Is There a “Playbook” for Major News Events? Not Really, and Here’s Why.
Author: Curtis Sparrer
April 16, 2020
When it comes to major news like mergers, acquisitions, product launches, or big senior management moves, the main objective for PR people is to generate coverage and maximize stakeholder and shareholder value.
Not long ago, a client planning a corporate merger contacted me to ask if there is a “playbook” for announcing the news, and I replied with a qualified, “Not really.”
Why did I answer this way?
I explained that each major news event really does require a bespoke public relations (PR) plan. While best practices and lessons learned from other programs and campaigns can apply, the specific circumstances of individual news events are unique and deserving of distinct treatment for maximum impact.
For each event, there are, of course, broad and general recommendations – the “blocking and tackling” that should be done to ensure success. Let’s break them down.
Messaging and press materials
Great communications programs are built on messaging, and every major news event deserves a messaging platform and well-developed press release. Key audiences should understand the impact of each event, and messages and quotes should articulate how the merger, acquisition or executive move in question will deliver benefits to key stakeholders, such as investors and partners. This information can include company metrics and milestones to provide greater context and illustrate company momentum.
Thoughtful messaging and a robust press release and supporting content will enable the media to develop more in-depth and compelling coverage. Supplementary materials can also include internal/external FAQs and financial information when applicable and appropriate that can justify the reason for action. This is particularly useful in merger/acquisition situations, helping to avoid the perception that an acquisition is a “fire sale.”
Internal and external communication strategies
For each major announcement, employees should be instructed about what to say if they are contacted by the media. Workers should also receive guidelines about referring media to the PR team and be offered a review of the company’s social media policies. Particularly when it comes to mergers and acquisitions, FAQs covering customer communication are helpful because clients should be fully informed about operational changes. Firms should also provide ways to identify any clients who are concerned about the news and could be potentially “at-risk.”
Ensuring that pre-written social media posts, linked to the news announcement, are available, along with materials such as customer FAQs and contact phone numbers, is a good way to make sure that customers aren’t caught off guard and don’t get panicky and that the company presents a unified public face.
Timing should also be kept in mind for major news. Ideally, the PR team should have seven to 10 days’ advance warning about mergers and acquisitions, launches or executive moves, in order to provide the news to target journalists under embargo. Embargoed pitches don’t necessarily mean a final FAQ or release is mandatory, because the basic facts and news hooks around the story are all that is needed for a good media relations effort. These facts can be confirmed to news outlets via a finalized press release and supporting materials at the time of the public announcement.
In the end, communicating big news is best done by creating a custom PR plan that integrates best practices, including comprehensive customer and employee communication. Robust planning enables the PR team – and the larger company – to treat these events as strategic, game-changing happenings, not just as point-in-time news events. The goal should be to curate impactful, fair and in-depth coverage from major news events so that they can deliver maximum value.