The Importance of Good Press Releases

Earlier today, I read about the mass resignations from the Reform Party. The exodus began with nine members resigning from the Party, as reported by The Straits Times. The Reform Party released this press statement in response. Tony Tan and Hazel Poa released this press statement to clarify two issues. As of the time of writing, twenty members, including the original nine, have left the party. One of them, Gilbert Goh, is now a member of the National Solidarity Party.

Going through the Reform Party’s press release, I wonder if the Reform Party needs to take a good, hard look at itself. The press release is disappointing: it is difficult to read at best, and at worst is highly suggestive of some undesirable personality traits.

Purpose

The purpose of a press release is to communicate a message. This communication should be clear and concise, containing every scrap of information necessary, and not one bit more. The press release fails to follow this principle. In the opening sections of the press release, Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam wrote about the Reform Party’s outreach efforts. He dedicated three paragraphs describing the RP’s walkabout team’s efforts, the establishment of a women’s wing and blog, the party’s first podcast, publicising a joint walkabout with the Singapore People’s Party on Sunday and mentioning that a group of RP members will attend the PKMS’ ’50 year Jubilee party’. Only then does Jeyaratnam go into detail about the events that led to the mass resignation.

Those three paragraphs are unnecessary. At best, this is a very poor attempt at damage control and convincing the public that the RP is still a contender in the political arena. At worst, it looks like self-aggrandisation, an attempt to massage an ego in the face of a setback. Cynic that I am, it’s not difficult to guess which interpretation I’d favour, especially in light of future analysis.

Confrontation and confusion

In the Straits Times report, the nine former members cited ‘differences of opinion’ as the reason they left, adding that they tried to reach a resolution but failed. In response, Jeyaretnam had this to say:

According to the report in Main Stream Media (sic) this group have cited personal differences as a reason for resigning. But if that were the case why would they not come to the mediation table? The timing of this departure, its highly co-ordinated and planned manner and the way the individuals then went to the Press, hardly seems an appropriate response to personal incompatibility.
It has the hallmark of an action designed to do maximum damage to The Reform Party and gain maximum publicity for the political careers of the individuals involved.

Jeyaretnam’s reply is essentially a badly worded confrontation, followed by his version of events. According to Jeyaretnam, the Central Executive Committee held a meeting, Jeyaretnam excluded, with ‘potential candidates’ (I’m assuming he meant ‘potential candidates for the election’). Two of them were barred from entry, and wrote letters of complaint about being barred – and mentioned that a CEC member received an ang pao, a red packet containing money, from two of the candidates. (This was later revealed to be a Chinese New Year gift to the member’s children.) Jeyaretnam said that he recommended that ‘the Party deal with the complaint and answer the questions raised’. However, the CEC ‘refused to answer the complaints or to hold an enquiry.’ This sentence was followed by ‘The candidates and 4 CEC members resigned.’

From the RP’s press release, it seems as if the mass resignation was triggered by the fallout from this meeting. But this is unlikely. A bad meeting alone does not usually result in several people resigning from the organisation, especially people with a stake in the party – specifically, the potential election candidates. The meeting feels like the climax of a conflict within the party. The stakeholders must have felt that the benefits of leaving the Party outweighs the cost of doing so, which implies that they have been embroiled in what they felt was an unbearable situation for a period of time.

At this point, things become murky. Poa said that the group attempted to work things out, but failed. Jeyaretnam seems to be saying that the nine did not try for a compromise. But instead of elaborating on this, the press release accuses the group of attempting to damage the RP’s reputation and gain publicity for their own political careers. I sense melodrama here: leaving the RP would not automatically lead to positive publicity, and if the nine really wanted to damage the RP, they would have left the party as soon as the elections were confirmed. Even if Jeyaretnam’s accusations were true, such accusations make him and the Party look like they are being petty. A calm, measured response would have been better.

The Reform Party effectively chose confrontation over clarity. It cast aspersions on the people who resigned instead of providing the whole picture. I do not know if the nine had attempted to resolve their problems before the meeting, or after – the Straits Times report, and Tan and Poa’s press release, was unclear about this. Jeyaratnam says that attempts at conflict resolution did not take place at all, but Tan and Poa did not refute this claim. I cannot tell for sure what really happened.

This confusion can be traced to both party’s refusal to address each other’s point on conflict resolution – assuming Poa and Jeyaratnam noticed this. Poa said that the group had attempted conflict resolution in the Straits Times, but did not say when that happened. Jeyaretnam could have assumed that she was talking about the meeting in question, when she could have been referring to a longer-term conflict within the party. Alternatively, the nine really did not attempt conflict resolution, and Poa kept quiet because it did not happen. However, the question Jeyaretnam raised can be interpreted as a set-up for his accusations instead of a genuine attempt at calling Poa out on this point, and Poa might have felt that it was pointless to clarify that because it wasn’t clear enough. The statements ‘The CEC refused to answer the complaints or to hold an enquiry. The candidates and 4 CEC members resigned.’ could be seen either as the nine refusing to resolve their conflicts, or the nine believing that further attempts at resolving a deeper, unreported conflict would be pointless. That’s even assuming the events occurred as reported.

