Measuring the Networked Nonprofit Discussion

Based on this week’s lesson, list at least one, and not more  than two, key messages and sound bites EACH for the non-profit  organization you’re working with. Explain the process whereby you  developed them.When you’re writing the discussion, combine  the concepts in the readings. Use at least two resources in the lists  for citations. APA format. at least 350 words (not included the  reference page).

Readings:

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Measuring the Networked Nonprofit Discussion
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1. Zappala, J.M. & Carden, A.R., Chapter 5: Public Relations Writing Worktext (access via E-reserves).

2.

Messaging: Why Consistency Is Everything

3.

https://www.adroll.com/blog/marketing/covid-19-messaging-https://snov.io/glossary/sound-bite/https://msktc.org/sites/default/files/Key_Message_…These are some articles about sound bite and key messages. Maybe you can review it before adjust the content, my friend.dos-and-donts

Public Relations
Writing Worktext
Public Relations Writing Worktext provides the fundamental knowledge and the basic preparation
required for the professional practice of public relations writing. This textbook introduces readers to
public relations and writing, providing an overview of the four-step public relations process, in addition
to defining and detailing the writing activities involved. It presents in-depth information on the writing
formats and approaches used in implementing strategic public relations plans, and offers instruction
for developing all types of writing assignments, starting with memos, proposals, and news releases, and
moving on to the more complex tasks of advocacy writing, newsletters, and digital communication and
social media. Examples accompany the assignments, providing guidance and structure for the varied
writing activities.
Retaining the approach of the second edition, this text incorporates numerous changes and updates,
making it suitable for use as a primary course text. Updates include:






increased focus on writing for the Web, blogs, and electronic media, including information on
writing social media releases and a new chapter entitled “New and Social Media”;
a new planning outline to help writers develop more effective messages;
expanded checklists for writers to reference when working on assignments;
additional examples of effective public relations writing by leading companies in a variety of
organizational settings, including Travelers, UPS, Burger King, Xerox, Frito-Lay, and many
more;
new assignments based on topics, issues, and problems that public relations professionals in
all sectors face today;
restructured content for improved writing flow and consistency.
Authors Joseph M. Zappala and Ann R. Carden offer a clear and engaging introduction to the writing
activities involved in public relations practice, resulting in a valuable resource for professionals as well
as a practical classroom text for students planning careers in public relations.
Joseph M. Zappala, APR, is Chief Communications Officer for Cornell University’s ILR School.
He has over 25 years of public relations experience and is a former college professor.
Ann R. Carden, APR, Fellow PRSA, is an associate professor of communication at the State University
of New York at Fredonia, where she teaches public relations. She has over 25 years’ experience managing
public relations and 11 years’ experience in broadcast journalism.
Public Relations
Writing Worktext
A Practical Guide for the Profession
Third Edition
Joseph M. Zappala
Ann R. Carden
First edition published 1996
by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company
Second edition published 2004
by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
This edition published 2010
by Routledge
270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016
Simultaneously published in the UK
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2009.
To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s
collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.
© 1996 NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company
© 2004 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
© 2010 Taylor & Francis
All rights reserved. The purchase of this copyright material confers the right
on the purchasing individual to photocopy pages 241–275 and 284–286 only.
No other part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise, without prior permission in writing from the publishers.
Trademark Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks
or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and
explanation without intent to infringe.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Zappala, Joseph M.
Public relations writing worktext: a practical guide for the profession/
by Joseph M. Zappala, Ann R. Carden.—3rd ed.
p. cm.
Rev. ed. of: Public relations worktext: a writing and planning
resource. 2nd ed.
Includes index.
1. Public relations. 2. Business writing. I. Carden, Ann R.
II. Zappala, Joseph M. Public relations worktext. III. Title.
HM1221.Z37 2009
659.2—dc22
2009013211
ISBN 0-203-87163-4 Master e-book ISBN
ISBN10: 0–415–99753–4 (hbk)
ISBN10: 0–415–99754–2 (pbk)
ISBN10: 0–203–87163–4 (ebk)
ISBN13: 978–0–415–99753–9 (hbk)
ISBN13: 978–0–415–99754–6 (pbk)
ISBN13: 978–0–203–87163–8 (ebk)
Brief Contents
List of Exhibits
Preface
Part One: An Introduction to the Basics
xi
xiii
1
1 What Is Public Relations Writing?
3
2 Basics of Public Relations Writing
13
3 The Public Relations Process
40
Part Two: Research
4 Research
Part Three: Planning
5 Planning and Message Design
Part Four: Execution
6 News Releases
53
55
73
75
89
91
7 Other Media Formats
117
8 Backgrounders and Features
132
9 Web Sites and Social Media
152
10 Business Correspondence
168
11 Reports and Proposals
183
12 Advocacy Writing
195
13 Promotional Publications
211
vi
Brief Contents
Part Five: Evaluation
233
14 Evaluation
235
Appendix A Planning Outline
241
Appendix B Checklists
242
Appendix C Special Events
276
Index
287
Contents
List of Exhibits
Preface
xi
xiii
Part One
AN INTRODUCTION TO
THE BASICS
1
1
What is Public Relations Writing?
3
What is Public Relations? 4
Types of Public Relations Writing 7
Communication and the Public
Relations Writer 8
Persuasion and the Public Relations
Writer 10
Note 11
References and Suggested Reading 11
2
Basics of Public Relations Writing
Grammar 13
Spelling 18
Punctuation 18
Sentence Structure 19
Word Usage 20
Simplicity 20
Style 21
Diversity, Bias, and Cultural
Sensitivity 24
Legal Issues 25
Puffing 25
Corporate vs. Commercial
Speech 26
Copyrights 26
Trademarks 28
Privacy 28
Defamation 28
Ethical Issues 29
13
Rewriting and Proofreading 35
Assignments 36
References and Suggested Reading
39
3
The Public Relations Process
40
The Four Phases 40
Research 40
Planning 41
Target Publics 41
Goals and Objectives 41
Strategies and Tactics 42
Budget 42
Timetable 43
Execution 43
Evaluation 43
Assignments 47
References and Suggested Reading 51
Part Two
RESEARCH
53
4
Research
55
Secondary Research 55
Primary Research 58
Interviews 59
Before the Interview 59
Conducting the Interview 60
After the Interview 61
E-mail Interviews 61
Advantages 61
Disadvantages 61
Focus Groups 62
Surveys 63
Content Analysis 65
Additional Primary Research 66
Assignments 69
References and Suggested Reading 72
viii
Contents
Part Three
PLANNING
73
5
Planning and Message Design
75
Developing the Message 75
The Planning Outline 80
Type of Project 80
Situation 80
Objectives 80
Target Public(s) 80
WIN Analysis of Key Public(s) 81
Specific Appeal(s) to be Used 81
Core Message 81
Communication Channel 81
Evaluation Methods 82
Assignments 83
Note 87
References and Suggested Reading 87
9
Web Sites and Social Media
89
6
News Releases
91
Types of News Release 91
Components 92
Body of the Release 93
Leads 94
Localizing 97
Formats 99
Broadcast Print Releases 99
Radio News Releases 105
Video News Releases 106
Social Media Releases 107
Timing 110
Distribution 111
Assignments 112
References and Suggested Reading 116
Media Alerts 117
Media Pitches 123
8
Backgrounders and Features
Background Materials 132
Fact Sheets 133
Backgrounders 136
Biographical Sketches 136
Features 139
Types of Feature 140
Writing the Feature 141
By-lined Articles 141
Case Studies 144
Matte Releases 144
Assignments 148
References and Suggested Reading
Part Four
EXECUTION
7
Other Media Formats
Public Relations Photos 125
Assignments 128
References and Suggested Reading
117
131
132
151
152
Web Sites 152
Writing for the Web 153
Conceiving and Designing the Web
Site 154
Multimedia 156
Online Media Rooms 157
Blogs 157
Components 159
Ethical Considerations 159
Promoting Your Online Presence 162
Intranets 162
Wikis 163
Assignments 163
References and Suggested Reading 167
10
Business Correspondence
Memoranda 168
Letters 170
E-mail 175
Voice Mail 177
Assignments 178
References and Suggested Reading
168
182
Contents
11
Reports and Proposals
Reports 183
Research Reports 183
Annual Reports 184
Proposals 185
New Business Proposal 188
Request for Proposals 188
Grant Proposals 189
Assignments 190
References and Suggested Reading
183
194
12
Advocacy Writing
195
Letters to the Editor 195
Op-ed Articles 196
Position Statements 198
Talking Points and Speeches 200
Public Service Announcements 202
Public Relations Advertising 203
Assignments 206
References and Suggested Reading 210
13
Promotional Publications
Newsletters 211
Newsletter Goals, Publics, and
Strategy 211
Developing the Newsletter and Its
Content 213
Writing Newsletter Articles 215
Other Newsletter
Considerations 216
Magazines 219
211
E-zines 219
Brochures 221
Brochure Format, Content, and
Writing 221
Fliers and Posters 226
Assignments 227
References and Suggested Reading 231
Part Five
EVALUATION
233
14
Evaluation
235
The Components of Public Relations
Measurement 235
Awareness 236
Media Coverage 236
Internet Statistics 237
Readership Surveys 238
Acceptance 238
Action 239
References and Suggested Reading 239
Appendix A
Planning Outline
241
Appendix B
Checklists
242
Appendix C
Special Events
276
Index
287
ix
Exhibits
1.1
1.2
1.3
2.1
2.2
2.3
3.1
4.1
4.2
4.3
4.4
5.1
5.2
6.1
6.2
6.3
6.4
6.5
6.6
6.7
6.8
6.9
7.1
7.2
7.3
7.4
7.5
8.1
8.2
8.3
8.4
8.5
8.6
8.7
9.1
9.2
9.3
9.4
The Integration of Public Relations, Marketing, and Advertising
Defining Public Relations
Jackson’s Behavioral Communication Model
Twenty Secrets of Good Writing
Tips from The Associated Press Stylebook
PRSA Member Code of Ethics
2008 PRSA Silver Anvil Award Winner, Reputation/Brand Management:
Siena Campus Emergency Department
Online Research Sources for Public Relations Writers
Helpful Media Directories and Web Sites
Constructing Questionnaires
Which Research is Best for Your Project?
Types of Media
Planning Outline
Tips for Writing News Release Headlines
Lead with Your Best Stuff: Adding Value to News Release Leads
Working with Local Media: Bigger is Not Always Better
Traditional News Release: UPS
Traditional News Release: Travelers
Traditional News Release: Cornell University’s ILR School
Associated Press Pronouncer Guide
Social Media Release: Template
Social Media Release: SHIFT Communications
What’s the Story? A Nose for News
Media Alert: SUNY Fredonia and Buffalo Zoo
Media Alert: Florida Atlantic University
Media Alert: Multisorb
Media Pitch: Xerox
Q & A: Frito-Lay
Fact Sheet: Jamestown Settlement
Historical Backgrounder: American Red Cross
Biographical Sketch: eBay
By-lined Article: Xerox
Case Study: Multisorb
Matte Release: National Crime Prevention Council
An Introduction to Web 2.0
Home Page: KnowHow2Go
Blog: Marriott on the Move
WOMMA’s 10 Principles for Ethical Contact by Marketers
5
6
9
14
21
29
44
56
58
64
67
77
82
93
97
98
100
101
103
105
108
109
118
120
121
121
124
134
135
137
139
142
145
147
153
156
158
160
xii
Exhibits
9.5
10.1
10.2
10.3
10.4
11.1
12.1
12.2
12.3
12.4
13.1
13.2
13.3
13.4
13.5
Handling a Cybercrisis
Business Letter Format
Effective Fundraising Letters
Direct Mail: Netflix
E-mail Etiquette
CEO Letter to Shareholders: Burger King Holdings, Inc.
Letter to the Editor: National Association of Counties
Op-ed: NRG Energy
PSA Print Ad: Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
PSA TV Script: Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
Writing an Effective Customer Newsletter
Newsletter: NorthBay Healthcare
Newsletter: Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Writing Brochure Headlines that Sell
Brochure: Monterey County Health Department
161
171
172
174
176
186
197
199
204
205
213
217
218
223
225
Preface
About the Book
What’s been happening in public relations since the last edition of our book in 2004? That’s
a question we had to answer as we began work last year on the third edition, now titled Public
Relations Writing Worktext. Of course, technology has continued to have an impact, with the
explosion of digital, new, and social media. The strategic role that public relations plays in
organizations also keeps evolving. But one thing remains constant—the need for public
relations professionals to write well. And that remains at the core of our book. In fact, in this
edition, we’ve made some changes that put even greater focus on writing and the writing process.
The third edition of the book has the same “how-to” format we’ve been using in the past
two editions: introductory text that explains the subject in an easy-to-understand, practical way,
along with examples of professionally written materials and a variety of assignments that give
students hands-on experience writing public relations materials that are used in practice today.
This format seems to work; faculty members and students, as well as professionals using the
book as a refresher or reference, tell us that the worktext is a great learning tool and resource.
You’ll also see changes that we believe make the third edition even stronger:







