A fine site

Ethical and Legal Issues in Public Relations Writing

Every public relations practitioner hopes that his messages will be received and accepted by the audience that he is trying to reach. Ethical and legal standards have been set to guide those within the public relations practice in a way that will keep professionals honest so that they remain accountable for information they release. In return, these professionals may win the public’s trust.

Ethics, which are not exercised punitively as law is, is the foundation of trust between PR and its audiences. Often, the public does not trust messages that include persuasive techniques, because it prefers cold, hard facts. Therefore, PR professionals must be cautious to not employ unethical techniques such as fallacies, which are used to intentionally misguide people. Ghostwriting, or writing something for someone else that will be presented from that person’s own point of view (this technique is often used by speechwriters for the President, who has little time to write his own speeches), has often fallen under heavy criticism as being unethical.

Finally, there is law. Everyone (professionals and public audiences) takes law seriously because those who do not are punishable. In the field of public relations, the following are prominent aspects of law: defamation, privacy, copyright and trademark. These protect the subject of a message from having his rights infringed upon.

— Zoe


Chapter 11: Writing for Web and Social Media

Web 2.0

The Internet provides a new way of communicating with audiences, creating a two-way conversation between brands and their consumers. With this new opportunity comes the challenge of utilizing a new writing style in order to effectively communicate. Web writing requires that you know your audience and be concise.

Social Media

A few things to remember about social media:

▪ Be authentic

▪ Anyone can say anything about your brand

▪ Generate quality content to be shared and discussed

Blogs are a relatively new medium for marketers and PR professionals to connect with their audience. Much different from a press release, blogs are more informal and to-the-point, should be easily scanned, and feature the lead in the beginning.

Twitter, (a micro-blogging platform) is an extremely helpful tool for all organizations that wish to generate online conversations.  In Bridie Jenner’s blog post about using Twitter effectively, she states that brands using Twitter should utilize the “80/20 rule – 80% interaction, 20% advertising and promotion.”

Evolution of the Press Release

Today, the standard press release helps reporters and bloggers build their own stories based on yours. The best releases are outward-focused, reflective and short—between 400 and 500 words or less. A common approach is to develop the “elevator pitch,” which is how you would describe the story to someone on a 30-second elevator ride.

Additional press release formats include search engine optimized releases and social media releases, which call for a newer, more innovative way of relating information to the public.  A way for a company to compile all of its information is through an online newsroom, “the media’s front door to the company.” When providing information through any one of these channels, it is crucial to remember to keep your information clear, concise and simple.

Chapter 9: Television and Radio

Broadcasting an advertising message has the power to influence a wide range of people. There are five methods that many public relations writers use to reach their broadcast audiences: news releases, video news releases, radio and television tapes and actualities, interviews and talk shows, and corporate advertising and public service announcements. Video news releases are used at many local news stations that are looking for time-filling informational pieces. Radio and television actualities are used heavily in the news. An actuality is a firsthand account of a news event on tape. By using actualities, it makes stories more credible. Interviews and talk shows are used by local radio and television stations. Corporate advertising is used specifically to promote an idea or image, not to sell a product. As opposed to corporate advertising, PSAs are free to advertise. PSAs are reserved for nonprofit organizations and are aimed at providing an important message to its target audience. 

Broadcast messages are called spots. In television spots, there are various camera shots, camera effects, and transitions that are used to make the advertisement catchy. It also makes the message flow easier.When writing television advertisements, you have to write for the eye as well as the ear. Therefore, it is essential to visualize what your target audience wants to see and put that vision onto paper. After the basic idea is created, the next step is to write a script treatment. This is basically a narrative of the spot. Shooting scripts and accompanying scripts must be written, too. The two most common television spots are talking heads and slice-of-life spots. Both of these have been criticized for certain things, but altogether they have been successful in completing their specific tasks. Another task that should be completed before the package is sent off the a news station is to time and cut the script. Timing is essential in getting the point across in the fastest way possible without rushing it. The script should be cut if there are long transitions, long visuals, or minor characters that are not essential to the main storyline.

Radio is a very flexible media to advertise in. There are two types of radio announcements: spot announcements and as-recorded spots. The difference between the two spots is that as-recorded spots are ready to be played by the stations receiving them and the spot announcements are read by station personnel. PSAs are able to be played on radio stations as well.

