staff;

b)      Private and Public Banks (Export Credit Agencies);

c)      English speaking media sources sub-divided by country;

d)      Broad civil society et.al. mailing list (English);

e)      Spanish speaking media sources sub-divided by country;

f)       Broad civil society et.al. mailing list (Spanish);

For general communications we would send press releases to all of these, and when possible, produce both Spanish and English communications.

For targeted press releases, we would be selective in terms of which email list received the communication. For instance: (a) + (b) + (c); or (a) only, or (a) + (d) + (f).

4. Writing an effective press release

The linguistic content and clarity of the intended message behind any press release is critical to effective communication. This is probably an obvious statement, however, we see in practice that most press releases fail to communicate effectively. Either they are poorly written (grammatically), they confuse or fail to emphasize the key message, they don’t have in mind who their reader is, they are too generic, they are too long (or too short), or they fail to provide effective imagery or cater to human senses.

A press release is an opportunity to influence the reader. A good press release causes some sort of sympathetic reaction or feeling, while a poor one, does not. Or worse, generates the opposite result.

During the Pulp Mill case we drafted well over 100  press releases and had ample opportunity to think and learn about what makes press releases effective.

Elements to Consider in the drafting of a Press Release:

Catering to the Senses, to Intellect and Logic, Use your Reader’s Intelligence

Humans perceive and react to the world through the senses, as such, press releases should be “sensual”, in that they should affect the senses.

However, an important aspect to this “sensual” experience is that the intellect of the reader also reacts to the communication. This cognitive reaction is critical to consider in each and every press release. You must consider who your reader is, and how s(he) will react to the words and imagery you put on paper or on a computer screen.

One does not obtain the same reaction by publishing a picture of a Pulp Mill factory before it is producing, as one obtains from publishing the same picture with a large chimney spewing smoke.

We might also consider utilizing our readers’ likely cognitive reactions to the information we publish. In this respect we might even consider letting our reader make the cognitive jump between the information we offer and the conclusion we expect the reader to make. We can utilize human logic creatively, leading our reader to arrive at the only possible conclusion there is.

If we say “community livelihoods depend on pristine environmental conditions,” and that the river near the community is pristine and attracts ecology lovers and fishermen year round, most readers will logically conclude (with no need to say it explicitly) that placing a large contaminating industry like a pulp mill in the midst of vacation beaches, or near to tourist hotels, is simply a bad idea. Anticipating and utilizing our reader’s intellect, and directing our communications towards the conclusions that most readers will make on their own is an extremely powerful tool.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

The choice of image in a press release is key. First of all, press releases should have images. Most of us in advocacy circles use the internet for communication. Text alone is boring and flat. Images bring information to life.

These three images tell a story by themselves. Images that have to be explained, unless the explanation is remarkable, are much less effective.

Consider the following example of one key images which does need explanation, but which because of its magnitude was utilized over and over again during the case.

“March to bridge stretches 35 kilometers.”

 

Don’t use a thousand words. Or do.

As a rule, press releases should be short, a page at most, and if possible even shorter. Most readers don’t read everything. If we’ve gotten the title and the first paragraph right, we’ve made it 75% of the way.

That said, now we’ll say the opposite. There are readers, and there are readers. Some readers just need the basic information. Others need much more.

A half page press release can convey the basic information and get your message across effectively. It cannot however, provide detailed information for the reader that wants or needs more.

A few things should be considered. First of all, a reader that really needs more information will get it whether you publish it in your press release or not. They will keep searching for available documents, or contact you or someone else. You don’t need to worry too much about that reader because they will worry about you.

The reader we do want to worry about is that reader that might have a bit more interest in the case, but who may not make an additional effort to act if not prompted to do so.

The question then becomes, do you keep to the rule of thumb, short and sweet, and draft a half page? Or, instead, do you write a page and a half or even two, and aim for content, which could feed a heart hungrier for information? One option: do both.

Ensure that the first half page respects the rule of thumb. Catchy title. Short solid opener. More informative second paragraph. Effective picture. And then, presume the light reader will stop reading and write for the more interested reader. The rest of the press release can be a series of paragraphs, each touching on a selection of issues with some relation to the main message, but laying out a variety of topics that would be of interest to the reader that has taken an interest in the main message.