expanded text sections with more detailed content on subjects such as research,
planning, sales letters, proposals, advocacy writing, and legal considerations;
more focus on writing for the Web, blogs, and electronic media, including information
on writing social media releases and a new chapter entitled “Web Sites and Social
Media”;
a new planning outline to help writers develop more effective messages;
expanded checklists for writers to reference when working on assignments—one of
the most popular features in the second edition;
more and updated examples and reprints of effective public relations writing by leading
companies in a variety of organizational settings, including Travelers, UPS, Burger
King, Xerox, Frito-Lay, and many more;
restructured content for better writing flow and consistency;
new assignments based on topics, issues, and problems that public relations
professionals in all sectors might find themselves facing today.
The parts of the book have been restructured to better reflect the public relations
process:
Part One provides an “An Introduction to the Basics.” Chapter 1 includes information
on public relations as compared to marketing and advertising and introduces the different forms
of public relations writing, as well as the concepts of communication and persuasion.
Chapter 2 focuses on the basics of writing—spelling, punctuation, grammar, and style—as well
as ethical and legal considerations. Chapter 3 introduces the four-step public relations process.
xiv
Preface
Part Two focuses on research. Chapter 4 reviews the importance of research and the various
methods used.
Part Three provides an overview of the planning process. Chapter 5 includes a detailed
look at developing public relations messages.
Part Four provides in-depth information on the various writing formats and techniques
used in implementing strategic public relations plans, from news releases (chapter 6) and features
(chapter 8) to business correspondence (chapter 10) and promotional publications (chapter 13).
Part Five completes the public relations process with a comprehensive look at evaluation
methods in chapter 14.
Our Vision
This book provides students with the fundamental knowledge required for public relations
writing, as well as the critical writing practice they need, allowing them to make mistakes in
the classroom and receive feedback on written pieces before they enter a professional setting.
Without this experience, students will have difficulty succeeding in field assignments and in
that first job. Internship supervisors and employers want students and graduates who can “hit
the ground running,” and that means having the ability to write a variety of public relations
materials competently and with minimal direction. We think this book will give students basic
writing preparation to get started in their careers and be a useful resource “down the road”
when they need a refresher on some aspect of public relations writing.
Although this book is primarily targeted to college students, we kept another audience in
mind while preparing the text—the many people who, with little or no training, have found
themselves in the position of performing public relations tasks. Before organizations make the
decision to hire a public relations practitioner, they often turn to other people within the organization to write a news release, design a flier, or plan a special event. Nonprofit organizations
often ask volunteers to complete public relations tasks. Although we do not suggest that this
book replaces proper training in the field, it is hoped that it will provide some professional
guidance to people who find themselves in these situations.
Acknowledgments
No book is assembled by the authors alone. There are many people involved in the writing
process from beginning to end, and many people to thank for their contributions.
We are grateful to NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company and Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates, Inc., who published the first two editions of the book, our new publisher, Routledge,
of the Taylor & Francis Group, for seeing the value of publishing a third edition; to our editor,
Linda Bathgate, for her direction and flexibility; and to other members of the publishing team
at Routledge, including Katherine Ghezzi, Senior Editorial Assistant and Gail Newton,
Production Editor; to Louise Smith, our capable copy-editor; and the production house,
Florence Production Ltd, where Senior Project Manager Fiona Isaac oversaw the production
process that made this book a reality.
We are grateful for the time and comments of practitioners and educators throughout the
country who generously agreed to review the proposal for the third edition.
Preface
We recognize the contributions of the many practitioners and educators who have
developed, and continue to develop, a body of knowledge for public relations through books
of their own, other publications, research, and practice. Their work, listed under “References
and Suggested Reading” following each chapter, serves as a basis of this text as well as future
works in the field of public relations.
This edition of Public Relations Writing Worktext includes dozens of excellent, and often
award-winning, examples and reprints from leading companies. We thank these companies for
providing access to their work and for their willingness to share.
Of course, there would be no book at all without readers. We are grateful to the instructors
who selected the first and second editions of Public Relations Writing Worktext for use in their
classrooms and expressed interest in a third edition. We appreciate their confidence in the
material presented in the text and thank them, as well as future instructors and students, who
will use the book.
On a Personal Note . . .
Some years ago, when I was teaching full time at Utica College of Syracuse University, I
began work on the second edition of our book. After completing the manuscript, I was faced
with “publisher limbo.” The original publisher decided to sell its college text division, and it
was unclear if the second edition would find a publishing home.
When I finally learned, almost two years later, that a publisher had purchased the rights
to this book, it was truly a day of celebration. At that same time, I made a major life and career
change. After 13 years as a college professor, I decided to return to practice and accepted a
position as a senior communications professional with Cornell University. When it came time
to revisit the book and get the second edition completed, I have to admit, I started to panic,
just a little. Working 50+ hours a week, plus juggling other commitments, I knew this would
be an almost impossible task on my own. Fortunately, some colleagues connected me with
Ann R. Carden, and here we are, now having finished our third edition. It has been interesting
to complete the second, and now third, edition of the book as a practitioner, as I apply concepts
shared in the book each and every day on the job—whether I am writing a high-level senior
management correspondence, consulting with staff on Web and social media strategy and
content, or working on a communications plan.
There are several people I need to acknowledge and whose guidance and support made it
possible for me to complete this project. First, legendary PR educator Ray Simon, someone
to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. When Ray asked me to assist him with the first edition, I
was deeply honored, and a little scared. But his confidence in me made a huge difference, and
I am thankful to him for all he did for me, both as a mentor and a friend. To this day, Ray’s
influence and his wise advice continue to shape my work as a professional and the way in
which I relate to people and solve problems. I’m lucky that I had the chance to learn from him
during my time at UC.
My co-author, Ann R. Carden, is an outstanding collaborator. There were many times that
I lagged behind on a deadline, or when the demands of my job made it difficult to focus on the
book. Ann was always there to keep the project on track and to pick up the slack when things
xv
xvi
Preface
got a bit crazy on my end, without complaint. This is the best possible co-author relationship,
working with someone who has been successful in the field, but who also knows “what works”
in the classroom right now. I couldn’t ask for a better writing partner.
I also want to thank my former colleagues at Utica College, especially Kim Landon and
Cecilia Friend, who saw me through both the first edition and the first draft of the second
edition, and whose friendship meant a lot to me during those Utica years. I miss seeing them
every day. And, of course, my thanks goes to all the students I have taught over the years,
some of whom still keep in touch with me and still insist on calling me “professor.” (At this
point in time, I let them know that “Joe” is just fine.) I learned a lot from my students, both
inside and outside the classroom. I hope this book proves to be a useful learning tool for the
next generation of public relations students.
Finally, I want say thanks to my family and my parents for all their support through the
years and three editions. I’d like to dedicate the book to them, and to my partner who saw me
through many evenings and weekends trying to get this project done. He showed great patience
and understanding when I had to devote “us” time to work on the book, and when stress levels
got a bit high. Thanks, Billy. Much love to you and Olivia!
—J.Z.
I would not be writing this section had it not been for my co-author, Joseph M. Zappala, who
graciously invited—with only a reference from a mutual friend to go on—a stranger to help
with the second, and now third, edition of his textbook. Thank you, Joe, for your confidence
in me and especially for your willingness to let me be a full partner in the writing process,
which can be a deeply personal thing for the original author. While my co-author was leaving
academe to return to the professional world, I was leaving daily practice to enter academe—
and much has changed in the field since then! Joe was instrumental in making sure this edition
included the most up-to-date and realistic information for today’s public relations students and
practitioners.
It has been my lifelong dream to teach at the college level and to someday publish a writing
text. Knowing how important writing is to the practice of public relations, I wanted to do my
part to ensure that future public relations practitioners developed strong writing skills. It is an
area I’m passionate about, to which my students, both former and present, will attest. I thank
them for letting me know (eventually) that, although I demanded much from them and made
grade deductions for misspellings and poor grammar, they are now better writers.
My deep appreciation goes to my faculty colleagues in the Department of Communication
at the State University of New York at Fredonia, who always expressed an interest in how the
book was going, even though they must have gotten tired of my frenzied “I’m on deadline!”
banter. Thank you for your support and indulgence.
My path to this point is the culmination of varied experiences and many influences along
the way, and it is my honor to acknowledge them, beginning with my high school English
teacher who talked me out of studying nursing in college because she thought I had a talent
for writing. My thoughts on the practice of public relations have been honed through the years
by every organization for which I have worked, by each co-worker in those organizations, and
especially others in the public relations field. Whether it was a formal presentation, casual
Preface
conversation, or a discussion over lunch (and there were many of those), I have learned much
from my colleagues and am grateful to the members of the Buffalo/Niagara chapter of the
Public Relations Society of America for sharing their expertise. Special thanks go to Ronald
D. Smith, APR; Stanton H. Hudson, Jr., APR, Fellow PRSA; Donald J. Goralski, APR; and
Bill Sledzik, APR, Fellow PRSA.
Lastly, I dedicate this book to my family and friends, who have been so supportive during
a time of great transition in my life, and especially to my father, T. Guy Reynolds Jr., who
instilled in me a strong work ethic, a thirst for knowledge, the belief that job satisfaction comes
before money, and the attitude that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do—all attributes that
allowed me to stretch my wings and try new things; my sister, Vanda White, who has shown
me what faith and courage really look like; and, my children, Maggie and Stephen. I love you
and am so proud of the adults you have become.
—A.R.C.
An Invitation
A textbook is much like a snapshot in time. Different trends develop, theories evolve, and new
case studies are introduced almost as soon as the book is published. With this in mind, we
encourage our readers to provide us with feedback on the text so we may continue to develop
it into a useful tool in the future. Please send your comments to:
Joseph M. Zappala, APR
Chief Communications Officer
ILR School
Cornell University
403 Dolgen Hall
Ithaca, NY 14850
jz76@cornell.edu
Ann R. Carden, APR, Fellow PRSA
Associate Professor
Communication
SUNY Fredonia
304 McEwen Hall
Fredonia, NY 14063
ann.carden@fredonia.edu
xvii
Part One
AN INTRODUCTION
TO THE BASICS
1
What is Public
Relations Writing?
A song that sounds simple is just not that easy to write.
—Sheryl Crow1
I don’t know what real childbirth is like, but writing songs seems as close as I’m going to come.
—Billy Joel
You may think that songwriters and public relations writers have little in common. But
songwriters, poets, novelists, and other writers, including public relations writers, will tell you
that writing is hard, even painful. Most writers know the frustration of staring at an empty
computer screen or a blank sheet of paper, waiting for the right words to come, and public
relations writers are no exception.
The songwriter faced with writer’s block might take a long drive or meditate to stimulate
the writing process. As a public relations writer, you don’t always have that luxury. In a crisis,
when you need to communicate quickly and accurately about a threatening situation, there’s
little time for leisurely drives or meditation. Consider, as well, that public relations professionals
write for many different audiences, for many different media, and in many different forms and
styles, sometimes all in the same day. This is no easy task.
Songwriters, like poets, novelists, sculptors, and other artists, often create works that are
deeply personal; they are not always creating a work of art to please someone else, but more
so to express something important they need to say. This is not so for public relations writers.
Public relations writing has an organizational purpose. You must write with the interests of a
specific group of people in mind, and balance that with the interests of the organization you
represent. Public relations writing succeeds when people respond by doing something your
organization wants them to do, whether that be learning something you want them to learn,
adopting an attitude or position you want them to adopt, taking a positive action you want
them to take, or simply thinking good thoughts about the organization. In the public relations
world, writing without such a purpose is a waste of time.
4
Part One
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BASICS
As a public relations writer, you are not aiming to create works of art. Don’t make the
mistake of thinking that good public relations writing is like a song, or like poetry or prose,
full of descriptive phrasing and obscure thoughts. There are times when creative writing is
necessary, but creativity should never overshadow what’s most important about a public
relations message: its ability to communicate information in a way that people will understand.
It’s about simple words and clear messages that inspire a desired change in thinking or
behavior.
While those brochures and news releases you write may not be on the artistic level of a
classic novel or an Academy Award-winning film script, they do require special skill and finesse.
And that makes public relations writing a fine art.
What is Public Relations?
Before discussing the role of a public relations writer, it’s important to give that role some
perspective by first defining the public relations function, and then explaining how public
relations differs from and integrates with marketing and advertising (as illustrated in
Exhibit 1.1). While each of these functions has a distinct purpose, they also work together and
share the common goal of helping an organization communicate to its publics—groups that
are critical to the organization’s survival.
Exhibit 1.2 presents some of the classic definitions of public relations by some of the
industry’s most respected educators and professionals. In sum, public relations is a strategic
function that manages and builds relationships with an organization’s publics through twoway communication. Public relations professionals promote two-way communication by
providing an open flow of idea exchange, feedback, and information between an organization
and its publics. They counsel management on how to best shape policy and establish programs
that are mutually beneficial and sensitive to public concerns. Public relations builds goodwill
and an understanding of organizational goals among various internal and external publics to
help the organization operate smoothly and conduct its business in a cooperative, conflict-free
environment.
The goal of marketing, by contrast, is to develop, maintain, and improve a product’s market
share; attract and satisfy customers; and cause a transaction in order to build profitability. Public
relations professionals support marketing staff by providing promotional services. One common
marketing communications activity is publicity, which may involve placing news stories in
the media about products and services. The most common form of publicity is the news release,
an announcement from an organization written in news style.
If a newspaper publishes your product news release, it does so at no cost to you. Once
your publicity material is received by the media, however, you lose control of the content. The
media is free to use it in any form they choose, or they can decide not to use it. This differs
from advertising, which is paid promotional messages that you can control. When you supply
an advertisement to the media, they run it as you’ve written it. Advertising copy has a creative
flair, with language and phrasing designed for the “hard sell.” Publicity materials are more
subtle and read more like news articles. To illustrate the difference, look at the lead from a
product news release that appeared on the Verizon Wireless Web site and the opening of
a commercial for the same product:
Chapter One
WHAT IS PUBLIC RELATIONS WRITING?
Exhibit 1.1
The Integration of Public Relations, Marketing, and Advertising
Public relations is a strategic function that manages and
builds relationships with an organizationís publics through
two-way communication.
Goal:
Goodwill, support,
mutual understanding
Community relations
Employee/member relations
Issues management
Government relations
Identify wants/needs
Multicultural relations
Development
Work toward organization’s
Goal:
Public affairs
success and survival
Economic exchange
Counseling
Industry relations
Focus on long-term relationships
External focus
Financial relations
Research based
Offer products/services
Advertise image
to satisfy wants/interests/
Promotion
Cause marketing
needs of customers
Target messages
Collateral material
Publicity
Product design
Build brand
Special events
equity
Packaging
Strategic function
Distribution
Sells products/
services
Goal:
Attract customers
Controlled messages
Marketing is a strategic function
that develops, maintains, and
improves a product’s market
share; attracts and satisfies
customers; and causes a
transaction in order to build
profitability.
Creative design
Placement
Advertising involves
developing and placing paid
promotional messages that
can be controlled. The
messages use a creative flair,
with language and phrasing
designed for the “hard sell.”
Note: Reprinted with permission of PR Reporter, Ragan Communications, Inc.
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AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BASICS
Exhibit 1.2
Defining Public Relations
“Public relations practice is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling
organization leaders, and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization’s and
the public interest.”—First World Assembly of Public Relations Associations and the First World Forum of Public
Relations
“Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of
communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves
the management of problems or issues; helps management keep informed on and responsive to public opinion;
defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep
abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses
research and sound ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.”—Harlow, “Building a Public
Relations Definition,” Public Relations Review
“Public relations helps our complex, pluralistic society to reach decisions and function more effectively by
contributing to mutual understanding among groups and institutions. It serves to bring private and public policies
into harmony.”—PRSA Official Statement on Public Relations
“Management of communication between an organization and its publics.”—Grunig and Hunt, Managing Public
Relations
“(1) Management function, (2) relationships between an organization and its publics, (3) analysis and evaluation
through research, (4) management counseling, (5) implementation and execution of a planned program of action,
communication and evaluation through research, and (6) achievement of goodwill.”—Simon, Public Relations
Concepts and Practices
“Public relations deals primarily with advice on action, based on social responsibility.”—Bernays, The Later Years:
1956–1986
“The management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an
organization and publics on whom its success or failure depends.”—Cutlip, Center, and Broom, Effective Public
Relations
“(1) deliberate, (2) planned, (3) performance, (4) public interest, (5) two-way communication, and (6) management
function.”—Wilcox, Ault and Agee, Public Relations Strategies and Tactics
“PR involves responsibility and responsiveness in policy and information to the best interests of the organization
and its publics.”—Newsom, Scott, and Turk, This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations
“Public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and
procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action
to earn public understanding and acceptance.”—Public Relations News
“Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its
publics.”—Wikipedia
Chapter One
WHAT IS PUBLIC RELATIONS WRITING?
Product News Release:
The BlackBerry® Storm™ (model 9530) from Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM)—the first
touch screen BlackBerry smartphone with the world’s first “clickable” touch screen—will be
available beginning Nov. 21 in Verizon Wireless Communications Stores and online at
www.verizonwireless.com for $199.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate with a new two-year customer
agreement.
Product Advertisement:
Whoa! It has no keyboard. And did it just click? You never clicked a screen before. Is that
supposed to happen? Is it supposed to feel so right? It feels like a keyboard, just no keys. What
kind of mad genius designed this?
In addition to supporting the marketing function with promotional efforts, public relations
practitioners offer advice on the social implications of products and help counter attacks from
consumer and special interest groups. For example, some years ago, tuna companies faced
protests from environmental groups concerned about the number of dolphins getting trapped
and killed in nets used by tuna fishermen. Protests and negative media headlines created a
serious public relations problem that, in turn, had an impact on product sales. To regain public
trust, tuna companies opened up dialogue with environmentalists and began making changes
in their fishing practices to avoid doing harm to dolphins. After these changes were made and
communicated, tuna companies began declaring their products “dolphin safe” and restoring
their reputations through good public relations, while avoiding a marketing disaster.
Types of Public Relations Writing
Public relations writers are among the most versatile of writers. While a magazine journalist
writes each article for a single mass audience—the people who read that magazine—the public
relations writer prepares many pieces for a wide range of publics. A corporate public relations
professional, for example, writes for employees, customers, media, and stockholders. Writing
for each of those publics can require variations in message and style. Among the types of
writing assignment handled by public relations professionals are:




