I Heard It From The PR Girl

Chapter 14: Writing E-mail, Memos, and Proposals

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on April 14, 2010

PR writers are major contributors to information clutter, because their jobs involve the dissemination of so many messages.

“Writers waste too much time producing texts that waste even more time for readers.”  – Richard Neff, consultant in Belgium and writer for the Communication World


“colleague spam” – Wall Street Journal‘s term for when your friends send you the latest joke or the cool video from YouTube

What E-mail does:

  1. reduces the cost of employee communications
  2. increases the distribution of messages to more employees
  3. flattens the corporate hierarchy
  4. speeds decision making

It is effective in

  1. making arrangements and appointments
  2. keeping up with events
  3. reviewing or editing documents

E-mail is not suitable for all person-to-person communication, because it is an informal memo system. Sometime it is best to send a formal letter.

The content of an e-mail should represent you as you want to be seen. Every written communication should be flawless, showing you best work. Think twice about writing something that would be embarrassing to you if the sender decides to forward it to any number of other individuals. Management has the ability and legal right to read your e-mail messages, even if you erase them. There are suggestions about the contest of an e-mail message on page 390 of  Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.).

E-mail Format:

  1. Subject line
  2. Salutation
  3. First Sentence or Paragraph (get to the bottom line)
  4. Body of Message (20-25 lines; single spaced; no more than 65 characters per line)
  5. Closing


Today the standard method of delivery is e-mail for most routine memos.

They can…

  • ask for information
  • supply information
  • confirm a verbal exchange
  • ask for a meeting
  • schedule or cancel a meeting
  • remind
  • report
  • praise
  • caution
  • state a policy
  • perform any other function that requires a written message

Many public relations firms require staff to write a memo when there is a client meeting, because it creates a record of what was discussed and what decisions were made. When writing a memo be specific about what you mean to say. Do not be too vague or give the reader too much useful information.

5 Elements of a Memo:

  1. date
  2. to
  3. from
  4. subject
  5. message

There is an example of a memo’s format on page 324 in Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.).


Letters are printed on paper and are sent via snail mail. They require a  more systematic approach to writing and formatting a message. It is written primarily to individuals when a more formal response is required.

2 Kinds of Letters:

  • Personalized Letter – sent to a specific individual and s the most personal form of letter writing, because a one-on-one dialogue is established between the sender and the recipient.
  • Form Letter – sent to a large number of people about a specific situation. They are often written by PR staff and signed by the head of the organization. They usually give background or an update on a situation affecting the company and a particular public.

Complain Letters include:

  • Thanking the customer for writing
  • Apologizing for any inconvenience
  • Replacing the product or providing a coupon for future purchases

Content of a Letter:

  1. The first paragraph is the most important part of any letter. It should concisely state th purpose of the letter or tell the reader the “bottom-line.”
  2. The second and succeeding paragraphs can elaborate on the details and give relevant information.
  3. The final paragraph should summarize the important details, and let the person know you will telephone them with further details or resolutions.

 See page 347 for format of a letter. (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.))


PR firms ususally get new business through he preparation of a proposal offering services to an organization. A client may issue a RPF (request for proposal), and circulate it to various PR firms.

Typical PR Proposal May Contain…

  • the background and capabilities of the firm
  • the client’s situation
  • goals and objectives of the proposed program
  • key messages
  • basic strategies and tactics
  • general timeline of activities
  • proposed budget
  • how success will be measured
  • description of the team that will handle the account
  • a summary of why the firm should be selected to implement the program

Possible Subjects of a Proposal:

  • to move the office
  • to adopt a 10-hour workday or 4-day workweek
  • to provide a child-care facility at the plant
  • to modify the employee benefit plan
  • etc.

See page 399 for the purpose and organization of a proposal. (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.))

All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)


Chapter 12: Tapping the Web and New Media

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on April 6, 2010

The Internet

Traditional media

  1. Centralized, having a top-down hierarchy
  2. Costs a lot of money to become a publisher
  3. Staffed by professional gatekeepers known as editors and publishers
  4. Features mostly on-way communication with limited feedback channels

New Media

  1. Widespread broadband
  2. Cheap or free, easy-to-use online publishing tools
  3. New distribution channels
  4. Mobile devices such as camera phones
  5. New advertising paradigms

See Traditional Media vs. New Media in Tips for Success on page 307 for more characteristics.