Below is an example. The main message is that the Argentine president wants to negotiate. This takes up the title and first two paragraphs. The rest of the press release (abbreviated from the original) covers many other related points.

 

Title and/or Picture in the Window

Make sure that your press release’s title and lead picture show up in the text body viewer window of email programs like Microsoft Outlook Express.

This point may seem trivial until you consider that many of the potential readers of your press release are people that receive hundreds of emails each day. Consider yourself, for example. What makes you actually stop and read one of the dozens of emails, press releases etc. that show up in your inbox daily?

A catchy title and a good, well placed picture are likely to show up in a reader’s email viewer, increasing the likelihood that the email will not be simply deleted before reading.

Below is a screen capture showing a press release from November of 2006, where the title and main message are clearly visible in the Outlook viewer. There was no picture in this press release. This visual format helps ensure that a light reader who is skimming emails will pick up the main message of the text.

We can still criticize in this press release, however, for the excess space which could have been better utilized by publishing a picture.

In this earlier press release (September of 2005) we did not consider this viewable formatting issue. No key information is visible in the text window.

 

The Title and the First Paragraph

We cannot over-emphasize the importance of getting the title and first paragraph right in a press release. Too many press releases simply ignore this rule of journalism 101. Pick up any serious newspaper (NY Times, Wall Street Journal, or Financial Times) and read practically ANY article in any section. The title and first paragraph are essentially summaries of the content of the article, and reading these will give us the key issue or message of the article. We need to remember this before we write a press release, during the drafting of the press release, and as we close it, to make sure that we achieve this goal. The first paragraph, in fact, can and should be reduced to a single sentence, and should only be expanded on if needed. An upfront geographical and temporal locator is also important, indicating that this issue is occurring in some other place in the world. This helps create some distance from the reader, particularly important if we want to stress that the reader lives in more “just” place than the “victims” affected by the situation in our press release. This makes room for, and taps into the “empathy” we seek from our reader.

We released the following press release in April of 2006, announcing Argentina’s decision to file a case against Uruguay at the International Court of Justice. The title is simple and to the point. The first paragraph provides the meat of the key issue.

 

The following release, from September of 2005 was much less effective. In this case, the title is not very revealing and the first paragraph is too long, convoluted and has too many bits of information, ultimately confusing the key message and distracting the reader.

 

The second paragraph

We generally spend less time thinking about the second paragraph of our press release. Yet, for the reader that really wants to read our press release, this is the most important paragraph of the whole document.

The second paragraph should probably extend for three or four sentences, capturing the key issues and bits of information that are important or central to the issue. It should summarize a logical sequence of ideas that follow from the initial message (of interest to a broader audience), and that together form the essence of the press release.

Below is the second paragraph of one of the previous examples, beginning with “This is an important blow …”

A light reader will have read only the title and first paragraph, which has already transmitted the main message, “the case goes to the Hague”, while the second paragraph provides advocacy meat about IFC’s position regarding safeguard policies, etc., of interest only to the more informed reader.

 

Closure

The closing paragraph should be framed as a farewell to a guest. You need to leave your “guest” with something to take with them, in hopes that they will return. We should be thinking about what we want our reader to take away. Do we want them to act? React? Do we want to plant a thought, a sense of concern? Empathy? Do we want them to feel that there has been injustice committed? Or to feel disgust? There should always be an intent to each communication, which the closing paragraph should clearly convey.

Consider the following three closing sentences/paragraphs:

a) From February 19, 2007:

The project never did a valid site study and will convert pristine beaches and ecotourism localities into an industrial wastedump, claim stakeholders. Pulp mills are incompatible with natural beauty, with ecosystems and tourism claim more than 85,000 residents of Gualeguaychú, which are unanimously united against the Botnia investment.

b) November 20, 2007

Communities fear irreversible impacts to sensitive environmental resources and collapse of eco-tourism, which is critical to the local economy and livelihoods. They also signal out World Bank Board of Directors responsibility in fueling the dispute and facilitating Botnia’s advancement and hurried construction of the mill, which has led to lax safety controls, serious injury, human intoxication and death.

c) December 27, 2007

Community stakeholders point to Erkki Varis, the international CEO of Metsa Botnia, as the source of most of the problems the project has caused, due to his insensitive and stubborn attitude refusing to recognize the large discontent and lack of social license surrounding his project. Varis could face detention or extradition if he refuses to appear before the Argentine judge.