Business correspondence—internal memos that inform others in the organization
about the status of projects and other subjects, external business correspondence and
e-mail messages that confirm agreements and solicit support, and proposals to clients
and internal supervisors that outline recommended public relations campaigns.
Corporate and internal communications—news and feature stories for publication
in newsletters, company magazines, and other employee publications; content for Web
sites, intranets, and digital social media; scripts for training and corporate video
programs; and annual reports directed to shareholders and the financial community.
Publicity writing—news releases, background materials, and other written pieces
designed to produce print and broadcast media coverage.
Marketing communications—written materials that support marketing efforts, product
promotion, and customer relations, such as product publicity, product brochures and
catalogs, posters and fliers, sales literature, direct mail pieces, and customer newsletters.
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Advocacy writing—writing that establishes a position or comments on an issue,
endorses a cause or rallies support, such as letters to the editor and articles sent to the
opinion pages of print media; speeches written for executives that are delivered at
industry conferences, media events, or business meetings; and corporate or “image”
advertising that “sells the company,” not a specific product (e.g., a corporate ad from a
utility company publicly thanking the community for its patience during a power outage).
Communication and the Public Relations Writer
Public relations writing, regardless of what the specific piece is or who it is written for, is
always purposeful. Its primary goal is to communicate information that will influence people.
Mass communication literature identifies four mass communication goals that also have
relevance to public relations writing:




to inform people of threats and opportunities and to help them better understand their
environment;
to teach skills, knowledge, and appropriate behavior that help people adapt to their
environment and feel accepted;
to persuade people to adopt desired behaviors and see them as acceptable; and
to please people by providing entertainment and enjoyment.
These goals have much in common with those of the public relations writer, especially
the first three—to inform, to teach, and to persuade. Some public relations writing certainly
has entertainment value. For example, many college public relations and communication
programs across the country produce alumni newsletters. Graduates say they enjoy reading
the newsletter and especially like knowing what former classmates are doing, if they have
changed jobs, gotten engaged or married, had babies, or received an award for their work.
But, in addition to entertainment, this information has greater value. Publishing alumni
updates helps graduates stay connected to one another and to the program. Over time, this
builds loyalty and support and increases the perceived value of their college degree. The
newsletter is more than just an interesting, entertaining read. It has a positive, long-term
influence as a communication vehicle.
Like any good communicator, public relations writers must get feedback from their
targeted publics to measure the true success of their efforts. The receiver of the message must
respond in some way to indicate the message was received, processed, and understood. If you
send a news release to a newspaper and the newspaper publishes the release, have you
communicated with your public? Not necessarily. You have merely interested an editor enough
in the subject to use the material. You can estimate the potential number of people who may
have read the story by looking at the circulation figures for the newspaper. But you cannot
assume that communication took place, or that people even saw your message, unless they tell
you. If the goal of your news release is to inform and to encourage people to learn more about
a subject, include a toll-free number in the release and ask them to “call for more information.”
This technique generates feedback you can measure and provides some assurance that
communication occurred.
Chapter One
WHAT IS PUBLIC RELATIONS WRITING?
Public relations theorists and behavioral scientists point out that the traditional S-M-R
communications model—sending a message through a specific channel to a desired receiver—
is not effective if the intent of communication is to change behavior. They say this model is
best used for publicity and awareness building. It is most effective when sending information
to people who have little resistance to your message, such as consumers who already use and
like your product and whose positive feelings are simply reinforced through the communication.
But if the goal is to get people to form an opinion, or to reduce negative public opinion, building
awareness alone is not enough.
According to the diffusion of innovations theory, people adopt new ideas as the result of
a five-step process that begins with awareness. They must first learn about the idea. Next,
they must develop further interest in the idea and gather additional information on the subject.
Then come evaluation and trial, weighing the pros and cons of the idea and discussing it with
others, followed by testing the idea to see how well it fits into their lives. If the trial is successful,
the result is adoption of the idea.
Think about buying a car. You might first see a television ad or article in the “Auto” section
of the newspaper about a particular model (awareness). Thinking this car has potential, you
visit a Web site, collect brochures, and read Consumer Reports to get more details (interest).
With more information in hand, you talk to associates at work, people you know who own the
car, “friends” in a chat room or through your Facebook page, and maybe parents to get their
opinions of the car’s quality, value, and performance. You also look carefully at your budget
to determine if this is a realistic purchase (evaluation). Their positive remarks may motivate
you to visit a dealer, talk to a salesperson about the car, and take a test drive (trial). After
negotiating an agreeable price, you buy the car (adoption). The late Patrick Jackson, one of the
most widely known and respected public relations practitioners, developed a behavioral model
of communication to explain this process as it relates to public relations (see Exhibit 1.3).
According to this model, once people are aware of a product, service, or issue, they will begin
to formulate a readiness to act; an event then triggers this readiness into actual behavior.
As the car example shows, publicity and public relations writing have the greatest impact
in the awareness and interest stages. Well-placed media articles about the car, a creative Web
site, and informative brochures, all produced by public relations writers, play a significant role.
These written tools become less influential in the later stages, when personal communication
and the opinions of family, friends, and peers have the most impact; it is important to keep
this in perspective. Public relations writing plays a part in the acceptance of new ideas and
behavioral change early in the process, but face-to-face communication and personal experience
make the difference in the end. In addition, your written materials are competing with those
of other organizations for someone’s attention, so these pieces must do more than just
communicate—they must communicate persuasively.
Exhibit 1.3
Jackson’s Behavioral Communication Model
Awareness
Latent
readiness to act
Triggering
event
Behavior
Note: Reprinted with permission of PR Reporter, Ragan Communications, Inc.
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Persuasion and the Public Relations Writer
Persuasion is not a dirty word. “Persuade” means influence, move, motivate, convince, win
over. Those aren’t bad words. When you think about it, many of the things you say or do as
a college student in an average day—asking your roommate if you can borrow her car, calling
your parents in hopes they will send money, convincing your professor to extend an assignment
deadline—are all done in an effort to influence, motivate, or persuade. Persuasion “goes bad”
when you purposely mislead someone or tell a lie to get what you want. If you tell your parents
you need extra cash to buy some textbooks, but they find out you used the money to buy a
DVD player or new music from iTunes, those checks from home will probably stop coming.
Some people may perceive persuasion as negative because they confuse it with propaganda.
While persuasion and propaganda may use similar techniques, such as symbols, stereotypes,
and testimonials, the goal of persuasion is to provide new information or existing information
in a fresh light to enable people to make up their own minds. Propaganda, on the other hand,
seeks to manipulate the public’s thinking by deliberately providing misinformation.
Public relations professionals are in the persuasion business. They are advocates for their
organizations; every conversation, every proposal, every media event, and every piece of writing
is intended to influence, build rapport, and win support. But winning support at any cost is
never an option. There may be pressure to twist facts, omit details, or say something that just
isn’t true, but do not bow to that pressure. Once trust is lost, it is hard to regain. In a statement
made at Utica College when he delivered the Harold Burson Distinguished Lecture, John Reed,
an international public relations consultant and veteran practitioner, defined public relations
as “ethical persuasion.” Keep that definition in mind as a writer, communicator, and protector
of an organization’s reputation—and your own.
There are honest and reasonable techniques to make communication more persuasive.
Messages that genuinely appeal to a public’s self-interests, that come from trusted sources,
and that suggest a beneficial course of action can be highly persuasive. These principles are
illustrated in The Air Bag Safety Campaign launched by the National Safety Council. In
response to an increasing number of automobile air-bag-related fatalities, the campaign stressed
the importance of properly restraining children under 12 when riding in a car.
Public opinion research showed that many parents did not know the risks air bags posed
to their children, and that the majority of parents did not take the necessary steps to buckle up
their children. In addition, national crash test data confirmed that the greatest risk was not
the air bags themselves, but the potential for injury should an air bag deploy when someone
is riding without a seat belt. The campaign appealed to the most fundamental of interests:
parents’ desires to protect the lives of their children.
The campaign, “Air Bag Safety Means: Buckle Everyone! Children in the Back,” or the
ABCs of air bag safety, communicated a simple and clear call to action. The key message was,
if you and your children use seat belts, you can avoid injury and a possible air-bag-related
fatality. Information provided to adult drivers also clearly explained how air bags work and
what can happen if someone is unrestrained and too close to the air bag when it deploys. To
strengthen message impact, the National Safety Council partnered with professional
organizations such as The American Academy of Family Physicians, The National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration, and respected safety groups to help educate drivers about air
Chapter One
WHAT IS PUBLIC RELATIONS WRITING?
bag safety. The campaign led to a significant increase in the number of adult drivers properly
restraining children before transporting them in cars and thus to a reduced number of air bag
fatalities. Follow-up surveys indicated greater awareness of the risks of air bags. Here are other
tips for persuasive communication that are supported by behavioral research:



Use a blend of rational and emotional messages. The National Safety Council’s
campaign shared facts, statistics, and results of air bag safety public opinion research,
but it also used the media to publish stories about individual tragedies. This made the
problem real: it added a human face to the problem to which other families could
relate. Generally, messages directed to high-involvement audiences—those already
connected to or inclined to support your organization or cause—might call for a more
rational or factual approach. Low-involvement groups may need to be targeted with
more emotional messages.
Select the most appropriate media based on message content and the preferences of
your target publics. Print media are best when attempting to explain complex subjects,
but visual messages usually have greater influence on attitude change. Know your
public and how it prefers to receive information. The fire department of a northeast
city, concerned about the growing number of inner-city fires, provided information
to local newspapers in hopes of educating residents about fire safety, but with minimal
effect. Upon closer inspection, the department discovered a high rate of illiteracy
among residents in those areas of the city where fires broke out most often. This
prompted a change in strategy that involved using more face-to-face communication
and broadcast media.
Begin and end your writing with the most important messages. Studies indicate that
people have higher recall of information that appears in the opening and closing of
a message.
At the start of this chapter, we described public relations writing as a fine art, one requiring
special skill—a skill that can be learned. To hone that skill, public relations writers must know
all aspects of their organizations; have in-depth understanding of their publics and the media
that reach those publics; possess finely tuned research skills and expertise in communication
and persuasion theory; and be creative, strategic thinkers who can take complex, detailed
material and make it simple and easy to understand.
Note
1.
Malloy, 1995, pp. 148–149.
References and Suggested Reading
Bernays, E. L. (1986). The later years: Public relations insights 1956–1986. Rhinebeck, NY: H & M.
BlackBerry Storm (2008). Available in US, November 21, exclusively from Verizon Wireless. Retrieved
November 16, 2008 from http://news.vzw.com/news/2008/11/pr2008–11–13.html.
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AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BASICS
BlackBerry Storm commercial (2008). Retrieved November 16, 2008 from http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=GmyVzoyY9Jo.
Broom, G. (2008). Effective public relations (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Caywood, C. L. (1997). The handbook of strategic public relations and integrated communications. New
York: McGraw Hill.
Cutlip, S., Center, A., & Broom, G. (1994). Effective public relations (7th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Gordon, J. C. (1997). Interpreting definitions of public relations: Self assessment and a symbolic
interactionism-based alternative. Public Relations Review, 23 (1), 57–66.
Grunig, J. E. (Ed.) (1992). Excellence in public relations and communication management. Hillsdale,
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing public relations. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
Harlow, R. (1976). Building a public relations definition. Public Relations Review, 2 (4), 34–42.
Jackson, P. (1990). PR Reporter, 33 (30), 1–2.
Kitchen, P. J. (1997). Public relations: Principles & practice. Stamford, CT: International Thomson
Business Press.
Lesly, P. (1998). Lesly’s handbook of public relations and communications (5th ed.). St. Louis, MO:
McGraw Hill/Contemporary Books.
Malloy, M. (Ed.) (1995). The great rock ‘n’ roll quote book. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Newsom, D., Scott, A., & Turk, J. V. (1989). This is PR: The realities of public relations (4th ed.).
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Newsom, D., Turk, J. V., & Kruckeberg, D. (2006). This is PR: The realities of public relations
(9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
PRSA Official statement on public relations (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2009 from http://www.prsa.org/
aboutUs/officialStatement.html.
Public relations (2006). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary (11th ed.). Springfiled, MA: MerriamWebster, Inc.
Public relations (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_relations.
Seitel, F. P. (2006). Practice of public relations (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Simon, R. (1984). Public relations concepts and practices. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Smith, R. (2004). Strategic planning for public relations (6th ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates.
Wilcox, D., Ault, P. H., & Agee, W. K. (1989). Public relations: Strategies and tactics (2nd ed.). New
York: Harper & Row.
Wilcox, D., Ault, P. H., Agee, W. K., & Cameron, G. T. (2001). Essentials of public relations. New
York: Longman.
Wilson, L. (2000). Strategic program planning for effective public relations campaigns (3rd ed.).
Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
2
Basics of Public
Relations Writing
In the classic motion picture All About Eve, considered one of the greatest films of all time by
the American Film Institute, Academy-Award-winning screen actress Bette Davis delivers one
of the most memorable lines in movie history: “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy
night.” Davis also has something to say about public relations in the film Hush, Hush, Sweet
Charlotte. When responding to an on-screen character who works in the public relations field,
Davis says: “Public relations? That sounds like something dirty.”
Public relations writers have to master the fundamentals or they, too, will be in for a
“bumpy” career. Another reality is that some media professionals and others in the business
world still view public relations as a “dirty” business, although the public relations field has
made progress improving its reputation. Even so, every piece of writing you create says something about your professionalism and gives you an opportunity to change negative perceptions
of the field. The first news release you write and send as a public relations professional, and
every piece of writing thereafter, will help define your competence. If that release contains
inaccurate information, misspelled words, or typographical errors, your credibility will be
damaged. Your writing, then, has to be correct—legally and ethically correct, as well as grammatically correct. You should choose language and content that are sensitive to the diverse
audiences with whom you communicate. Certain rules of style must be followed.
This chapter focuses on some of the fundamentals important to the public relations writer.
It is not possible to provide an exhaustive review of this subject in just a few pages; you might
also take a look at the suggested reading list for more information. What follows are highlights—
key principles relating to public relations writing, including the rules of grammar, style
guidelines, cultural sensitivity, and legal and ethical considerations. The chapter concludes
with a short section on the importance of rewriting and proofreading.
Grammar
Public relations writing must be grammatically correct and easy to read. Although it was
produced quite a few years ago, “20 Secrets of Good Writing” (Exhibit 2.1) still provides a
good blueprint for the basics of writing.
Exhibit 2.1
Twenty Secrets of Good Writing
Among the compendia of good writing principles one of the best and most useful is this list compiled by
Ken Roman and Joel Raphaelson of the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. “20 Secrets of Good
Writing” sets forth sound, easy-to-follow suggestions for improving one’s writing.
When you are speaking for Ogilvy & Mather, your writing must meet our standards. These allow ample room
for individuality and freshness of expression. But “personal style” is not an excuse for sloppy, unprofessional
writing.
Here are some suggestions on how to improve your writing—20 principles that all good writers follow.
1. Keep in mind that the reader doesn’t have much time.
What you write must be clear on first reading. If you want your paper to be read by senior people, remember
that they have punishing schedules, evening engagements, and bulging briefcases.
The shorter your paper, the better the chance it will be read at high levels. During World War II, no document
of more than one page was allowed to reach Churchill’s desk.
2. Know where you are going—and tell the reader.
Start with an outline to organize your argument.
Begin important paragraphs with topic sentences that tell what follows. Conclude with a summary paragraph.
An outline not only helps the reader; it keeps you from getting lost en route. Compile a list of all your points
before you start.
3. Make what you write easy to read.
For extra emphasis, underline entire sentences. Number your points, as we do in this section.
Put main points into
indented paragraphs
like this.
4. Short sentences and short paragraphs are easier to read than long ones. Send telegrams, not essays.
5. Make your writing vigorous and direct.
Wherever possible use active verbs, and avoid the passive voice.
Passive
We are concerned that
if this recommendation
is turned down, the brand’s
market share may be
negatively affected.
Active
We believe you must
act on this recommendation
to hold the brand’s share.
6. Avoid clichés.
Find your own words.
Cliché
Turn over every rock for a solution
Put it to the acid test
Few and far between
Last but not least
Iron out
Direct
Try hard
Test thoroughly
Few
Last
Remove
7. Avoid vague modifiers such as “very” and “slightly.” Search for the word or phrase that precisely states
your meaning.
Vague
Very overspent
Slightly behind schedule
Precise
Overspent by $1,000
One day late
continued . . .
Exhibit 2.1
Twenty Secrets of Good Writing . . . continued
8. Use specific concrete language.
Avoid technical jargon, what E. B. White calls “the language of mutilation.”
There is always a simple, down-to-earth word that says the same thing as the show-off fad word or the
abstraction.
Jargon
Parameters
Implement
Viable
Interface
Optimum
Meaningful
To impact
Resultful
Finalize
Judgmentally
Input
Output
It is believed that with the
parameters that have been imposed
by your management, a viable
solution may be hard to find. If we
are to impact the consumer to the
optimum, further interface with your
management may be the most
meaningful step to take.
Plain English
Limits, boundaries
Carry out
Practical, workable
To talk with
Best
Real, actual
To affect
Effective, to have results
Complete
I think
Facts, information
Results
We believe that the limits your
management gave us may rule out
a practical solution. If we want our
consumer program to succeed,
maybe we ought to talk with your
management again.
9. Find the right word. Know its precise meaning. Use your dictionary, and your thesaurus. Don’t confuse
words like these:
To “affect” something is to have an
“Effect” can mean to bring about (verb)
influence on it. (The new campaign
or a result (noun). (It effected no change
affects few attitudes.)
in attitudes, and had no effect.)
“It’s” is the contraction of “it is.”
“Its” is the possessive form of “it” and
(It’s the advertising of P&G.)
does not take an apostrophe.
(Check P&G and its advertising.)
“Principal” is the first in rank or
“Principle” is a fundamental truth
performance. (The principal
or rule. (The principle behind competing
competition is P&G.)
with P&G is to have a good product.)
“Imply” means to suggest indirectly.
“Infer” means to draw meaning out of
(The writer implies it won’t work.)
something. (The reader infers it won’t work.)
“i.e.” means “that is.”
“e.g.” means “for example.”
When you confuse words like these, your reader is justified in concluding that you don’t know better. Illiteracy
does not breed respect.
10. Don’t make spelling mistakes.
When in doubt, check the dictionary. If you are congenitally a bad speller, make sure your final draft gets checked
by someone who isn’t thus crippled.
If your writing is careless, the reader may reasonably doubt the thoroughness of your thinking.
11. Don’t overwrite or overstate.
Use no more words than necessary. Take the time to boil down your points.
continued . . .
Exhibit 2.1
Twenty Secrets of Good Writing . . . continued
Remember the story of the man who apologized for writing such a long letter, explaining that he just didn’t
have the time to write a short one.
The Gettysburg Address used only 266 words.
12. Come to the point.
Churchill could have said, “The position in regard to France is very serious.” What he did say was, “The news
from France is bad.”
Don’t beat around the bush. Say what you think—in simple, declarative sentences. Write confidently.
13. State things as simply as you can.
Use familiar words and uncomplicated sentences.
14. Handle numbers consistently.
Newspapers generally spell out numbers for ten and under, and use numerals for 11 and up.
Don’t write M when you mean a thousand, or MM when you mean a million. The reader may not know this
code. Write $5,000—not $5M. Write $7,000,000 (or $7 million)—not $7MM.
15. Avoid needless words.
The songwriter wrote, “Softly as in a morning sunrise”—and Ring Lardner explained that this was as opposed
to a late afternoon or evening sunrise. Poetic license may be granted for a song, but not for phrases like these:
Don’t write
Advance plan
Take action
Have a discussion
Hold a meeting
Study in depth
New innovations
Consensus of opinion
At the present time
Until such time as
In the majority of instances
On a local basis
Basically unaware of
In the area of
At management level
With regard to
In connection with
In view of
In the event of
For the purpose of
On the basis of
Despite the fact that
In the majority of instances
Write
Plan
Act
Discuss
Meet
Study
Innovations
Consensus
Now
Until
Most
Locally
Did not know
Approximately
By management
About, concerning
Of, in, on
Because
If
For
By, from
Although
Usually
Always go through your first draft once with the sole purpose of deleting all unnecessary words, phrases,
and sentences. David Ogilvy has improved many pieces of writing by deleting entire paragraphs, and
sometimes even whole pages.
16. Be concise, but readable.
Terseness is a virtue, if not carried to extremes. Don’t leave out words. Write full sentences, and make them count.
continued . . .
Exhibit 2.1
Twenty Secrets of Good Writing . . . continued
17. Be brief, simple and natural.
Don’t write, “The reasons are fourfold.” Write, “There are four reasons.”
Don’t start sentences with “importantly.” Write, “The important point is …”
Don’t write “hopefully” when you mean “I hope that.” “Hopefully” means “in a hopeful manner.” Its common
misuse annoys a great many literate people.
Never use the word “basically.” It can always be deleted. It is a basically useless word.
Avoid the hostile term “against,” as in “This campaign goes against teenagers.” You are not against teenagers.
On the contrary, you want them to buy your product. Write, “This campaign addresses teenagers,” or “This
campaign is aimed at teenagers.”
18. Don’t write like a lawyer or a bureaucrat.
“Re” is legalese meaning “in the matter of,” and is never necessary.
The slash—as in and/or—is bureaucratese. Don’t write, “We’ll hold the meeting on Monday and/or
Tuesday.” Write, “We’ll hold the meeting on Monday or Tuesday—or both days, if necessary.”
19. Never be content with your first draft.
Rewrite, with an eye toward simplifying and clarifying. Rearrange. Revise. Above all, cut.
Mark Twain said that writers should strike out every third word on principle: “You have no idea what vigor it
adds to your style.”
For every major document, let time elapse between your first and second drafts—at least overnight. Then
come at it with a questioning eye and a ruthless attitude.
The five examples that follow were taken from a single presentation. They show how editing shortened,
sharpened, and clarified what the writer was trying to say.
First Draft
Consumer perception of the brand
changed very positively.
Generate promotion interest through
high levels of advertising spending.
Move from product advertising to an
educational campaign, one that would
instruct viewers on such things as …
Using the resources of Ogilvy &
Mather in Europe, in addition to our
Chicago office, we have been able to
provide the company with media
alternatives they had previously
been unaware of.
Based on their small budget, we
have developed a media plan which
is based on efficiency in reaching the
target audience.
Second Draft
Consumer perception of the brand
improved.
Use heavy advertising to stimulate
interest in promotions.
Move from product advertising to an
educational campaign on such
subjects as …
Ogilvy & Mather offices in Europe and
Chicago showed the company media
alternatives it hadn’t known about.
We developed a media plan that
increases the efficiency of the small
budget by focusing on prospects.
20. Have somebody else look over your draft.
All O&M advertising copy is reviewed many times, even though it is written by professional writers. Before David
Ogilvy makes a speech, he submits a draft to his partners for editing and comment.
What you write represents the agency as much as an advertisement by a creative director or a speech by a
chairman. They solicit advice. Why not you?
Note: Reprinted from Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide
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Part One
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BASICS
Public relations educators would attest that they have seen students year after year make
many of the same mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. The following is
an additional checklist highlighting some of the more common mistakes to help improve your
writing:
Spelling



