Archive for the ‘Reading Notes’ Category

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

I found chapter 14 to be quite helpful. It explores the challenge of managing communication overload, as well as the proper format and use of e-mail, memos, letters, and proposals (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques). Although, like many, I have a great deal of experience with e-mail, the chapter offers a few techniques to improve readership. They include:

1) Subject line- Say succinctly what the message is about.

2) Salutation- Address the receiver based on the familiarity you have with the person, as well as the formality of the e-mail.

3) First sentence or paragraph- Get to the “bottom line” right away.

4) Body of message- The length of the message should be no more than one screen.

5) Closing- Sign off with the appropriate closing and your contact information (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Prior to this chapter, I had never heard of proposals in relation to public relations. Essentially, it is a document offering services to an organization. Often times, a potential client will issue a request for proposal and circulate it to various PR firms. The organization will outline its needs and ask interested firms to recommend a course of action (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

A typical PR proposal might include sections about (1) the background and capabilities of the firm, (2) the client’s situation, (3) goals and objectives of the proposed program, (4) key messages, (5) basic strategies and tactics, (6) general timeline of activities, (7) proposed budget, (8) how success will be measured, (9) a description of the team that will handle the account, and (10) a summary of why the firm should be selected to implement the program (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Communication Briefings suggests that the following four major components make proposals more compelling:

1) Show a need. The opening should be tailored to your readers’ needs.

2) Satisfy the need. Suggest how the event would be organized to meet the needs of the audience and the organization.

3) Show benefits. Stress how the event would improve employee morale, increase media coverage, or improve reputation among key publics.

4) Call for action. Ask for a decision (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Chapter 12: Tapping the Web and New Media

Chapter 12 explores the growth of the World Wide Web and social media and its impact on public relations. It offers advice on how to avoid creating a visually boring web page(Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques). They include:

1) Define the objective of the site.

2) Design the site with the audience in mind.

3) Don’t just place existing materials on the site; redesign the material with strong graphic components.

4) Update the site constantly.

5) Don’t overdo the graphics. Complex graphics take a long time to download.

6) Make the site interactive; give the user buttons to explore various topics.

7) Use feedback to evolve the site (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

In regards to building an effective website, the text cites consultant Gordon MacDonald, who says a good website requires the following:

1) You must have the “vision” of how you want your organization to be perceived by the public.

2) You need a copywriter to write the text.

3) You need a graphic artist to add the visual element.

4) You need a computer programmer to put the ideas together in HTML coded fo the Internet (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Jacob Nielson, an Internet consultant, has a list of design elements that enhance usability:

1) Place your organization’s name and logo on every page.

2) Provide a “search” tab if the site has more that 100 pages.

3) Write straightforward and simple headlines and page titles that clearly explain what the page is about and that will make sense when read out of context in a search engine results listing.

4) Structure the pages to facilitate scanning and help users ignore large chunks of pages in a single glance.

5) Don’t cram everything about a product or topic into a single page.

6) Use product photos, but avoid pages with lots of photos.

7) Use link titles to provide users with a preview of where each link will take them before they have clicked on it.

8) Do the same as everybody else.

9) Test your design with real users as a reality check (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

This chapter was helpful in directing practitioners to create effective websites.

Chapter 11: Getting Along with Journalists

This chapter does a great job explaining that public relations is the source that feeds news to journalists. It also illustrates public relations’ dependence on the media to convey messages constantly and consistently in order to inform, to shape opinions and attitudes, and to motivate(Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques). Most importantly, however, chapter 11 emphasizes the significance of journalists and practitioners working together in a cohesive manner.

There are five issues that cause friction between journalists and practitioners. They include hype and news release spam, name calling, sloppy/biased reporting, tabloid journalism, and advertising influence. The text includes many ways to avoid these areas of friction. However, building relationships based on mutual cooperation, trust, and respect is an effective way to eliminate friction (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Chapter 11 includes a huge list of tips on how to handle interviews with print or broadcast personnel. I found the following to be particularly helpful:

1) Determine, in advance, what key point or message you want to convey on behalf of the organization or client.

2) Answer questions, but link them to your key message whenever possible.

3) Anticipate questions and plan answers.

4) Never say “no comment.”

5) Don’t answer hypothetical questions.

6) Don’t speak ill about the competition or other individuals.

7) Always answer positively. It’s the answer that counts, not the question.

8 ) If a question is unfair or too personal, say so and refuse to answer. You are not required to answer every question.

9) Admit that you don’t know the answer if that is the case (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

I discovered something called a press junket, or a press tour, in the text. It’s a variation of a press preview and is also called a familiarization tour. They usually involve invitations to key reporters, bloggers, and experienced freelance writers for an expense-paid trip to witness an event, view a new product, tour a facility, or visit a resort complex(Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Chapter 10: Distributing News to the Media

Chapter 10 discusses selecting the appropriate channels of distribution that will ensure that your materials will reach the correct media and intended audience (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques). It explores the many distribution methods, including e-mail, electronic wire services, feature placement firms, online newsrooms, mail, and faxing.

I found the chapter’s discussion on distributing news via e-mail to be of the greatest help. E-mail is a one of the most widely used channels in the field. Therefore, it is necessary for a practitioner to be very familiar with it. In sending an e-mail news release, one should:

1) Write a subject line that contains keywords and concisely tells the subject of the news release.