Jeyaretnam should have stuck to the facts. He should have been clearer, and ditched the rhetorical statement in favour of something like ‘The nine did not attempt to resolve their conflicts’. The fact that the press statement appeared to be written in three parts, with the front and back by Jeyaretnam and the middle by someone else (the sudden shift from ‘I’ to ‘the SG’ and back is a suspicious sign), merely makes things more confusing.

Other questions arise from the press release. During the meeting with the candidates, Jeyaretnam was not present – and no explanation was given. The purpose of the meeting was not declared. ‘For reasons that are not clear’, two of the candidates were barred from the meeting. There was no elaboration about the CEC’s refusal to address the complaints. Such information would have provided more context in which to interpret the series of events, especially if this context suggested a backdrop of personal conflicts.

Towards clarity

There are two sticking points in this issue. The first is whether or not the Party and the nine former members attempted to reach a compromise. Poa says they did, Jeyaretnam disagrees. The press releases did not clarify this issue. Someone is lying, or someone is confused. Or both. Or there is just poor communication all around. The most important tool of leadership is communication: the ability to communicate intent, purpose, and messages clearly. The failure to resolve this issue suggests poor communication ability – more so for the RP than for Tan and Poa, given Jeyaretnam’s press release.

The second is that the Party has presented a poor public image. The majority of the press statement is dedicated to publicising the RP’s latest efforts, criticising the nine former members, explaining the vision of the party, contrasting said vision with the views of some undisclosed and skimpily-explained minority, and self-affirmation about the Reform Party’s relevance and potency.

The most charitable interpretation is that Jeyaretnam is attempting damage control, to fix whatever damage he perceived to the RP’s reputation. Unfortunately, it backfired – the best form of damage control is transparency and clarity, which means writing a press release that addresses every point, handles only the facts surrounding the incident, and refusing to throw mud at the nine who resigned. The way the press release is written instead smacks of mental masturbation: it reads like Jeyaretnam attempting to increase his self-esteem by telling everybody about what the party (and he) did, and by bringing others low through accusations of ill-will. It feels like the rationalisation of a man who cannot accept people having differences of opinion with him, and so makes them look conniving and unreasonable to make himself feel good. Clearly, this press release can be interpreted in that light, and I do not think Jeyaretnam wishes to be seen that way.

Personally, I think the Reform Party needs a good copywriter, at the very least. Without the ability to communicate clearly, it is very easy for the Reform Party, and Jeyaretnam, to expose itself to unfounded and unwanted criticism. It is also equally easy for Jeyaretnam, and by extension the Party, to be seen and painted in a negative light by a slew of skeptics and cynics.

And I count myself amongst them.

The Importance of Good Press Releases

14 thoughts on “The Importance of Good Press Releases

  1. Only one conclusion – these people are planted by the govt to wreak damage at the most critical moment. The govt must have assessed that Kenneth posed them
    the most imminent and present danger and his challenge has to be sabotaged, terminated with extreme prejudice (TWEP). A vote of approval really of Kenneth J’s potency and credibility. Kenneth has a lot of credibility economic wise since he is a peer of Tharman.

    I conclude thus because these people joined the RP knowing full well what they

    are in for. To give ‘a difference in opinion’ as an excuse is incredibly daft

    and lame. Or are they really immature buggers getting cold feet at the last

    moment? They could also have been bought over – esp people like the scholars

    who are ‘familiar’ with the establishment.

    All in all, I think they are out to sabotage the opposition’s cause. No oppo

    party should touch them with a 10-metre pole since there is absolutely NO

    Guarantee that they would not pull a similar stunt again. In any case they

    would use this pretense to fade away after already having executed their

    deadly betrayal plan. But remember their names. We may yet see them resurface

    under the rulinh party’s banner. They should be given their just dessert – to

    be ostracised and eliminated (figuratively). Good if some one with the

    resources can dig up their background to confirm that they are indeed moles!

    People can then vote with a vengence against such dispicable and low down

    behaviour. We should all in one voice call a turd a turd.

    1. ANON,

      This blog isn’t a place for mental self-pleasure, and it’s not a place to air conspiracy theories or vent some steam. You’ve stated your conclusions, but you don’t have any evidence or analysis to back your assertions. Your tone suggests that you’re angry, but your aggression is misplaced here. If you have something to say here, prove and defend it, and keep your emotions in check.

