David OgilvyHave you watched Mad Men, the television series about the American advertising industry in the 1960s? Well, one real-life giant of 60s advertising was David Ogilvy, who created Ogilvy & Mather, which today operates in 120 countries.

Ogilvy was part of the Creative Revolution in advertising, which rejected the tedious, hard-sell advertising that had been a fixture of the 50s. His mantra was: “You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it.”

Public relations needs its own revolution. Ninety per cent of corporate press releases are idiotic. Their authors seemingly don’t realize that they cannot bore a journalist into writing about their products. So they bang on in the first paragraph about how they are “the world’s leading provider of Quality of Daily Life solutions”. It’s a total waste of their time because such press releases will rarely get coverage.

A press release should be like a news story: the first paragraph should make very clear what the story is. All the detail should come later on – or, if it’s corporate waffle, it should be binned.

By the way, David Ogilvy did something else that provides an important lesson for the PR industry. Unlike many of his rivals, he took the time to learn about a product before he started writing. He studied his client Rolls-Royce for three weeks before putting pen to paper. What he learned was gold dust, and gave him his most famous advertising headline: “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”.