Each of these closing sentences/paragraphs leaves a similar message- community discontent, incompatibility of the project with the environment, responsibility of a specific person, group of persons, or institution. This was an intentional character of all of our press releases, picking out key issues, identifying responsible parties, and closing with a reflective position that lays out the ironic, irrational, or irresponsible nature of the situation, from the project sponsor’s perspective.

Pick your emotions

We’ve already mentioned the importance of catering to the senses. A story will be more likely to stay with the reader if it can conjure up some emotion, anchoring it for example, in feelings of irony, rage, anger, humor, or human compassion. Press releases without such an element are more likely to be forgotten, while those that do include some human emotional element will likely be reproduced or at least be engraved in the readers mind for future reference or recollection.

In this the Pulp Mill case, because of the blatant failure of IFC and the project companies to adhere to their own performance standards, we systematically utilized irony and the sense of the “illogical”, as well as highlighting the obvious issues around the case.

The following press release ran with the subsequent picture, contrasting the fear of IFC’s staff of being mauled by a crowd in opposition to their project, with the opposing and ironic reality of just how harmless the crowd in question was (grandmothers and children). The target audience of the press release in this case was the colleagues of IFC staff responsible for the meeting no show, with the specific aim of ridiculing them and generating a sense of absurdity within the institution itself.

Pick your Words Carefully

Word choice in your communication is critical, and while it is always important to write elegantly and with good grammar, it is more important to consider the impact and outreach of your communication. One should carefully consider word choice, with an eye for ensuring comprehension by the intended audience. One should also consider  choosing words that that are more likely to show up in internet searches.

If you’re writing to the World Bank’s Board of Directors, for example, remember that most of them are not native English speakers. As such, using complex idioms, figures of speech, or words that are not likely known to this subset of your audience reduces the effectiveness of your press release.

In many cases we wish to increase internet exposure. We would like to ensure that our work is among the first few “hits” for a given internet search related to our case. For this purpose, the use of simple, identifiable words that interested readers are likely to type into a search engine is more likely to provide exposure to the press release. For example, we chose to give systematic attention to the phrase “license to operate” during the duration of our pulp mill advocacy. It is a term that comes up intentionally and repeatedly in our press releases. As such, a search in Google of “botnia” + “license to operate” produces hits which are 50% directly related to our organization, in fact, at the moment of this writing, our work comprises the first four results for this search.

Conversely, we sometimes utilize linguistic tools that take us further from our intended impacts. In the following example, the press release (published in 2008) was written in allusion to a little known story about the creation of facades by “Potemkin”, a minister under Katherine II of Russia, drawing parallels between that story and the Pulp Mill case.

While the story might be interesting, while it might make for amusing reading to select readers, it is not a press release that will have a widespread impact. This sort of linguistic and rhetorical tool, will only be appreciated by a small set of actors, and as such, its application should be carefully considered.

 

Formatting – Font Selection

Another element important to press releases and communication in general, which is oftentimes poorly managed, is formatting.

There’s nothing less pleasing than the work of a writer who attempts to dress up text by using creative or odd fonts, who over utilizes bold or, unusual font size, or employs underlining excessively.

Such tools not only make press releases look less professional, and awkward, but they also make reading the press release more difficult, sometimes even MAKING READING NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE.

Stick to the basics. The use of a more conservative font, with little or no formatting, a font size which is reasonable and easily legible, the orderly presentation of text, justified or aligned in a balanced manner, will help create a professional context to the information provided.

Consider the following two images. Despite being thematically identical, one is harmonic, while the other is not, resulting in visual tension which disturbs the viewer, rather than inviting her/him to continue viewing. This simple rule holds for absolutely everything in our environment, including press releases.



5. Story telling

(forthcoming)

 

6. Preaching to the Converted

(forthcoming)