Additional Information:

Chapter 6: News Releases and Backgrounders

A news release is information a company or organization wish released to the press, usually through print media.  All news releases should contain at least three elements: publicity, angle, and story.  They are important to PR professionals because it is used to gain publicity, which can lead to more business. It is important that to gain publicity it is newsworthy and reaches the right medium.

Three types of news releases are publicity releases, product releases, and financial releases. Publicity releases cover any information occurring within an organization that might have some new value to media. Product releases deal with specific products or product lines. These releases are normally targeted to trade publications within specific industries. The third type of release is a financial release. They are used normally in shareholder relations, but can also be of interest to financial media.  Other examples are event announcements, personnel releases, and tips/hints releases.

News releases should follow and inverted pyramid style. The most crucial information should come first. The headline needs to entice the reader. It should include the who, what, where, when and why. Then the news release should include the call to action and additional information. Quotes should be included in your press release. To end your release you should include -30-, “30”, or #####. Some tips for writing good press releases are to keep it short, answer the necessary questions, make the news clear, provide full contact information, and avoid promotional information.

Blog Post: Chapter 5, Media Relations and Placement

Creating and maintaining positive relationships with all possible media outlets is key to being a successful public relations practitioner. Since public relations is a form of uncontrolled media, it is crucial for public relations practitioners to package and deliver their information in the most media-friendly forms. There are many things that make things “news worthy” such as if it is unusual or exciting and if the material is time appropriate. News can be broken into two main categories: hard news, information that is time sensitive and has an immediate impact on the audiences receiving it, and soft news, information that will not lose value if delivered at a later time. By thinking like a journalist and creating personal relationships with local journalists, public relations practitioners have a greater chance of having their messages heard and delivered in the way they want it to be heard.

There are a variety of media platforms to which information can be spread. Determining which outlet best fits the information is very important in how successfully the message is heard. Depending upon the outlet chosen, the message must be packaged appropriately. Press kits are commonly used to package and distribute information to the media. These kits include pertinent information such as new releases, fact sheets, newsletters, photos, and a biography. These give the media a broad variety of information to create a news story from. For more information about what to include in a press kit, click here.


Taylor Jackson & Ashton Theiss

Chapter 4: Choosing the Right Message and Medium

Message strategy, or the development of a message, or messages, that will reach and accurately affect your target audience, is extremely significant in the field of Strategic Communication. If missteps are taken, your message may not end up having a positive effect on your target at all. So, it is of upmost importance that students and professionals in the field gain an understanding on how to best go through the process. This begins with deciding whether your message is informative or persuasive. An informative message is intended to provide listeners with additional information on a topic they already have some knowledge on. A persuasive message typically intends to sway listeners into believing your point of view on a product or service by discussing its positive qualities. 

Before deciding on the appropriate media for your message, there is a series of questions that should be asked. These questions include inquiries about what audience you are hoping to reach, what knowledge of media you may already have, what is the timeline your audience needs to be reached by, as well as questions about what media you can realistically afford. It is important to answer these questions before choosing a media for your message, because without this information, your entire message campaign may be done incorrectly. It is also beneficial to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of all potential media. If this process is done thoroughly, your final evaluation of it all should be great!


Chapter 3: Planning and Research

There are many components to a successful public relations campaign. A lot of research must be done to make sure that the right target audience is being spoken to and the right means of media are being used. In order for public relations tactics to be successful, the process must begin with an issue statement. Essentially, it exactly defines and pinpoints the issue that needs to be addressed by communication or marketing. Then, the affected publics and timing must be considered. The affected publics are the personally affected parties that the issue concerns. The timing is vital to public relations because it can progress a campaign, or push it backwards and make it unsuccessful. Strengths and weaknesses of the organization or product must also be considered for strategic planning purposes.

Researching the topic is one of the most important parts of public relations. Both primary and secondary research may be conducted and used. Secondary research is research found in books, journals, the internet, etc.; it is research that has already been conducted by another party. Primary research can include things like focus groups, surveys or interviews; it is first-hand research. After the research is conducted, gathered and reviewed, objectives must be set. Timeline and budgeting for the public relations must be determined and parameters must be set. In order for a campaign to succeed, all of these things must be taken into consideration and executed properly.