2) Put useful information-not contact numbers-at the beginning of a news release.

3) Don’t send attachments unless requested.

4) Provide links to a website that contain additional information and graphics.

5) Try to use bullets for key points.

6) Don’t mass distribute releases.

7) Remember to provide contact e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

8 ) Make sure your news release is factually correct and free of any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.

9) Use blind copy distribution, and don’t reveal your entire mailing list (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques). 

 Many organizations distribute their news releases and publicity materials via electronic wire services, something that I had never heard of before. Its transmission of materials is immediate and perfect for timely disclosure to media over a wide geographic area. Editors and reporters can access lists of news releases and choose those that interest them (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

The most intriguing section in this chapter is on media databases. I had no idea that huge lists of media contacts even existed. They often include such information as names of publications and broadcast stations, mailing addresses, telephone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses, and names of key editors and reporters. Many directories even give a profile of the media outlet in terms of audience, deadlines, and placement opportunities (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Chapter 9: Writing for Radio and Television

The most useful aspects of this chapter are the sections on radio news releases and public service announcements, or PSAs. Radio news releases are like news releases, but have several major differences. Radio news releases are generally written using all uppercase letters in a double-spaced format. Announcements should take no more that 30 to 60 seconds to read. Writing style is more conversational with the emphasis on strong, short sentences. Average sentence length is 10 words (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

The text offers tips on how to write a radio news release. I found the following tips to be helpful:

1) The only way to time your story is to read it out loud, slowly.

2) Convey your message with the smallest possible number of words and facts.

3) A radio news release is not an advertisement; it is not a sales promotion piece. A radio news release is journalism- spoken.

4) Listeners have short attention spans. Have something to say and say it right away.

5) Never start a story with a name. While listeners are trying to figure out who the person is, they forget to listen to the sentences that follow(Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

A PSA is defined by th Federal Communications Commission as an unpaid announcement that promotes the programs of government or nonprofit agencies or that serves the public interest (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques). Radio and TV stations generally provide airtime to charitable and civic organizations as part of their responsibility to serve the public interest. Phil Rabin offers some tips for successful PSAs:

1) Do your research so your PSA reaches the appropriate station and its primary audience.

2) Keep it simple.

3) Always send PSAs to the director of public or community affairs, not the news department.

4) Send broadcast PSAs in different lengths.

5) Establish an effective tracking system.

6) Try to localize your PSA (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Chapter 8: Selecting Publicity Photos and Graphics

This chapter shares a great deal of information regarding publicity photos. I’ve never really thought about publicity photos as being an aspect of public relations. Chapter 8 opened my eyes to the many uses of photos in PR, as well as the knowledge necessary to work with photos. It has helped prepare me to work with photos and photographers in my field.

At the beginning of the chapter, the text offers helpful tips on how to take product photos that get published. Several tips that I found particularly useful include:

1) Show the product in a scene where it would logically be used.

2) Put perspective into the photo so viewers will know how big the item is.

3) Don’t accept anything but the best in photographs.

4) Take at least two photos- vertical and horizontal- of each new product. This makes them adaptable to a variety of situations.

5) The setting should be realistic, with everything hooked up and ready to go.

6) Be sure that the background contrasts with the product. Make the product stand out (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

The sections on contracts and the photo session illustrated the importance of conveying your expectations and proper planning. All agreements made with photographers should be in writing and include fees, expenses, end results, copyright issues, and the nature of photograph use (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques). There are several steps in planning a photo session, including:

1) Make a list of the pictures you want.

2) Know who you need, where and when you need them, and what props will be required.

3) Notify people whose pictures are to be taken. Get releases, if needed.

4) Be sure that the location for the photo session is available, clean, and orderly.

5) Consider lighting. Will the photographer have everything needed, or should you make preparations?

6) Have everyone and everything at the right place at the right time.

7) Tell the photographer what you need, not how to do the job (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Chapter 7: Creating News Features and Op-Ed

Prior to reading this chapter, I thought I had learned all I needed to about feature stories. However, I did not know that there are six common types of features, including case studies, application stories, research studies, backgrounders, personality profiles, and historical pieces (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

A case study is a type of feature that is frequently used in product publicity. These features often tell how individual customers have benefitted from a company’s product or service or how another organization has used the product or service to improve efficiency or profits. Essentially, they are a form of third party endorsement or testimonial (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

The text posed helpful questions to consider when writing a case study. They include:

1) What can be told about the company, its place in the industry, its size, and other details?

2) Why did the company first need the products or services in question?

3) Who was involved in the application?

4) What did the products or services do for those people? What can they do now, as a result of the products or services, that they couldn’t do before?

5) How does the solution save time and money and add quality?

6) Could the company get the same results with a competitive solution? If not, how does this solution provide savings that couldn’t otherwise be achieved?

7) What is the consumer contact protocol? Who should clear and approve the article (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques)?

An application story, which is similar to a case study, focuses mainly on how consumers can use a product or service in new and innovative ways. The advantage to an organization is that it can show multiple, practical applications of a service or product over a period of time, generating increased consumer awareness and usage (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).

Research studies are features that include surveys, polls, and scientific studies which generally pertain some aspect of contemporary lifestyles or a common situation in the workplace (Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques).