How sure must we be of facts?

If a customer asks for a written quotation, most businesses will honour it, even if they attach a time limit to it.

If a customer places an order on the basis of that quotation, they’ll very likely get angry if they get charged more or lots of extras are added without warning. Depending on the wording, they could even take the business to court if they had been misled.

Is there any difference with PR? Not really. Even if what we say is vague, people are likely to remember it and hold us to it. If we maintain we made a spur-of-the-moment remark, it does our reputation no good to withdraw it. Will people trust us again? Probably not.

That’s why it’s important to ensure that information we give out publicly – in a press release, article or spoken interview – is accurate.

Don’t be tempted if you’re not sure

Sometimes journalists will press for figures, especially if they seem impressive. It can be very tempting to blurt them out, like a bee unable to resist sweet honey, but the negative publicity if we get it wrong could be damaging. We could say our profits had increased by 15% and then find they had actually fallen by 5%. Not a good idea.

And remember not to mention sensitive information, especially if it has to be approved by a third party. If a partner organisation or customer or supplier finds out that we have given out information about them that they considered confidential, it could be disaster for our business.

We need to be sure of our facts before making them public.

Keep data at hand

If you find it hard to remember details, create a one-page summary of key information about your business or specific projects on your laptop, tablet device or phone or print it out to carry with you so you always have it to hand.

Build a checklist for details and data into your PR plan so that it becomes part of your business process and you are always prepared for journalists’ questions.

And remember that in the long run it is usually better to say we don’t know the answer rather than fudging it and looking stupid later.


Making the right sounds

What’s the best tone in which to write? It all depends on what you want to say, who you say it to and what you want to achieve.

Just imagine the response to someone walking into a pub and talking like the press officer of a local council? Probably some strange looks and possibly a phone call for an ambulance to take them away.

Why? Because the institutional language of local government isn’t appropriate in a pub.

So how do you know what voice to use and how to develop a style of writing appropriate for your audience? One way is to read out loud what you write and listen to how it sounds. If you don’t feel you’re good at reading aloud, ask a colleague or associate you trust to read it out and listen to them. Is it language your audience will understand easily? Are they likely to respond to it? Ask what other people you know think of it.

It’s important to remember that words on screen or paper still have to sound right because they are spoken by the silent voices in people’s minds.

Try it and see how your voice sounds.


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