We learned it in grade school and it still applies most of the time: “i” before “e”
(retrieve) except after “c” (receive). When adding a prefix that creates a double
consonant (e.g., unnatural, misspell), do not drop a letter.
If you add a prefix to a word that creates a double vowel, then you generally include
a hyphen between the two vowels (e.g., re-establish).
When you add a suffix to words ending in “e,” you usually drop the “e” (e.g.,
true/truly). There are some exceptions (e.g., knowledgeable).
Punctuation

Use a comma to separate a dependent clause (not as important as the main idea) from
a main clause (the main idea); also include a comma before a conjunction (and, but,
or) that separates two main clauses:



Commas are used to separate descriptive phrases and supplemental or “add-on”
thoughts that could be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence:


Sue graduated with a public relations degree in May; she plans to move to New
York City and work for a public relations firm.
If words such as “however” or “therefore” are used to connect thoughts, use a
semicolon before the word and a comma after:


Sue, who served as senior class president, graduated from college in May.
Semicolons are used to connect two complete thoughts that form a single compound
sentence, but without the use of “and” or some other conjunction:


After she graduated from college, Sue accepted a job with a public relations
firm.
Sue graduated from college in May, and she accepted a job with a public relations firm.
Sue graduated with a public relations degree in May; however, she will leave the
area and begin her career in New York City.
For a single full-sentence quote, use a comma and place the attribution before or after
the quote:


Sue said, “I’m excited about starting my job at the public relations firm.”
“I’m excited about starting my job at the public relations firm,” said Sue.
Chapter Two

If the quote is more than one sentence, place the attribution before the quote and use
a colon, or place the attribution in between sentences:



Sue said: “I’m excited about starting my job at the public relations firm. The
people there were impressed with my writing and editing skills so I’m glad I paid
attention and worked hard in the public relations writing class.”
“The people at the public relations firm were impressed with my writing and
editing skills,” said Sue. “I’m glad I paid attention and worked hard in the public
relations writing class.”
Always place the attribution in front of a partial quote:


BASICS OF PUBLIC RELATIONS WRITING
Sue said she was glad she “paid attention and worked hard in the public relations
writing class.”
Use a hyphen to connect two words that describe something or someone; do not
hyphenate if the first descriptive word ends in “y” (e.g., well-respected professional,
highly respected writer). Know that certain words (e.g., firsthand, groundbreaking,
marketplace) are not hyphenated.
Sentence Structure

Subjects and verbs must agree; identify the subject as singular or plural, and make
sure the corresponding verb matches:



Nouns and pronouns must correspond; singular subjects/nouns require singular
matching pronouns:




The company (singular) changed its policy after employees expressed concerns.
The board (singular) of directors made its decision at the annual meeting.
The board members (plural) voiced their opinions about the issue.
Related thoughts or phrases included in a single sentence should have like form—
ask yourself if you are using the same verb tenses:



None (singular subject) of the media is coming (singular verb) to the event.
The media (plural subject) are not coming (plural verb) to the event.
Incorrect: Sue enjoys attending the PRSA conference and likes to meet other
professionals.
Correct: Sue enjoys attending the PRSA conference and likes meeting other
professionals.
Use active rather than passive voice in your writing to make ideas direct and crisp;
try keeping the “to be” tense to a minimum to make your writing more active:




Passive: It was suggested by the client that the firm do some research.
Active: The client asked the firm to do some research.
Passive: The issue is being discussed by staff members at the meeting.
Active: Staff members are discussing the issue at the meeting.
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Part One
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BASICS
Word Usage


Use “that” and “which” carefully. “That” is used to identify a specific, individual
item and is not preceded by a comma; “which” introduces an extra fact about the item
and is preceded by a comma. Use “who” when referring to a person, not “that” or
“which.” (Note: Using “that” makes writing smoother and more active; you can often
avoid using “which.”)
• The Web site that Sue created is interactive and easy to read.
• The Web site, which was created by Sue, is interactive and easy to read.
• People who visit the Web site say it is interactive and easy to read.
Make sure you are using the proper word form:


They’re hoping to raise $10,000 at the event. (“They’re” is short for “they are.”)
Their goal is to raise $10,000 at the event. (“Their” shows possession; the goal
belongs to them.)
Simplicity
In addition to using correct grammar, the public relations writer must write simply. To maintain
simplicity in your writing:




Keep sentences short. Experts recommend sentences that average 17 words or so,
give or take a few words. That doesn’t mean you should count the words in each
sentence to see if you exceed the 17-word limit. If a sentence seems too long and
thoughts get hard to follow, write two sentences instead of one. When writing more
lengthy articles, you will want to use some longer sentences to avoid choppiness and
monotony for the reader. Short introductory sentences will ease readers into the piece
and encourage them to read further.
Use words that the average person would know. You are not writing to impress people
with your mastery of vocabulary. Always choose the more familiar word with the
fewest letters and syllables. There are times when you will write for people who work
in the medical field, the financial community, or some other specialized area. In those
instances, it is acceptable to use a few technical words common to that industry. Most
people in the insurance field know what a “deductible” is, for example. Overall,
however, keep the complex words and jargon to a minimum.
Avoid redundancy. Delete extra words that have the same meaning, or that present
the same idea in a different way. For example, don’t write “bad crisis” (have you ever
heard of a good crisis?) or “positive asset” (assets are benefits so how can they be
negative?). When describing something, don’t overstate. Consider this sentence:
“Smith is well educated and has a doctorate in political science and a master’s in
history.” Smith’s degrees indicate that he is well educated so that phrase should be
removed from the sentence.
Don’t write more than you need to. Writing concisely takes more skill than being
longwinded. Be brief. This is especially true for online communications. If you are
sending an e-mail message, try to keep the message as brief as you can and get to the
point right away, in the first sentence or two. Articles for an electronic newsletter
should be a few sentences to a few short paragraphs for optimum readability. In public
relations writing, “less is more.”
Chapter Two
21
BASICS OF PUBLIC RELATIONS WRITING
In addition, every writer should own a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk
and keep it close to the computer. Strunk says it is good writing style to avoid “qualifier”
words such as “very” and “rather,” and to use the simpler versus the “fancy” word: “Do not
be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.”
Style
Effective writing also has style. How is style defined? In the fashion industry, some believe
that fashion designers and celebrities dictate style trends. Others see style as more personal—
clothes that make the individual feel and look good and that help the person establish a unique
identity, regardless of what the “cool people” are wearing. For public relations writers, writing
style is influenced by several factors, including generally accepted rules for good writing, the
writing policies of an organization and its public relations department, and the type of public
relations piece you are writing. You also develop your own personal style, one that comes
across in the words you choose and the way you present them.
Style is also defined by the media and your employer. When writing for the media, public
relations practitioners should follow The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook and Briefing on Media
Law, which is also used by journalists. However, you may choose to use separate style
guidelines for organizational publications such as newsletters and other promotional materials.
For example, The AP Stylebook states that job titles should not be capitalized when used after
a person’s name, so you wouldn’t write a news release and capitalize job titles throughout.
For internal publications, however, your organization may adopt its own style, one in which
it is preferred to capitalize job titles whenever they are used. The key is consistency—make
sure each piece you write for the media follows AP style, and each article for an internal
publication follows your organization’s style. Examples of the some of the most frequently
used guidelines from The AP Stylebook appear in Exhibit 2.2.
Exhibit 2.2
Tips from The Associated Press Stylebook
Numbers and Money







Numbers less than 10 are spelled out.
Use numerals for 10 and greater.
Spell out ordinal numbers less than 10, unless the number is part of a formal name (e.g., 1st Ward vs. first
base).
Numbers used at the beginning of a sentence should be spelled out, even if that number is 10 or above.
Exception: calendar years (e.g., 2008 was a good year). References to numbers as part of a casual
expression should be spelled out (e.g., Thanks a million).
When writing about money, always use a dollar sign and numerals, even if the monetary value is less than
10 (e.g., She gave me $1).
Monetary values less than $1 should be expressed in numerals and the word “cents” (e.g., It cost 50 cents).
Use numerals, even if the monetary value is less than 10, and spell out the word “percent” (e.g., a pay
increase of 3 percent).
continued . . .
22
Part One
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BASICS
Exhibit 2.2
Tips from The Associated Press Stylebook . . . continued
Ages and Dimensions


Use numerals and spell out “inches,” “feet,” etc. (e.g., He is 5 feet 6 inches tall). Use hyphens if the dimension
is being used as an adjective (e.g., The 5-foot-6-inch man).
Ages also are expressed in numerals, even if the age is less than 10 (e.g., She is 8 years old). Use hyphens
if the age is being used as an adjective (e.g. The 8-year-old girl).
Directions and Addresses



In general, lowercase north, south, east, west, etc. Capitalize compass directions when referring to a region
only. (e.g., A storm system developed in the Midwest.)
St., Ave., Blvd. vs. Road, Drive, Circle: When referring to addresses, abbreviate “street,” “avenue,” and
“boulevard.” All other names should be written out.
50 North St. vs. North Street. The above rule applies only when numbers are used as part of the address.
If no numbers are used, do not use the abbreviations for “street,” “avenue,” and “boulevard.”
States, Cities and Abbreviations





Martinsburg, W.Va. vs. Denver: Most cities should appear with their state; however, larger cities may stand
alone. These exempted cities are listed under “Datelines” in the stylebook.
NY vs. N.Y. vs. New York: State abbreviations according to AP style are not the same as postal codes. One
difference is that AP style abbreviations always include periods. State abbreviations should always be used
when accompanying a city; state names should be spelled out if standing alone.
Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, Utah: There are seven states that are never abbreviated
regardless of the circumstance—the states with five or less letters and the last two admitted to the United
States.
U.S. Department of Treasury vs. the United States: Abbreviate “United States” when it is being used as an
adjective; spell it out if it is being used as a proper noun.
NASA vs. C.R.A.P.: Periods are not necessary when abbreviating organizational names, unless the letters
spell out a word that would misrepresent the organization.
Titles




Formal vs. functional: Formal titles, which indicate an authoritative position, are capitalized when used before
a person’s name (Attorney General Professor Jane Smith). They are not capitalized if used after the person’s
name. A functional title, which indicates a person’s occupation, is not capitalized. (e.g., The attorney general
presented her research).
President George Bush vs. president of the United States: Follow the rule for formal titles. “President” is
capitalized when used with a name, but not capitalized when the title stands alone.
Dr. vs. Ph.D.: Use “Dr.” as a formal title when used before a name of someone who holds a medical degree.
“Dr.” also may be used as a formal title before a name of someone who holds a doctorate in a nonmedical
field; however, the person’s academic specialization should be referenced to avoid confusion.
Movies, TV programs, and books vs. reference materials: The titles of creative works should be enclosed
in quotation marks; reference books, such as encyclopedias, almanacs and dictionaries, should not.
Dates and Times

Months are abbreviated when they accompany a day (e.g., Jan. 31, 2009); spell them out when they are
standing alone. Do not use a comma between the month and the year (e.g., January 2009).
continued . . .
Chapter Two
BASICS OF PUBLIC RELATIONS WRITING
Exhibit 2.2
Tips from The Associated Press Stylebook . . . continued

The preferred style for expressing the time of day is to use a numeral with “a.m.” and “p.m.” (e.g., 11 a.m.);
“noon” and “midnight” are spelt out. Caution: If using this format, be careful not to be redundant by using
“this morning” or “this evening.” If you want to use these phrases, indicate the time of day followed by
“o’clock,” although a.m. or p.m. is preferred. Never express the top of the hour with “:00.”
Capitalization

