Dissection Of A White House Press Release – This Blog Will Self-Destruct In 60 Seconds

This is actually a blog post I wrote for Savvy B2b Marketing. I included it here because not only is it about writing, but the day will come when you will have to write your own press releases about your own projects (please, do you think the publishing house is going to do it for you? Maybe if you’re Stephen King.) So take note and learn a few tips from those writers at the top of the food chain. 

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I’m going to show you something after which I’m probably going to have to be shot. (Please, I’m kidding — maybe). Actually the Obama administration keeps talking about transparency, so let just call this an exercise in being transparent.Presidential Seal

What follows is a Press Release written by the best of the best. It originates from the White House, yup, that White House. I covered politics in New Hampshire during the last Presidential campaign and am on the White House press release list from which I receive several releases a week.

To a journalist, these documents are simply things of beauty.

I am continually amazed at how well written these releases are. They get to the point, they’re organized in their delivery, and they provide all the information you need to write the story. Most are written in concise article format, ready to run – making any journalist’s life just that much easier.

Compare this style and the organization of information to the press releases you may be sending out.

Note: the bolded statements are my annotations and do not reflect the views of the White House.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 12, 2009

FACT SHEET

(Look, they identified what sort of a Press Release this is up front, how helpful for the receiving journalist)

INNOVATIVE WORKPLACE PRACTICES: A DISCUSSION WITH PRESIDENT OBAMA

(No drama in this title – most articles have headlines written in-house so don’t spend too much time constructing one, here they kept to the facts for the headline)

All over the country, innovative ideas are being implemented in the workplace to improve the health of workers and reduce the rising rate of health care spending.  Skyrocketing health care costs are crushing families and companies, impeding businesses’ ability to expand and compete, and stunting the country’s economic growth.  Some employers and unions – spanning industries, firm size, and workforce demographics – are using creative approaches to reverse that trend in their workplaces.

(This is the story lead. Any reporter could cut this lead and drop it into the beginning of an article. In this first paragraph, you have a stated problem along with the suggestion of a solution.)

Examples of innovative health care programs in the workplace are everywhere.  As a result of many successful programs at businesses across the country, workers have become more engaged in their own health care, productivity is increasing, absenteeism is dropping, and employers are passing some of their health care savings to their workers.  Employers are discovering that improving quality of care can reduce health care costs.  Small actions in the workplace can generate large benefits.

(This next paragraph concentrates on specific examples that support the initial premise of “help is on the way”.)

Today, the President will meet with some employers and unions whose innovations have produced promising results.  He will hear firsthand about the best practices that are spreading in workplaces around America.  Many in this group have reduced disease risk factors; several have onsite clinics; and all have programs to reduce obesity and improve activity levels.  And the President will direct the Office of Personnel Management to work with the Office of Health Reform, the National Economic Council, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Management and Budget to examine successful employer wellness and prevention practices that lower health care costs and improve employees’ health and to explore the feasibility of developing such a plan for federal employees and their workplaces.

(Here’s the action item, it includes the who, what, when, where and how)

The President hopes that by encouraging more employers to adopt similar programs, we can improve the productivity of our workforce, delay or avoid many of the complications of chronic diseases, and slow medical cost growth.

(This paragraph outlines the desired results from the action item. This Press Release is written as a drop-in story. You could break the article here and simply use the above as is. This is important because with the quick turn-around times on many of these releases, the White House writers want to make sure you can get the information out quickly.)

Below is a list of the workforce innovators who will meet with the President to discuss their best practices today.

(This list not only identifies the participants but leads credibility to the action. It also serves as a way for reporters to locate a person who is in their geographic area should they want a quote. (Again, they make it as easy as possible for the journalist – there is great desire to have this story run.) You’ll also note that the following list contains 7 items. Convention tells us that a perfect bulleted list never contains more than 7-9 items.)

·         H.E.R.E.I.U. Welfare Fund (Dr. Jerry Reeves, Chief Medical Officer):  The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (H.E.R.E.I.U.) Welfare Fund offers multi-employer health insurance coverage for 90,000 eligible employees and their family members.  It redesigned its health benefits and health plan administration and implemented wellness and chronic disease management programs to generate millions of dollars in overall savings.  The H.E.R.E.I.U. Welfare Fund has also aligned incentives with desired behaviors by informing patients which physicians were high-performing, providing performance bonuses to high-performing doctors, and giving pregnant patients incentives to receive prenatal care.  These initiatives have effectively engaged workers to improve their health through widespread use of employee risk assessments, risk-based interventions, and behavior change programs.  The H.E.RE.I.U. Welfare Fund also has worksite pharmacies that give out free generic drugs for chronic conditions and provide special care centers for workers and family members who have high cost and complex chronic conditions.

