The Shoehorn Effect, or “Another Reason Press Releases Get a Bad Rap”
Earlier this week, Activision Blizzard made a bold acquisition in purchasing King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 billion. A leading video game company buying the maker of a groundbreaking game like Candy Crush is significant news. As we know, big news gets lots of media coverage.
I was fascinated by the press release that Activision issued to announce the deal. To Activision’s credit, they didn’t bury the lede: Pretty much everything you really needed was in the headline, “Activision Blizzard to Acquire King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 Billion”. In 10 words, the news is nicely summed up.
It goes downhill from there.
After the headline, there are nine, count ‘em, nine sub-headlines. It’s like a Letterman Top Ten List of messaging gone awry. This tells me that this is a press release written by committee – by people who couldn’t agree on messaging or what the most compelling narrative was. It also screams that egos of varying degrees of hugeness were involved in putting this press release together.
To the credit of those who had the thankless task of pulling this press release together, there are some solid key points in many of those nine sub-headlines that cover how big the company now is, what the acquisition means from a P&L perspective, who’s leading the company and what it means for the mobile gaming industry.
All of those things are important and useful, but they aren’t sub-headline-worthy collectively. The press release devolves further once you get to the body of it. There’s little point dissecting it, because it is awash in legalese and investor relations-speak. As you read it, it becomes clear that either the PR team(s) involved had no control of the process or lost control of the process at some point, and front loading the press release with the nine sub-headlines was the only way to try to control the narrative.
I’ve long talked about how the press release is irrelevant or at least has moved so far away from its original intent that it’s become unrecognizable, but in the case of a major acquisition, a well written press release can be effective.
Here are five ways to make a press release (or any M&A announcement) more impactful:
- Start with the basics – Here’s where the Activision PR team started off well. You can’t get a better headline than “Activision Blizzard to Acquire King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 Billion”. That’s the news and that’s what everyone covering and reading this story cares about.
- Manage the parties involved – One read of this announcement says that PR, Legal, Investor Relations and at least two CEOs had their dirty mitts and tracked changes on this thing, yet no one was empowered enough to kick the tires and say, “You know what? We’re cramming too much into this release. Let’s scale it back.” If one respected team member had said that, we’d be dissecting a much better announcement.
- Think of all of your stakeholders – Reading through this release tells me that the author(s) thought of almost every audience except one – customers. There is not one mention of what this acquisition means to the “474 million monthly active users”. Nothing that says they can expect the same (or better) level of gaming, more exciting titles, better quality control or anything along those lines, which is very telling.
- Embrace company culture – These are two video game companies that are being discussed in the press release. One of them famously (or infamously) had their video game characters walk the NYSE floor while their IPO numbers tanked. Not the best idea in the world, but at least it was on-message with regard to their brand. Despite announcing an acquisition, don’t suck the life or fun out of it.
- Press release by committee is a bad idea – This is an extension of #2, but bears repeating. Empower one person to control the tone of the announcement, and maintain quality control. The Activision press release reads like 20 people wrote it, but it didn’t have to be that way.
And as a reminder, something I’ve said before (see #4), journalists are not sitting at their desks waiting for a press release to arrive, so don’t make it worse than it has to be. Also, think strategically about what you want the outside world to take away from a particular announcement.
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