Writing for Public Relations

What is Public Relations? Is it a means to an end, or a means to a beginning? Is it a verb, an adjective, or a noun?  Can we even define it? Do we need to? The answer to these questions: YES. Public Relations is an umbrella term for a myriad of different functions, and activities, that keep a company in and out of the publics’ scrutinizing eye. Public Relations is found everywhere from small non-profits to large government agencies. Often mistaken as a universal term, “Public Relations” by law is not used as a synonym for its various sectors. For example, Press agentry is used when the goal is media exposure, promotion is used when media exposure and persuasive techniques are used, and Public affairs is used when PR activities involve the community and government.

John Grunig and Todd Hunt proposed 4 models to help further differentiate Public Relations. The first is the Press Agentry Model, the practitioner acts as a one-sided propaganda specialist, focusing more on gaining media attention for a specific purpose. The antithesis of the Press Agentry model is the Public Information model, which gives the title of journalist to the practitioner, their man concern is finding and providing facts. The Two-Way Symmetric model has the practitioner take the role of a “Scientific Persuader”. They employ research to better understand their public and tweak their messages accordingly. Finally, they created the Two-Way Symmetric model, which puts the practitioner in the role of mediator between communities, Agencies, Regulated Business, etc.

Public Relations should never be considered a job, but rather a passion for those whose creativity and knowledge transcends even the most mundane of tasks. Technicians and managers, and I use these terms loosely for one can act in the role of the other, submit writing through controlled and uncontrolled media. It’s best to think credibility vs. assurance when trying to differentiate these terms. “Uncontrolled media” is forfeiting control over all publications that are submitted by a company; however, the public tends to give publications more credibility when it has gone through a second party source. On the flip side, “controlled media” gives the company a guarantee its publications are published for a specific time and medium. Both have their advantages and allow the desired audiences to be informed and/or persuaded.


Chapter 1: Writing for Public Relations

Public relations is, to my understanding, an umbrella term for a job that helps a company or organization maintain a relationship with its publics or audiences and help them mutually adapt to each other. Public Relations involves a range of jobs such as dealing with media, settling disputes between a client and the public, advocacy, and so on. Although there are many terms within the profession, there are a limited number of actual functions in these roles. Four models were proposed by Grunig and Hunt of public relations that seem to stand true: press agentry/publicity, public information, two-way symmetric, and two-way asymmetric. PR duties can also be divided between being a communications manager (elevate PR campaigns) and communications technicians (provide support through writing). Although the technician is generally the writer, that doesn’t mean that there is no writing involved in communications managing—employers want people who can write and communicate well.
Public Relations writing is meant to establish a positive relationship between an organization and its publics. This can be done through either uncontrolled (information that is in control of the outlet it is sent to) or controlled (information you have total control over) public relations writing. Though there are pros and cons to both, using a combination of both information types is best. There are many public relations tools a professional can use, from news releases, PSAs, annual reports, speeches, and so on. These tools, however, are only effective when used with experience, research, and intuition. No matter what method, all public relations writing must be written well and relate to the purpose, strategy, medium, and format of the subject and task at hand. Typically, PR writing is used to inform or persuade, and the strategy depends on the specific purpose. The medium used effects the format of the writing, intermingling all elements of public relations writing.


Speeches & Presentations

Communicating effectively is vital for someone who is looking to enter the field of public relations or advertising. Without excellent communications skills, the message you are trying to send your audience may get lost in all the clutter. So, this is why knowing how to give an amazing presentations and speeches is vital in this busy communications world. Knowing your audience is the most important part of giving a speech. Without them, you are just talking to yourself. You must use the appropriate language and resources that will connect with your target audience. They are the entire reason you are even making a presentation, so your focus should be on them the entire time. Audiences love eye contact, without it, they will not be interested in what you are saying.

The other very important part of giving a presentation is to be calm. There are many different ways you can achieve this. Some people are naturally just confident speakers. They don’t need a preparation routine or someone to calm them down. If this is you, count your blessings. For everyone else that gets a bit of stage fright, there are ways to overcome this. The first way is to practice, practice, and then practice again. The more you go over the information, the more confident you will be in presenting it in front of an audience. The next way to become more confident in your presentation is to have some sort of flash card or a set of notes to keep you on track. These can be used as reference points for when you get stuck at a certain point in your presentation or freeze up. The final way to overcome stage fright is to just fake it. If you appear confident, you will look confident to them even if you aren’t. And never apologize to the audience for being nervous! Confidence is key to a successful presentation and speech.

18 Tips for Killer Presentations