·         Johnson & Johnson (Bill Weldon, Chairman of the Board and CEO):  Johnson & Johnson has one of the longest-running workplace health programs in the United States.  The company has a sophisticated set of disease management and prevention interventions, risk-based incentives, pedometers/exercise goals, treadmills available for offices, and other health related programs.  According to its recent employee health scorecard for United States employees, at the end of 2007, Johnson & Johnson continued to make health improvement progress and its health initiatives avoided an estimated $15.9 million in health care costs in 2007.  As well, from the late 1990s to 2006 in the United States, smoking declined from 12 percent of its workforce to four percent, high blood pressure dropped from 14 percent to six percent, and high cholesterol went from 19 percent to six percent.  A 2002 Rand study found that Johnson & Johnson’s initiatives had improved employee health and employees had saved an average of $225 per year because of a reduced need for doctor visits.

·         Microsoft (Cecily Hall, Director of US Benefits):  Microsoft creates personalized health goals and has a staff of doctors that makes house calls to avoid emergency room visits.  Its obesity program assigns employees to a primary care doctor, behavior health specialist, and nutritionist, and Microsoft provides free meals consistent with diet recommendations to eat on site or to take home.  The result of its initiatives has been very low premium growth and a healthier workforce than other companies with workers of similar age.  Microsoft has been continually recognized as one of Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work.

·         Ohio Department of Health (Dr. Alvin Jackson, Director of Ohio Department of Health): The State of Ohio created a “Take Charge! Live Well!” program to reduce health risk factors for state workers, with more than 50 percent of eligible workers participating.  Until 2005, health care programs for state employees in Ohio focused on disease management and improving the health of high-risk groups.  After reviewing data, the state discovered that while 27 percent of total health care costs were related to high-risk employees, 44 percent of costs were associated with preventable conditions.  Ohio’s “Take Charge! Live Well!” comprehensive health management program includes online and telephone health assessments, health coaching, online health improvement program, on-site employee health screenings (offered at about 40 locations), preventive care, chronic condition management, and monetary incentives of up to $100 in incentive payments, or $200 when spouses are enrolled, if employees complete a health assessment and participate in a health improvement program.

·         Pitney Bowes (Murray Martin, Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO):  Pitney Bowes offers onsite comprehensive health clinics and fitness centers, redesigned food merchandizing and prices in their cafeterias, incentives management for the health of their employees, and low cost drugs for chronic diseases.  The company has also adopted infection control practices and offers low-cost or no-cost preventive screenings and immunizations on-site and off-site.  The company’s initiatives and its commitment to increase employee participation in managing their own health have resulted in $40 million in savings over the last nine years.

·         REI (Sally Jewell, President and CEO):  REI offers health benefits to all of its full and part-time workers and has been continually recognized as one of Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work.  The company offers employees support for outdoor activities ranging from outdoor gear and apparel discounts, free rentals, and outdoor challenge grants.  REI employees can earn extra healthy lifestyle dollars to put toward the cost of coverage by engaging in specific “good behaviors,” such as getting regular aerobic exercise.  REI also supports personal health goals and provides equipment support, discounts, and time off so employees can achieve their goals.

·         Safeway (Steve Burd, President and CEO):  Safeway has innovated in benefit design to reward employees’ healthy behaviors and improve adherence to recommended treatments for chronic diseases.  Over 74 percent of Safeway’s 30,000 nonunion workers have signed up for its “Healthy Measures” program.  Under this program, participants undergo screening tests (including cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight control), and employees who score well pay lower health premiums.  Safeway has saved millions by making employees accountable for their weight, smoking, cholesterol, and blood pressure.  The company also has a free fitness center at its headquarters, offers gym membership discounts, and provides a 24-hour nurse health hotline.  In 2006, Safeway’s efforts reduced their total health care spending by 13 percent, and employees who signed up have saved more than 20 percent on their premiums.

(This little symbol down here at the bottom indicates a writer with journalistic background wrote this release. It is a universal sign indicating that no more text follows which is very helpful when you reach the bottom of the second page and don’t know if the story has ended or if you lost the third page somewhere in your travels. Once again, it’s all about making the journalist’s life easy thereby increasing the chances your story will run.)

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens).

And you better believe, I still pull up one of these press releases to use as a guideline when I have to write my own material. 

6 thoughts on “Dissection Of A White House Press Release – This Blog Will Self-Destruct In 60 Seconds

  1. Great job. I am a PR student and am always looking for ways to become more competitive and gain an advantage over the competition. That’s why i read your blog. Thanks!

    • There is no need to re-invent any wheel, take a look at good examples and what is working well already and then add your personalized flavor to it. You’ll be so far ahead of everyone else.

      Good luck in your PR career.

      Wendy

  2. WOW, Wendy–super helpful. I am saving this post in a very special folder to use to guide me next year when I am counting on the necessity of writing press releases about the first book in my adult fairytale series! Thank so very much for sharing this White House Press Release!

    • One of the highest compliments a writer can get on her work. Many thanks.

      And yes, this format can and should be easily adapted for a book press release. It’s the principles in the format that are timeless.

      Here’s hoping that you’ll get to write your press release soon.

      Wendy

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