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Public Relations Writing

Types of Writing,
Form & Style
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Public Relations Writing
! Public relations writing is tailoring messages for particular
media (or channels) and publics
! Public relations writing engages all of the public relations
practitioner’s skills: research, critical thinking, problem
solving, understanding and interpreting views of differing
publics, understanding public opinion and communication
theories, understanding and working within an ethical and
legal framework
! Public relations writing is generally persuasive, and often
also informative
! Public relations writing is seldom required reading – the
writer must work hard to make sure his/her writing is clear,
understandable, enjoyable
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Fundamentals of Good Writing
Four-part formula (from Seitel):
! Think before writing: clarify, focus and organize your
ideas – make sure your ideas:
– Relate to the reader
– Engage the reader’s attention
– Concern the reader
– Are in the reader’s interest
! Use drafts: drafts help you create better organization,
style and flow
! Simplify, clarify, aim: write tight
! Write for a specific audience: always have the target
audience in mind as you write
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Message, Public, Medium (Channel)
Before you begin writing, you must know:
! Message: what do you want to convey?
– You should be able to summarize (briefly) the key messages
! Public: who are you writing for?
– Your strategic plan will tell you who your target public(s) are;
research will tell you what they already know, what they
believe, etc.
! Medium: what is the right medium for the target public?
– Research will tell you which medium is most believable, or
most appropriate for other reasons
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Writing Style
! Clarity: the basic aim of communication – so others
understand your message
! Readability/Listenability: in general, short sentences and
words aid understanding; however, variety (in the form of
complex sentences or interesting word choices) keeps
writing fresh and helps move readers through text or keeps
listeners from tuning out
! Naturalness: a conversational style is often best, especially
for broadcast writing
! Euphony: a harmonious or pleasing combination of words
! Human Interest: even technical writing is improved by
human interest elements: anecdotes, etc.
! Avoid trite expressions & bias
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Style Checklist
! Is the message clear? Does your writing speak to your target
publics? Is the style appropriate for the intended medium?
! Are your sentences clear? Are they free from confusing
! Are your sentences, on average, fairly short? Have you avoided
stringing many long sentences together?
! Is your writing free from needless words?
! Have you used common, concrete words that evoke visual
images? Is your language natural?
! Is the sentence structure varied?
! Are most sentences in the active voice?
! Have you replaced trite expressions with creative language? Is
your writing bias-free?
From Newsom & Carrell, Public Relations
Writing: Form and Style, 6
Edition (2001)
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Writing Content
! Simplify complex ideas: public relations writers must be able
to explain the implications of government or corporate
policies and actions, the latest research studies, etc.
! Know your subject: work to really understand
! Use plain English: avoid doublespeak (four kinds –
euphemism, jargon, gobbledygook and inflated language)
! Describe, don’t define
! Make the central points clear: determine from the outset
what your central points are, make sure the reader knows
what the point is before introducing supporting evidence
! Explain the unfamiliar with the familiar
! Make the message accessible: typeface, point size, layout,
colors, etc. can all aid or hamper clarity
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Content Checklist
! Have you researched your subject thoroughly? Do you understand
its complexities, and the precise meanings of the terms you will
use? Have you used plain English as much as possible?
! Have you told readers only as much as they need to know to
understand the point?
! Have you fully described technical terms that you can’t avoid
! Have you taken readers one step at a time? Have you started with
a point the readers will understand?
! Have you identified the central points you want to make? Are they
made clearly and not obscured by explanation and detail?
! Have you used familiar ideas to explain unfamiliar concepts?
! Have you used concrete words rather than abstractions?
! Have you made the material accessible?
From Newsom & Carrell, Public Relations
Writing: Form and Style, 6
Edition (2001)
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Writing for the Eye or the Ear
! Written communication can use more complex
language and more complex logic, since the reader
can go back and re-read as needed for comprehension
! Spoken (or broadcast) communication must be
simpler, since listeners only have one chance to
! Spoken communication makes use of the voice as an
instrument – that is, tone of voice, accent, alliteration,
repetition, storytelling techniques – all play a role in
writing for a spoken communication
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Internal Communications
! Memos & emails – may sound straightforward and
simplistic, but these are critical communications; they
maintain the flow of information inside and outside of
the organization
! Background documents, executive summaries – public
relations practitioners are often asked to produce
written summaries of projects, processes, strategic
decisions or research reports for senior management
! Policies & handbooks – employment policies
(conditions of employment, sick leave and vacation
policies, etc.), compensation policies, media policies,
etc.; employee handbooks, graphic standards manuals
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Internal Communications, cont’d.
! Reports & Proposals – reports of initiatives undertaken;
proposals for initiatives, budget
! Announcements – from the most simple ribbon-cutting
to the removal of the CEO
! Scripts – in the internal context, scripts are critical for
keeping all employees “on message” – many meetings
are scripted, as are internal videos and broadcast voice
mail messages; scripts are particularly needed for
customer service whenever some news about the
organization is breaking
! Intranet materials – news wrap-ups, information about
an upcoming charity event, birth/death notices
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Internal Communications, cont’d.
! Newsletter/magazine articles – reports on strategic
initiatives, new products, compensation studies,
mergers, etc. for employee publications
! Corporate descriptions – one paragraph (boilerplate),
one-page or several pages; needs to be THE definitive
description of the organization, used by the
organization or outside groups for brochures, awards
programs, RFPs, booklets
! Mission & values statements
! Communications plans
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
External Communications
! Letters – commitment letters (for charitable
organizations), letters to government officials, etc.
! Scripts – same as internal; scripts for executives for
meetings, city council meetings, congressional
testimony, corporate videos, PSAs, platform announcer
! Newsletter/magazine articles, byliners – reports on
strategic direction, new products, etc. for customer-
oriented newsletters or magazines under your own
name or the name of an executive
! Fliers & Brochures – public relations practitioners are
likely to be more involved in capabilities brochures than
product or service brochures
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
External Communications, cont’d.
! Annual Report – one of the most visible documents for
a publicly-traded company; private companies and
nonprofits also routinely use annual reports for key
! Image ads – public relations usually doesn’t have
responsibility for product advertising, but often
oversees image ads
! Internet materials – web postings, including corporate
descriptions, histories, timelines, news of innovations
! Books – long-treatment corporate histories, pet
projects of senior management
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
External Communications, cont’d.
! Statement stuffers – various corporate messages
directed at specific publics; paycheck stuffers for
employees, statement or bill stuffers for customers
! Introductions & Thank-you’s – for senior executives
who are introducing speakers at a public forum, or
receiving an award or other recognition
! Speeches & Presentations – for all occasions: short
speeches of welcome for open houses or Take Our
Daughters to Work Day, ribbon-cuttings, sponsorship
announcements; or longer business strategy
speeches, key note speeches, retirement dinner toasts,
presentations to Wall Street analysts, etc.
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Media Communications
! News releases (for your own organization & others) –
short announcements of newsworthy information,
originally meant for editors, reporters and producers
! Media alerts & Pitch letters – media alerts are
designed to let reporters know about an event to which
they are invited; pitch letters are addressed to
individual reporters to interest them in a story angle
! Scripts – scripts for TV/radio broadcast; may be PSAs,
video news releases (VNRs), pre-packaged feature
items (B-roll – video tape with or without any voice-
over); or scripts for news conferences, sound bites
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Media Communications, cont’d.
! Bios – biographical sketches of senior executives
! Backgrounders & Position papers – research papers
meant either to provide factual information about
complex issues or processes for reporters, or to outline
an organization’s position on an issue or a trend
! Fact sheets – short (usually one-page) recaps of
relevant facts about the organization or an event
! Op-Ed articles & Letters to the editor – opinion pieces
designed for a newspaper audience or responses to
previously published articles, usually outlining an
organization’s position on an issue and signed by a
senior executive
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Media Communications, cont’d.
! Stand-by statements & media statements – standby
statements are drafted in case they are needed, in
response to a brewing crisis; media statements are
one or two paragraphs used to clarify previously-issued
information or as a response in lieu of interviews
! Q&As – lists of questions and organizational answers,
which public relations practitioners can use to handle
incoming media calls
! Photo captions & Charts – public relations practitioners
should always have graphic items available to illustrate
stories with written captions and explanatory info
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Miscellaneous Communications
! Signs, table-tents & banners
! T-shirts, pens, key-chains, other give-aways
! Campaign slogans
! Skits
! Demo CD scripts
! Game scripts & Contests
! NOTE: Although these are generally all one-off uses,
they must support the organization’s positioning in
order to maintain credibility with employees, customers
or the community
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Writing the News Release
! A release is a short (one- or two-page) announcement
of newsworthy information; traditionally to serve as a
point of departure for the news media
! Today, there are far more uses for a release: legal
disclosure, product support, crisis response, etc.
! Newsworthy:
– Impact: something that affects the organization or community
– Oddity: something unusual, like a milestone
– Conflict: a dispute or controversy
– Known principal: someone who is generally recognizable
– Proximity: local impact
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Inverted Pyramid
! Typical news writing style – public relations
practitioners master this style to match what reporters
and editors are looking for
! All critical elements – who, what, why, when, where
and how – are usually addressed in the lead, the first
sentence of the story
! Other major supporting information follows, with the
least important facts at the end of the story
! News releases are nearly always written in inverted
pyramid style; although many other styles can be
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
News Release Checklist
! Is the lead direct and to the point? Does it contain the most
important and most interesting aspects of the story? Has the local
angle been emphasized (where possible)?
! Have who, what, when, where, why and how been answered in
the first sentence, or at least first paragraph?
! Are sentences and paragraphs short, concise? Words concrete?
! Has editorial comment been placed in quotation marks and
attributed to the appropriate person?
! Has newspaper style been followed throughout? Are spelling and
punctuation correct?
! Have all statements of fact been double-checked for accuracy?
! Has the release been prepared in the correct format? Does it have
a date, time of release, and contact information?
! Has the release been approved internally?
From Newsom & Carrell, Public Relations
Writing: Form and Style, 6
Edition (2001)
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Writing the Media Kit
! Media kits are designed to give reporters everything they
need to develop a story – but remember that reporters don’t
like overly complicated media kits
! Basic contents include: fact sheets, history of the
organization, executive bios, backgrounders, position
papers, copies of company newsletters or magazines,
charts, the annual report
! For special events, also include: history of the event,
schedule of activities, indication of possible visuals for
television, information on co-sponsors
! For crisis situations, also include: descriptions of affected
facilities or operations, statistics
! NOTE: Today, the media kit might be all hard copy, or might
be all web-based, or a combination
Copyright 2002 Laurel O’Brien, APR
Writing is Just the Beginning…
! Editing – edit yourself and your co-workers rigorously;
always have someone else edit (and proof) your work
! Approvals – anything written by a public relations
practitioner is subject to re-writes from everyone on the
approval list; be prepared for, and build in enough time for,
several drafts, often with conflicting advice – also, you will
likely be asked to review many, many materials written by
others in the firm
! Design & production – the public relations writer should take
an active, intelligent interest in the design and production of
the printed piece, since they will influence understanding
! Follow up – the public relations practitioner must prepare for
follow up, often in the form of additional written materials