      1. Balderdash, Benjamin Cheah – the mental wankathon is all yours. One cannot help noticing that your holier-than-thou rant is riddled with such gems of uncertainty as, “it seems as if… But this is unlikely”, “…does not usually result in…”, “The meeting feels like…”, “The stakeholders must have felt that…which implies that…”, “I do not know if …”, “I cannot tell for sure what really happened”, and so on and so forth.

        One fact sticks out like a sore thumb – you haven’t the slightest clue yourself because you weren’t there and you’re speculating wildly what message RP’s Press Release was intended to convey. So you didn’t care for their style? Not enough nitty-gritty, wasn’t in point form, didn’t press all of your hot buttons? Tough. Others think different.

        How would you, could you, possibly know that, “The Reform Party effectively chose confrontation over clarity”? It was an assumption, your own wild guess. You accused anon of having no evidence to back his assertions but you are yourself equally guilty. Your deductions and personal suppositions are precisely that – personal – and they do not constitute proof of the pudding.

        Frankly, the tone of your writing is worryingly supercilious and you appear a little too full of yourself for your own good. Kindly dismount off your high horse.

        1. PAPalBull,

          I hold myself to academic standards when I write. The ‘gems of uncertainty’ are required language in academia. I acknowledge that I might be wrong, and I’m declaring that to the world. It’s one of the many reasons why I haven’t been sued into backruptcy and silence.

          You say I’m speculating. Given that I don’t have all the facts, that’s correct. But so is everybody who is commenting on the situation and not part of the affair. But speculation requires thinking about what facts I do have and drawing conclusions from there. I see you haven’t read my article, because you have missed the arguments that lead to my conclusions. For instance, I said that the Party’s press statement chose confrontation over clarity, because they didn’t clear up the issue and left questions unanswered. Read again.

          Nowhere did I claim that my series of events and my interpretation is anything but my opinion. You’re basically accusing me of doing something I’ve declared long ago, through the use of ‘gems of uncertainty’. I’m not writing as a journalist, a reporter, or as an insider. I’m writing as a blogger looking over the press release. If you’re looking for what really happened, kindly look elsewhere.

          As for your final comment – look into a mirror.

      2. Hmm, why is it that whenever a blogger is given less than 100 marks for his rant that he charges his critic with ‘not having read my article’? That knee-jerk ranks right up there with ‘you are taking it out of context’ as a lame riposte to uncomfortable comment.

        Look at your authoritative sentence: “The Reform Party effectively chose confrontation over clarity.” Period. It leaves no room for doubt that you are in full command of the facts, which is clearly not the case. That line summed up your whole article in a single sentence which is why I focused on it.

        Alarm bells ought to have rung when you felt driven to draw conclusions from what you admit is very sparse data indeed. Confrontation over clarity is a very strong accusation to make given that you seem to be relying upon 3rd party sources for your information and are not a party to the inner RP circle, don’t you think? The fact that other commentators are also speculating wildly is hardly reason for you to follow suit, is it, particularly when you claim to hold yourself ‘to academic standards’?

        You then have the effrontery to tear a strip off anon for ‘mental self-pleasure’ (sic), accusing him of not having any evidence – the proverbial pot vs kettle script. That, I’m afraid, sticks in my craw somewhat.

        1. PAPalBull, you’re completely missing the point of this essay.

          The point of this post is to show how the Reform Party managed to shoot itself in the foot through such a bad press release. In particular, it shows how Kenneth Jayeretnam managed to hurt his public image through the press release.

          It’s not about who has the facts, the Truth, or the big picture. This is about how people might see the Reform Party and Jeyaretnam thanks to this press release. The people of Singapore won’t have access to the facts, so they will judge Jayeretnam and the Party by their public actions. This press release is one of these actions. This essay is about my reaction to the press release, and how I think the people will react to it.

          You talk a lot about facts. If you have the facts, feel free to share them. If you can construct an argument contradicting this essay, go ahead. But until and unless you do, the tone and vocabulary you’re adopting, coupled with your single-minded obsession about facts very few people have and on speculation any reasonable person would do about this case, makes you look like a troll. This blog is a troll-free zone. This is your only warning.

  2. Very well said, Benjamin. I was extremely confused and disappointed when I read the non-Press Release. They’ve really painted themselves in a bad light here. With the 9 members leaving, efficient damage control could and should have been done, which a good PR person could’ve managed, as they are trained to do and skilled at doing. But now they’ve just made it so much worse for themselves.

    PR team and writers definitely needed. I am very surprised that they (obviously) don’t have either.

  3. Outstanding commentary! Captures my thoughts almost exactly. This line needs to be well learnt: “This communication should be clear and concise, containing every scrap of information necessary, and not one bit more.”

  4. Kenneth J is an overzealous egomaniac. That’s the real problem.

    But those with blind faith simply because of his Father’s name would rather call everyone who left RP ISD agents and moles.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to top