How to Write a Bad Press Release: A Few Stinkers from 2004

Posted July 21, 2004 at 4:54pm

Every year, campaign press secretaries, consultants and party operatives spit out an endless stream of press releases. Every once in a while, one of those releases includes interesting, useful information that helps educate me about a candidate, a campaign or American politics.

More often, these releases are a waste of paper. And a notable minority actually backfire on the campaign.

[IMGCAP(1)] The worst release of this cycle, at least so far, may well have been from the now-defunct Jack Ryan campaign for Senate from Illinois. The headline says it all: “Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Obama, The Criminals’ Good Friend.”

The May 26 release sought to take Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama to task for voting against allowing an individual to use a firearm to defend himself, even if he is violating a local ordinance.

Now you can believe that Obama was right or was wrong in casting that vote, but calling him “the criminals’ good friend” is bad public relations and bad politics. Outlandish accusations undermine the accuser more than the accused, and that’s exactly how I viewed this release. What’s next? “Obama sides with the forces of darkness against all that is good and pure?”

From the “everything has been said but not everyone has said it” department comes a press release from Rick Crawford, a Democratic candidate in Georgia’s 11th House district.

Shortly after the death of former President Ronald Reagan, Crawford’s campaign issued a four-sentence press release titled “Rick Crawford Remembers President Reagan.” Now I’m sure we’re all happy to know that Crawford thinks that Mr. Reagan was “a man of great strength and vision,” and that the Democrat admires Reagan’s patriotism. I’m going to sleep a lot better tonight knowing what Crawford thinks about the late president, but really, why would anyone care?

Crawford has raised little money and failed to establish himself as a serious threat to freshman Rep. Phil Gingrey (R). You’d think the Democrat’s campaign might focus on things that could help get Crawford elected, instead of wasting time telling voters something that they won’t care about.

To be fair, Crawford’s wasn’t the only release I received after Reagan’s death. But given the Democratic Congressional candidate’s standing, it may have been the strangest choice of priorities.

Campaign finance is another area that causes press release writers to lose their minds.

I particularly liked a July 15 release from the campaign of Bill Gluba, the Democratic challenger in Iowa’s 1st district.

Gluba announced that he had raised $321,460 to date, with $103,134 coming in the second quarter. That’s the good news. But the release also announces that Gluba has just over $85,000 in the bank, a pathetic figure four months out from the election.

The release also includes an odd statement from state Democratic chairman Gordon Fisher, who says that Gluba “is backing up the excitement he has generated on the ground with the resources to reach the voters.” The resources to reach the voters? Where? Within a 5-mile radius of the candidate’s house?

Gluba’s release also notes that “the closest Democratic challenger in Iowa’s other four Congressional districts has raised just over $100,000.” But all this proves is that no Democratic Congressional challenger in Iowa has raised enough cash to be credible.

A release from the John Thune campaign was equally creative — and misleading. Dated July 16, 2004, the release bragged that Thune had outraised his opponent, Sen. Tom Daschle (D), by $700,000 in the previous quarter.

That sounds impressive — were it not for that fact that Daschle raised more than $10 million through the first quarter of 2004, while Thune only entered the race at the beginning of the year and raised $2.2 million in the first quarter of 2004. Sure, Thune did better in the second quarter, because Daschle has already sucked up every available Democratic dollar in the state. Well, almost every dollar.

On the same date, Missouri Democratic Senate hopeful Nancy Farmer’s campaign released an equally silly release.

It bragged that Farmer’s fundraising “surged” 23 percent in the second quarter while incumbent Sen. Kit Bond’s fundraising posted “an 8 percent decline” in the period. The implication of Farmer’s release is that she is doing better — and Bond is doing worse — in the money race.

But the numbers don’t bear that out. Bond still outraised Farmer in the quarter, and he ended June with $5.4 million in the bank, to Farmer’s $1.2 million. Bond simply did so much better than she did in the first quarter that Farmer’s relative showing in the second quarter improved.

You might wonder why, after doing this for more than 20 years, I still find these kinds of press releases annoying and worthy of note. It’s not that I’m opposed to all spin. I’m just opposed to bad spin that treats the reader like some unthinking sponge. It’s time to fight back.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.