It’s fashionable these days to eulogize  the press release as a relic of the past – and there is some truth to the idea — but a press release issued Friday by Standard & Poors reminds us that details in a press release still count, especially when public scrutiny is at its highest.

The S & P’s report announcing the downgrade of U.S. credit included a $2 trillion accounting error.  The error handed the Obama Administration a powerful rebuttal in its furious campaign to discredit the rating agency’s actions over the weekend before U.S. markets opened.  The error added further tarnish to Standard & Poors’ credibility, which had already taken a beating after the 2008 financial crisis.

Here’s the lesson for corporate PR teams:

In large organizations like Standard & Poors, the PR team is often beholden to the work product of other divisions.  As a member of the Maryland Governor’s Press Office, I reviewed thousands of reports and press releases from dozens of state agencies with a combined $30 billion budget and a workforce of 70,000.  We couldn’t possibly verify every statement or position being taken, but I knew the press would hold us accountable if any statements were off base.

Communications professionals have to find a balance between trusting the experts and challenging their work product. It’s not an easy balance to find, and I don’t suggest PR teams pretend to be bean counters.  But the more a communications team familiarizes itself with the work of other divisions – and asks tough questions about their assumptions and work product before going public – the more airtight your announcements will be.