Public Relations Writing: Lesson #10 - p. 2

Primary research on the client

Here are some ideas on information gathering adapted from a book about advertising, called Write Great Ads, by Erica Levy Klein:

Keep this three-part list as a crib sheet, and use it to impress a client (and your boss) as you conduct a fact- finding interview to prepare you for a PR writing project. It's guaranteed to help you develop a useful list of "Key Ideas" as you consider a PR plan for a product, service or cause:

Ask the client questions about the product you are being hired to promote. This list of intelligent questions can be adapted for clients who deliver services rather than produce products.

  • What are all the things it promises to do for the consumer? List as many as you can think of.
  • Which of these promises is the most important? Pick just one.
  • In what different ways is the product used? Don't settle for just one answer.
  • What are the characteristics of the product? Describe it in some detail.
  • How is the product different from the competition's? (What does it offer that is either exclusive or better?)
  • If the product isn't really very different, is there some aspect of it that you can stress that the competition has not stressed?
  • Is there any special technology involved in the product?
  • Does the product address any social or other problems. Think creatively: What is the "problem" that this product was developed to "solve?"
  • How is the product currently being advertised or marketed as compared to competing products?
  • How does the it work?
  • How reliable is it? How durable? More than the competition's? (it's not necessary that it be more reliable or durable, so long as it is reliable and durable.)
  • How efficient is it? How economical to use? (e.g., longer battery life)
  • How expensive is it?
  • Is it easy to use and maintain?
  • What kind of consumer has been purchasing the product? What do they say about it?
  • What materials, sizes and models is it available in?
  • How and where can consumers buy it (or is it delivered by the manufacturer?
  • What service and support does the manufacturer offer?
  • Is the product guaranteed?

Ask the client questions about the audience for the company's business in the past, or for the product or service now being developed.

  • Who is most likely to buy this product?
  • What exactly does the product do for the buyer?
  • Why does the consumer need the product? And why does s/he need it now?
  • What motivates that buyer?
  • What is the customer's main concern when buying this type of product? Is it price, performance, reliability, quality, efficiency, availability?
  • What type of person is the product selling to right now?
  • Does the advertising have to appeal to more than one audience at a time? (A toy ad, for example, must appeal to both the parent and the child.)

Request the client's materials to review for policy research and general background. These can include:

  • Article reprints
  • Informational brochures, annual reports, catalogs
  • Technical papers
  • Copies of speeches of announcements
  • Copies of sales presentation materials
  • Audiovisual scripts
  • Press kits or press releases
  • Market research
  • Advertising plans
  • Sales reports
  • Letters from users of the product
  • Back issues of newsletters
  • Files of competitors' ads and literature
  • Internal memos
  • Letters spelling out technical information
  • Product specifications, blueprints, plans
  • Illustrations and photos of product prototypes
  • Engineering drawings
  • Business and marketing plans
  • Reports
  • Proposals

How can this list help you? Okay, imagine you're coming to work one rainy morning... it's 9:40 and you're late because you just missed the bus... the one that threw a big sheet of water all over your slacks (you're still wet from the knees down)... you're feeling a little shaky because you partied too late last night... and there's a note on your chair that the boss wants to see you at 9:30 "sharp!" You walk into her office and see that she's with a new client -- someone who wants a marketing/PR campaign to promote her new product, a kind of artificial leather. You know nothing about artificial leather (or real leather, for that matter) and you're not really ready for this discussion. But you do have your notebook, and in your notebook you have the sheet entitled "Primary research on the client."

Use this information to make yourself -- and your boss -- and your agency -- look good! With this crib sheet, you can look and sound professional, as you interview the client about the product (or service) and the publics you are trying to reach. And you can conclude your part of the discussion by indicating all the other materials you will want so you can begin your work.

Then you're ready to do your Message Planner. With the notes you've taken from this interview, you'll have pages of Key Ideas, and you'll be able to go from the 5 W's directly to the Angle, and then on to the Message. In this class, most of the information you need for your PR writing is spoon-fed to you. In the real world, you will have to gather this information yourself. The above list will help you do just that.

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