Academic and organizational departments should not be capitalized (e.g., the department of history) unless
there is a proper noun or adjective within the title (e.g., the English department). Departments should be
capitalized as part of a formal name (e.g., the U.S. Department of Energy).
Another factor that defines style is the type of piece written. A news release announcing
a company merger should be written in news or inverted pyramid style. This means that the
release begins with the most important information in the first few paragraphs and concludes
with background material that isn’t as crucial to the story (more on this in chapter 6). An article
for a hospital publication that focuses on the special contributions of a volunteer is written in
feature style, with quotes and interesting details that create a vivid picture of the volunteer’s
personality and humanity.
How the reader is addressed differs between news and feature-style writing. For the most
part, materials sent to the media are written in third person and avoid personal terms; however,
when writing for a specific public, such as readers of employee newsletters or customer
brochures, it is good style to keep messages personal and “you-focused.” Let your writing talk
directly to the reader. For example, “this product will help you and your family live longer,
healthier lives.” The use of “I” and “you” also is common in memos and e-mail communication
to keep messages direct and personal.
There is a broader sense of style that applies to writing, as well. It relates to the language
and techniques a writer uses—those qualities that identify a piece of writing with the person
who wrote it. Think about your favorite musical artists or groups. There’s probably something
that characterizes them—the special sound of the electric guitars, the beat of the drums, the
pitch of the singer’s voice and how that singer holds a note, how a group’s songs often begin
and end a certain way, or common themes that run through an artist’s music. Look at the work
of newspaper columnists, and you’ll see how each has a characteristic style.
Your public relations writing style may not be quite as obvious as the vocal style of your
favorite singer, or as evident as your favorite painter’s style of using shape and colors. Your
style will come through in the way your feature articles set a scene, describe people, and use
quotes; in the headlines and subheads you write for brochures and promotional pieces; and in
the leads you develop for news releases. It’s not something you will try hard to create; it will
come about naturally and feel comfortable to you. People who read your writing will say, “I
could almost hear you saying those words.” Your writing style will be an expression of who
you are, as a writer and a person.
23
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Part One
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BASICS
Diversity, Bias, and Cultural Sensitivity
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 population projections, minorities, collectively,
will become the majority in 2042. The survey also projects that, by 2030, nearly one in five
U.S. residents will be at least 65 years old and that, by 2050, the U.S. population will be made
up of: Hispanics (30%); Blacks (15%); Whites (46%); and, Asians (9%).
Today’s public relations practitioner is faced with a diverse population that is not just
characterized by racial and ethnic backgrounds. Organizations must also design internal and
external communications for audiences and people with varied lifestyles—male and female,
single parents and married persons, gay and straight, part-time and full-time workers. Marketers
are also recognizing the value of targeting diverse groups. Some companies develop specific
marketing communications programs to target the lifestyle and interests of the gay and lesbian
community. Others reach out to the Hispanic population, which, as evidenced in the U.S. Census
projections, is one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States.
Public relations professionals must reflect this diversity in their writing, both in the
language they use and the creative approaches they take. It is more gender-sensitive to use
“chairperson” rather than “chairman.” Women are not referred to as “girls,” “gals,” or “ladies.”
Instead of writing, “A public relations professional should know his audience,” it is better to
make the statement more inclusive:
A public relations professional should know his or her audience.
OR
Public relations professionals should know their audiences.
Writers can use “his” or “him”—they do not have to delete these pronouns from their
vocabulary entirely. If the subject is male, then using words such as “chairman” or “spokesman”
is fine. When a subject could be a man or a woman (e.g., public relations professional), using
the plural form of the subject makes good sense. When using singular pronouns, make sure
you write “her” in some instances and “his” in others to achieve balance.
Some additional sensitive language: refer to senior citizens as “seniors” or “elderly,” not
as “old folks.” “Gay” is the preferred term for a homosexual male, and “lesbian” is preferred
for a homosexual woman; homosexual can be used for both. Persons with disabilities and
serious illnesses should not be described as “victims,” “crippled,” or “suffering from a disease,”
to avoid characterizing them as helpless. Feature writers should take care when describing skin
color and other physical attributes that might stereotype or offend racial and ethnic groups
such as Native Americans, African Americans, and Italian Americans, among others. As a
guideline, always ask yourself whether the information is necessary for the piece you are writing.
On a broader level, public relations writers must understand the culture of diverse groups.
For example, AIDS public information campaigns directed to teens and minority groups have
to take into account distinct aspects of those cultures, including long-held perceptions of the
immoral nature of homosexuality and beliefs that AIDS is a “White gay man’s disease.”
Knowing your target audience also affects your method of delivery. A 2008 tracking survey
conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that 75% of Americans use
the Internet—an important means of public relations communication. According to the survey,
Chapter Two
BASICS OF PUBLIC RELATIONS WRITING
English-speaking Hispanics lead the way in Internet usage, with 79%, compared with Whites
(75%) and Blacks (70%). Eighty percent of suburban residents use the Internet, compared with
those who live in urban areas (75%) and rural areas (64%). Internet usage increases with the
level of household income and education. Though one study alone does not necessarily provide
the whole picture, these statistics suggest which demographics would be more effective to
target by Internet.
These examples demonstrate the significance of culture and lifestyle to effective writing
and communication. Public relations writers cannot just assume which messages and media
will produce the best results, especially when communicating with a population whose traditions
and mindset may be unfamiliar. Research, including interviews, focus groups, and surveys,
can help increase cultural awareness and strengthen the impact of written materials and their
messages. Practitioners should also take advantage of professional development programs, such
as those offered by PRSA (Public Relations Society of America), that focus on multiculturalism
and diversity. PRSA has actively pursued a diversity initiative that, among other objectives,
aims to expand programs featuring diverse speakers and topics.
Legal Issues
Perhaps the most unflattering comment a person could make about something you’ve written
is, “It sounds like a lawyer wrote this.” Now, this is not an attack on lawyers. The fact is,
however, many legal documents are complex and hard to understand. While public relations
professionals should avoid writing like lawyers, they do need to think like lawyers when
preparing publicity and other written materials. For example, consider the following situations:





A news release announces that a new drug is the most effective for reducing high
cholesterol.
A not-for-profit organization creates a series of public service announcements featuring
the songs of pop music stars.
A corporate public relations professional places the full text of a positive product
review published in a trade journal on the company’s Web site.
A school system kicks off a campaign titled “Just Do It,” aimed at increasing academic
achievement.
A story on a new company vice president is published in the employee newsletter
accompanied by a photograph of the vice president and her family.
Now, which, if any, of these scenarios pose legal problems? If you guessed “none,” you could
be right. But if you guessed “all of them,” you could be right, too.
Puffing
The product news release may be okay, if there are substantial scientific data and many reputable
sources to support the “most effective” claim. If not, you may be in trouble with the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC), a government agency that regulates fair trade practices and monitors
advertising and corporate communications for false and misleading information.
25
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Part One
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BASICS
Any communication that includes “puffing”—nonobjective and exaggerated claims that
are hard to verify (e.g., “the one and only product of its kind”)—is subject to investigation by
the FTC. The FTC takes a special interest in prescription drugs and products that position
themselves as safer than others, as well as messages directed to children and the elderly. You
should also familiarize yourself with FTC guidelines for labeling something “environmentally
friendly” and the evidence needed to support that claim. A not-so-obvious problem involves
use of the word “new.” The FTC says any product more than six months old cannot be described
as new, unless the product is being test marketed. In that case, you can promote it as new up
to six months after the product is introduced in its final form. In general, it’s best to stay away
from glittering generalities.
Corporate vs. Commercial Speech
It is important for public relations practitioners to understand the difference between corporate
and commercial speech. Corporations “speak” through various public relations tactics, such
as news releases, letters to the editor, and position statements. These tools allow the corporation
to inform its publics about news going on within the organization, as well as to share formal
opinions and positions. Commercial speech involves communication aimed at making a profit,
such as advertising. While commercial speech is regulated by truth in advertising laws,
corporate speech is not. That almost changed in 2002, however, when a lawsuit nearly labeled
traditional public relations practices as commercial speech.
The case involved Nike, which was being accused of poor working conditions in its foreign
plants and was using public relations techniques to respond to the allegations. Marc Kasky, a
consumer activist from California, sued Nike, claiming the company’s responses were not
corporate speech, but instead were false advertising and, thus, subject to commercial speech
regulations. The first court to hear Kasky v. Nike sided with Nike; however, that ruling was
overturned by the California Supreme Court. The case eventually ended up before the U.S.
Supreme Court, which reviewed it but did not issue a ruling, instead returning it to the lower
court. PRSA, other professional associations, and the media were among approximately 150
organizations that filed “friend of the court” briefs urging the Supreme Court to rule that
corporate speech is protected under the Constitution. Before the case could be reheard, it was
settled out of court, leaving the issue unresolved.
Copyrights
The second and third situations listed at the beginning of this section bring up the issue of
copyright infringement. Copyright protects the unauthorized duplication of original, published
work. Most printed materials, as well as photographs, videos, music, and choreography, are
covered by copyrights. Copyrights protect the “fixed form” in which this material appears,
not the ideas and facts themselves. Original work that is written, designed, or performed is
automatically protected by copyright; it does not have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright
Office, although registration will help protect you if you try to prove infringement in court.
Copyrights are identified by the copyright symbol, (c), along with the year the material was
created and the owner of the copyright.
Chapter Two
BASICS OF PUBLIC RELATIONS WRITING
Ownership of the copyright varies. In most cases, the person who created the work owns
the copyright. However, there are exceptions. Work you create while employed by a company
is owned by the company; this is referred to as “works made for hire.” If you work for a public
relations firm or are a freelance practitioner, the work you create typically belongs to the client
for whom it was created.
Generally, you have to get the copyright owner’s permission, and sometimes pay a fee,
to reproduce copyright-protected work. Popular songs and published media articles are among
the items protected by copyright law. So, you can’t produce that public service announcement,
with even a few seconds of a song, until you’ve secured permission from the record company,
the artist, or whoever the copyright holder is. An article published in a newspaper or magazine
is owned by that publication and is therefore subject to copyright law, so if you want to publish
a media article in its entirety on your Web site, you must contact the publisher for approval
first. Reprints—copies of the article, made for you by the publication for a fee—can be obtained
for mass distribution as well. Services such as Dow Jones Reprints (www.djreprints.com) allow
you to order and distribute reprints by e-mail or display them on your Web site the same day
an article is published. And if you’re thinking about using an illustration of Bugs Bunny, Mickey
Mouse, or some other cute cartoon character on promotional materials, don’t do it until you’ve
cleared it with the copyright owner.
With the vast amount of information available on the Internet, it may be tempting to
download articles, pictures, and videos for your own use, or copy and paste them to your own
Web site. Any original work published on the Internet is protected by copyright, as well. For
example, comments made by someone in an online discussion group technically become the
property of that person once they appear on the screen and are protected by copyright. So, if
you reproduce an article from an electronic publication or download and distribute copy from
someone’s Web site without permission, you are probably violating copyright. Most Web sites
include copyright information at the bottom of the page. The Digital Millennium Copyright
Act of 1998, among other things, gives copy…

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