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Public Relations Writing: Syllabus


        Marketing Communication Department
        Instructor: Alton Miller
        Course number 54-1701-0x

      COURSE OBJECTIVES AND SYLLABUS

      Class Introduction: Public Relations Writing is one of the requirements for public relations majors. It teaches skills of persuasive writing that will be of great value for anyone seeking employment in any of the information industries, from arts and entertainment to politics. This course qualifies as a "Writing Intensive" course.

      Course Description: ( from the Columbia College Catalog ) The course covers all forms of writing for public relations, including press releases, public service announcements, magazine queries, securing television and radio interviews, coverage memos, media alerts, features, trade press releases, newsletters, backgrounders, and public relations presentations. Successful students will be able to go to job interviews with the assurance that they have had professional exposure to the writing required for a PR career.

      Course Rationale: ( from the Columbia College Catalog) To become employable in public relations today, one must learn to write effectively in the variety of formats expected of PR professionals. This course helps to instill confidence in your preparedness and overcome your fear of writing. It will also prepare you for the writing test you may receive from potential employers.

      Course Objective: The course emphasizes the strategy of crafting and delivering a PR message - not just getting in ink or on the air - with special emphasis on pre-writing, preparation and editing. Students learn to develop a "Message Planner" as a platform on which all PR writing and strategy can be based. The course enables the student to seek out a job interview with the assurance that he or she has had professional exposure to the writing required for a PR career.

      Class Information: I teach two sections of this course: one in-classroom and one online. Typically these classes number about 15; in the summer, classes are usually smaller. For the fall and spring terms, each class meets once a week, at 624 S. Michigan, 8th floor, on Wednesdays. Online students login for course information each Monday: new material is posted weekly in the fall and spring, and twice a week (every Tuesday and Friday) in the summer.

      Class Requirements: Over the course of the term students will write 10-15 releases, PSAs, and other short PR writings, plus one longer piece, which with their final revisions comprise a final project, a portfolio due at the end of the term. The required text is Public Relations Writing Form and Style (Sixth Edition) by Doug Newsom and Bob Carrell. A second text requirement is to read at least one Chicago newspaper daily.

      Class Policies: Short quizzes are used to review discussion and readings. In the fall and spring terms there are both a midterm and a final exam; in the summer term, just a final exam. Grades will depend on attendance and quizzes, exam(s), and on weekly writing assignments which comprise a final project. Our department policy is zero tolerance for cheating and plagiarism. Students should always keep copies of all written work, as assignments may not always be returned.

      What is this class like? -- here are some things you should know:

      • I do not grade on a curve. I am pleased when I can give plenty of "A" and "B" grades, and I give my students every opportunity to perfect their work and improve their grade.

      • You should expect to write and rewrite each press release assignment at least twice. Especially at first, you are almost certainly not going to be able to get it right without trial and error. I will edit and return each draft to you, and you will have multiple opportunities to perfect your work, up till the next-to-final week of this course.

      • Typically, I don't assign a letter grade to a press release until the second or third draft. Except for the first (diagnostic) press release assignment, every release assignment includes a "pre-writing" exercise, worth about 25 percent of your grade. The lead is worth about 40 percent, and the rest of the release about 35 percent. For more precise discussion of how papers are graded, check out Evaluating Press Releases. (Then click "Close" to return here.)

      • Learning to write is not learning a string of "facts" -- it's learning a craft -- it takes time and effort, and what ultimately matters is the level of skill you achieve, rather than how long it takes you to get there.

      Attendance: In-class attendance is especially important, and final grades will suffer from missing more than one class, habitual tardiness or leaving class early, or falling behind the class schedule. For online students, it is equally important to stay current with class readings and assignments. Makeup work will be required for all absences, and assignments are due on schedule, regardless of the reason for the absence. Students are urged to share information - by phone, or online.

      Abbreviated class schedule outline: In addition to the subject of focus of each session, many classes will include writing exercises designed to make you a fast, effective writer of press releases. Note: This syllabus may change during the term, as new opportunities arise. You will be notified of any changes.

      Class One: Press Release Basics

      The basics of journalistic writing - the 5 W's, inverted pyramid ... the importance of story in PR writing... analyzing the elements of a news story... For next class, read Chapter 1 and 9.

      Class Two: Writing for Editors

      The news angle... the role of the editor... what do editors look for in a story? the press release and media alert format... the use of direct quotes... For next class, read Ch. 5, and "Qualities of Good Message Design," pp. 268-270.

      Class Three: Pre-writing and Planning your Message

      The importance of the writing process... outlining, clustering and other ways of organizing information... crafting the message... the importance of revisions and redrafts. For next class, read Ch. 11, and the beginning of "The Creative Process," pp. 256-258.

      Class Four: Features

      Discovering feature material, placement of ideas... Other uses of PR writing for feature stories. Also, press releases for arts events and similar activities... the relationship of the press release to the press kit, and the press conference... For next class, read Ch. 2.

      Class Five: Pitching Stories and Interviews

      Memos, pitch letters and confirmation letters... "scripting" the interview... how to meet the media. For next class, read Ch. 3.

      Class Six: Press Release Enhancements

      Different ways to diversify your style and make your copy more compelling.... different types of press release lead. For next class, read Chapter 10.

      Class Seven: Broadcast Release & PSA

      Four principal vehicles for broadcast publicity... differences in writing for the ear vs. the eye... basic principles of writing for the ear, and formats for the broadcast release & PSA. To help you with the midterm, read Chapter 6.

      Class Eight: Midterm Exam

      Multiple choice test and a writing exercise. Students will be given a total of two hours to complete the exam. Over the semester break, read Ch. 11.

      Class Nine: Video News Releases and Radio Actualities

      VNRs, filmscripts, presentations, visual treatments... how do news outlets use your PR submissions.. new technologies in PR. For next class, read Ch. 14

      Class Ten: PR Writing and the Web

      How public relations professionals are using the Internet... Web-based challenges and opportunities. Writing for Web sites. For next class, read Ch. 4.

      Class Eleven: Research and Fact-Finding

      Fact-finding, newsgathering, organizing your information... essentials for interviews... research tools. For next class, read Ch. 8 and Ch. 17.

      Class Twelve: Planning Memos, Backgrounders and Position Papers

      Public relations writing for internal audiences. Writing backgrounders, position papers and other longer pieces for different publics. Also, discussion of advertising for the PR professional... developing a concept and a visual... stages of creativity. For next class, read Ch. 16.

      Class Thirteen: Speeches and Presentations

      Types of speeches... the mechanics of organization... making brief remarks, presentations, formal speeches. For next class, read Chapter 15.

      Class Fourteen: Public Relations Campaign Design

      Developing the outline of a PR campaign and communicating your ideas to different publics... different types of media kit. For next class, re-read Chapter 6.

      Class Fifteen: Final Exam

      Multiple choice test and a writing exercise. Both in-class and online students will take the class in the classroom. Students will be given a total of two hours to complete the exam.



      Bio outline: Part of your assignment for Class 2 is a brief biographical outline (one page is enough) organized into three topics: (Note: this should be an outline, not a narrative)

      I. Youth

      1. your family background...

      2. where you grew up...

      3. where you went to school...

      4. family life, etc., up through high school...

      II. Current life

      1. your college education...

      2. work experience...

      3. interests in the past four years or so...

      4. up to the present...

      III. Fall 2013

      1. put yourself a decade in the future...

      2. write about what you did...

      3. what you accomplished, in the decade 2003-2013...

      4. be realistic, whatever that means to you...