How the internet allows PR professionals to do a better job of distributing a variety of messages:

  • Information can be undated quickly, without having to reprint brochures.
  • Interactivity is prevalent.
  • Linking allows online readers to dig deeper into a subject.
  • A great amount of material can be posted, because there are no time or space limitations.
  • It is a cost effective way of disseminating information on a global basis.
  • Audiences can be reached on a direct basis without messages being filtered through traditional mass media gatekeepers.
  • Information about your business can be accessed 24 hours a day globally.

Website Writing

Visually appealing homepage tips:

  • Define the sites objective.
  • Design the site with the audience in mind.
  • Design the material with strong graphic components.
  • Update the site constantly.
  • Do not overdo the graphics, because they take a long time to download.
  • Make the site interactive with buttons and links. (See page 315 for more information)
  • Use feedback.

It takes 50 percent longer for an individual to read material on a computer screen. Text on the computer is scanned not read in detail.

Online reading is non-linear, which means that items can be selected out of order. This technique is called branching. The basic idea of this is to eliminate the need for viewers to scroll down a long linear document.

Short Paragraphs

  • Helen L. Mitternight says, “Documents written for the Web should be 50 percent shorter than their print counterparts, according to the Sun Microsystems study.”
  • Jeff Herrington, owner of his own Dallas PR firm says that sentences should be fewer than 20 words long and that a paragraph should only be two or three sentences.

See other writing tips from Communication Briefings newsletter and Shel Holtz, author of Pubic Relations on the Net on page 311.

Building an effective website requires:

  • A “vision” of how you want your organization to be perceived.
  • A copywriter to write the text.
  • A graphic artist to add visual content
  • A computer programmer to put it together in HTML code.
  • A considerable amount of time thinking about your potential audience and their particular needs

Gordon MacDonald says, “You have 10 to 12 seconds to ‘hook’ an Internet surfer on your website, or else they’ll click onto something else.”

Additional design elements can be found on page 314.

Attract Visitors to Your Site with:

  • Hyperlinks
  • Search Engines
  • Advertising

Tracking visitors on your site is an important part of site maintenance. It answers the questions:  How well is it fulfilling its objectives? Is is generating sales leads? It is helping the organization establish brand identity?

Tracking Terms:

Hit – the number of requests a Web server has received, not the number of actual views

Page View/Page Impression – the number of times the page is pulled up

Unique Visitor – first-time visitors to a site

See also pages 322 – 345 for information on social media and blogs.

All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)

Chapter 11: Getting Along with Journalists

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on March 31, 2010

This chapter tells a lot that students need to know about the world of public relations.

The Media’s Dependence on PR

“Two-thirds of journalists don’t trust public relations people, but 81 percent say they need them anyway”

Although many reporters deny it, most of their information comes from public relations sources, because they provide a constant stream of news releases, features, planned events, and tips to the media. Reporters do not like to admit their dependence on public relations sources, because they feel it reflects negatively on their ability to do their job as reporters. This is an issue of pride.

Frictional Areas

News releases contain too many hype words such as “unique” and “state-of-the-art.” Journalists see these as poorly written.

Major Complaints from Journalists about PR:

  1. Too many unsolicited e-mails, faxes, and phone calls
  2. Lack of knowledge in the product or service
  3. Repeated calls and follow ups
  4. Spokespersons not available
  5. Do not meet publication deadlines


How to Reduce Sloppy Reporting:

  • Educate executives about how the media operate and how reporters strive for objectivity.
  • Train executives to give 30-second answers to questions. This reduces the possibility of answers being distorted.
  • Provide extensive background material to reporters who are not familiar with the topic.
  • Familiarize executives with basic news values such as conflict, drama, human angles, and obstacles.

Reporters are faulted with not doing their homework on a story before-hand, sensationalizing, and making simplistic generalizations.

How to work with Journalists

Press interviews, news conferences, media tours, and other kinds of gatherings provide excellent opportunities to build public relations peoples and journalists’ working relationships. These face to face meetings will help accomplish the objectives of increasing visibility, consumer awareness, and sales of products or services.

If a reporter calls to request an interview with you, ask the reporter these questions first:

  • Who are you?
  • What is the story about?
  • Why did you call me?
  • What are you looking for from me?
  • Who else are you speaking with?
  • Are you going to use my comments in your story?
  • When is the story going to run?

This allows you to decide if you are qualified to answer the reporter’s questions or whether someone else in the organization would be a better source for the reporter.

PR Firms and Media Tours

A media tour is an alternative to a news conference. Instead of being held in one location, a media tour involves personal visits to multiple cities and a number of media throughout the region. There are two types of media tours, on that aims to generate media coverage and one that aims to provide background and establish relationship building.

When a PR firm is hired to arrange a media tour their job is to

  1. Schedule appointments with key editors
  2. Conduct media training for the organization’s spokespeople
  3. Prepare an outline of key talking points
  4. Make airline, hotel, and local transportation arrangements for each city
  5. Prepare a briefing book about the background of the editor and the publication that will be visited


All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)

There is so much in Chapter 11 that I feel is important I encourage any PR student to read this to become more familiar with the world of PR.

Chapter 10: Distributing News to the Media

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on March 30, 2010

This chapter focuses on selecting the appropriate channels of distribution that will ensure that your materials reach the intended audience.

Media Databases provide:

  1. mailing addresses
  2. telephone and fax numbers
  3. names of publications and broadcast stations
  4. e-mail addresses
  5. names of key editors and reporters

An example:  Cision publishes Bacon’s media directories and two regional directories, Bacon’s Metro California Media and Bacon’s New York Publicity Outlets.

Ruth McFarland, senior vice president of Cision, told O’Dwyer’s PR Report, “The paradox of PR media research is that less is more; the fewer entries you have in your database of regular contacts, the better your results will be.”

Editorial Calendars

These tell you when to approach publications with specific kinds of stories. Certain issues have a special editorial focus.

“Special issues are used to attract advertising, but news stories and features on the subject are also needed.”

MyEdcals has a Google-like database that tracts editorial calendars of about 7,000 publications.


Snail mail has not disappeared from the publicist’s tool kit. Daily delivery of press materials may be prefered by small town weeklies with limited internet access.

Primary Distribution Channels:

  1. e-mail
  2. online newsrooms
  3. electronic newswires
  4. mat distribution companies or feature placement firms
  5. photo placement firms

Fax and CD-ROMs are still used as well.

Remember to keep it short when sending a news release via e-mail, because reporters hate to scroll through multiple screens.

Online newsrooms are often the first place journalists turn for basic information on an organization.

The three major newswires are Business Wire, PR Newswire, and Marketwire.

All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)

Chapter 9: Writing for Radio and Television

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on March 29, 2010

Radio News Releases

  • Write a radio release using all uppercase letter in a double-spaced format.
  • Give the length of a radio release.  (Ex:  RADIO ANNOUNCEMENT: 30)
  • Format for the medium:  “Radio is based on sound, and every radio release must be written so that it can be easily read by an announcer and clearly understood by a listener.”

2 Approaches to an Audio News Release

  1. Someone with a good radio voice reads the entire announcement. This is called an actuality.
  2. An announcer is used but a soundbite is included from a satisfied customer, celebrity, or company spokesperson. This is more effective because it comes from “real person” rather than an unidentified announcer.

Rules for Successful Radio and TV Story Placement:

Topicality:  Offer information on a hot topic

Timeliness:  “Stories should be timed to correspond with annual seasons, governmental rulings, new laws, social trends, etc.”

Localization:  Emphasize local news and make national releases relevant to a local audience.

Humanization:  Bring a human angle into play by showing how they are affected and involved.

Visual Appeal:  Use compelling soundbites and video footage to subtly promote and illustrate.

Public Service Announcement (PSA): FCC defines this as “an unpaid announcement that promotes the programs of government or nonprofit agencies or that serves the public interest.”

All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)

Chapter 8: Selecting Publicity Photos and Graphics

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on March 25, 2010

“A good rule is to not have more than three or four people in any one photo.” Group photos usually do not look good and should not be sent to general-circulation newspapers and magazines.

Experts’ suggestions about composition and clutter:

  • Take tight shots with minimal background. Concentrate onwhat you want the reader to get from the picture.
  • Emphasize detail, not whole scenes.
  • Don’t use a cluttered background. Pick up stray things that intrude on the picture.
  • Try to frame the picture.
  • Avoid wasted space.
  • Ask subjects wearing sunglasses to remove them.

Most captions are two to our lines long. Two line captions are the most effective. These guideline sdo not apply to a photo news release. Photo news releases are photos with longer captions that are distributed to the media without any accompanying news release.

All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)

Chapter 7: Creating News Features and Op-Ed

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on March 7, 2010

Contrasting news release writing and feature writing:

News release writing requires left-brain skills emphasizing the logical, analytical, and sequential development of ideas. Feature writing requires right-brain skills (image-making, intuition, and creativity). Feature leads differ from news leads in that news stories usually have summary leads and feature leads entice the reader to finish the article.

Feature stories have the potential to provide more information to the consumer, give background and context about organizations, provide a behind-the-scenes perspective, give a human dimension to situations and events, and generate publicity for standard products and services.

Keep in mind 3 things when coming up with a news feature:  conceptualize how something lends itself to feature treatment, determine if th information would be interesting to and useful for your audience, and be sure that it helps achieve organisational objectives.

Types of Features:

  1. case studies
  2. application stories
  3. research studies
  4. backgrounders
  5. personality profiles
  6. historical pieces

Historical features have found popularity with the general public. Some appropriate topics include significant milestones, a new CEO, and the one-millionth item produced or sold by the company.

Case studies often tell how individual customers have benefited from a company’s service or how an organization improved efficiency or profits through use of the company’s product.

Parts of a Feature:

  1. Headline
  2. Lead
  3. Body
  4. Summary (the most important part of the feature)
  5. Photos and Graphics


All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)

Chapter 6: Preparing Fact Sheets, Advisories, Media Kits, and Pitches

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on February 24, 2010

Media kits (also called press kits) are usually in the form a folder. Sometimes a more creative packages can be custom- designed or made to make your company stand out.  Some  contain a business card slot and/or slot of CD’s. Media kits usually contain:

1) A main news release

2) A news feature

3) Fact sheets on the product, organization, or event

4) Background information

5) Photos and drawings with captions

6) Biographical material on the spokesperson or senior executive

7) Some basic brochures

Electronic press kits (also called EPKs or e-kits) are more cost efficient to distribute than printed kits. Journalists seem to prefer e-kits. The major reasons e-kits are preferred were storage and filing simplicity, ease in forwarding materials to others, faster access to company or public relations, and elimination of news room clutter.

Two approaches to pitching a story are to distribute the publicity materials and hope yours gets picked or to pitch directly to the gatekeeper if a particular situation or story angle is more special than just the routine news release.

A good pitch has three phases:

1) Researching the publication or broadcast show

2) Writing the e-mail or letter and making the call

3) Following up

All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)

Chapter 5: Writing the News Release

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on February 19, 2010

Various studies show that between 55 and 97 percent of all news releases sent to media outlets are never used. Do these 3 things to make sure your news release stands a chance: 

  1. Follow a standardized format
  2. Provide information that will interest the audience
  3. Have timely material

Do not use bright or dark-colored paper for your news release. If you do choose to use a color, choose a pastel color such as ivory, blue, light green, or pale yellow. The standard news release is written on white paper.

Double-space your news releases if they are distributed via regular mail or fax. Single-space news releases sent through e-mail or ever the Internet.

Standard margins or a printed news release are 2 inches from the top of the page and about 1.5 inches from the bottom of the page.

Parts of a Traditional News Release:

  1. letterhead
  2. contacts
  3. headline
  4. dateline
  5. lead paragraph
  6. body of the text
  7. (additional) short summary of the organization

Make sure your keep news factual and avoid hype. Do not describe products as “unique” or a “total solution.” Use examples to illustrate the product’s assets and distinctness.

All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)

Chapter 4: Finding and Making News

Posted in Reading Notes by laurynwilliams on February 16, 2010

Timeliness may be the most important characteristic of news.  News must be current.  A story angle can be made timely in 5 ways:

  • Announce something when it happens
  • Provide information or story ideas that relate to an event or situation that is already being extensively covered by the new media
  • Relate the organization’s products or services to another event that has national recognition and interest
  • Offer information linked to events and holidays that are already on the public agenda
  • Gear activities around a self-designated day, week, or even month

There are several steps to take to make your efforts in making the news more effective:

  1. understanding news values
  2. targeting the right media with your information
  3. thinking continuously about the interests or the readers or listeners
  4. keeping in mind the objectives of the client or employer
  5. exercising creativity in thinking about how to present information that will meet the requirements or media gate keepers


Advertising and marketing people say that the 2 words they find the most useful are “new” and “free.” The word “free” will be used less.  Be careful not to publish something as new if only the packaging has changed or if it slightly up dated. Most updated models get less media coverage than a new item.

Internal News Sources

Do research on your organization. Look at important papers, for example policy statements and annual reports. Also, review periodicals, clipping files, and other published materials, such as copies of the organization’s brochures, speeches, slide presentations, and sales material.

All material here is quoted or paraphrased from Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques (6th Ed.)

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