A bit of PR unfit for PC

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How to Write A Press Release - Lesson One: Writing a press release for Shell Oil.

Although we are naturally sorry to hear of the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa ...

Although we are naturally extremely sorry to hear of the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa ...

Although we are naturally extremely sorry to hear of the tragic death of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa ...

Oh, dear.

This is not proving a very easy press release to get started, is it, Jack?

Know something, Jill? I think it's the word "although" that is making this sentence difficult to complete.

You mean, Jack, it makes it sound as if we are going on to say: "Although we are naturally extremely sorry to hear of the tragic death of Ken Saro- Wiwa, we are very relieved to have him out of the way ..."?

Yes, Jill, that is just what I mean. We are giving the impression that Ken Saro-Wiwa was a blundering old fool who was getting in the way of the legitimate operations of a well-meaning oil multinational.

Which is what he was, Jack.

Yes, Jill. But that is not the impression we want to give.

Why not?

Because it doesn't look good if we applaud the killing of people who stood in the way of our legitimate oil expansion.

Good Lord, no, I suppose it doesn't.

Not very good PR.

Absolutely. Phew, I'm glad you noticed that in time. So, how do you suggest starting this press release?

Well, for a start, I think we have to try to drop the word "tragic", Jill.

You don't think it's a tragic death, Jack?

I am not saying that. All I am saying is that it was the result of a perfectly legitimate trial carried out by the Nigerian government. The very same Nigerian government who are so supportive of our oil operations ...


In the same way that the operations of the Nigerian government are legitimate.

Well, yes, perhaps. In any case, if we call the outcome of Saro-Wiwa's trial "tragic", the Nigerian government may say ...

May legitimately say ...

May legitimately say that we are not entitled to call the verdicts of their courts "tragic" and may be less well disposed to support our oil operations.

Our perfectly legitimate oil operations?

The very same.

The legitimate oil operations which are ruining the tribal heartlands of the Ogoni people?

This is no time for joking, Jill. In any case, why does everyone keep calling them the tribal heartlands of the Ogoni people?

Because the Ogoni people have been there for hundreds of years, Jack.

Yes, but the oil has been there for thousands of years.

So, what you are trying to say is that ...

They may be heartlands, yes, but these are oil heartlands, not Ogoni heartlands.

Right! Meaning that they are our heartlands ...

And we have more right than the Ogonis to be there.

Absolutely. Entre nous, of course.

Right. That sort of statement isn't for PC.


Public consumption.

Right. So shall we have another stab at that opening sentence?

Shell Oil regrets exceedingly that the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa was caused directly by so many worldwide protests and intemperate demonstrations against his sentence. In other words, we regret that his death was brought on by the very people who sought to avoid it, whereas only someone with the presence in Nigeria of Shell Oil, and with the unique local experience of Shell Oil, could have recommended the correct course of action to lead to his stay of execution. That is to say, extensive bribery.

Hold hard, there, Jill.

Yes, Jack?

You are saying that bribery works wonders in Nigeria?

Yes. I am saying that. To get anywhere in Nigeria, you have to apply "dash".

What you have said there makes it sound as if Shell Oil indulges in massive bribery.

Heaven forfend, Jack! Never! All I have said is that the Nigerians accept bribes on a massive scale. Everyone knows that.

And where do these bribes come from?

It is a mystery. No one knows. It's quite uncanny.

Certainly not from us.

Certainly not. So let's try that opening sentence again.

We at Shell Oil feel that if only Ken Saro-Wiwa had offered large enough bribes to his captors, he would have got out, and therefore it is only his own fault.

It's still not right, Jack.

No, it's not. Take a break and try again?