Public Relations Writing: Lesson #14 - p. 1

PR Campaigns

The subject in this lesson is developing a PR campaign. This is where we look at the public relations writing process from the standpoint of your overall goals, and figure out how to create a coherent message strategy.

Keep in mind that we are discussing PR campaigns centered on "earned media" -- that is, what used to be called "free media" (before PR professionals complained that there's nothing "free" about the news coverage they work so hard to earn the old-fashioned way). We're talking about the PR story we tell, through the media stories we get in print and on the air. We are not talking about the advertising campaign, or other elements of the marketing campaign, even though we make sure we are at all times in sync with those elements.

PR campaigns focused on earned media are a lot more complex than advertising campaigns. As you know from your intro courses, advertising gives you control but it costs plenty. Publicity is free but you lack control. What you gain, however, is credibility -- studies show that news stories are much more believable than advertising. The reason you'll make the big bucks is that you will master ways of changing public opinion through news channels and not advertising channels.

Everything you've learned about developing a message is especially important when planning a PR campaign. As you'll see, with the skills you've perfected over the past few weeks, and particularly in the memo-writing discussion in Lesson 12, you're already halfway there.

Terminology can be confusing. You will sometimes read that "a campaign is a series of coordinated, unified activities and messages" 1 -- that's as good a definition as any. But you will also read about the need for a single, coherent "campaign message." So which is it -- a series of messages, or a single campaign message?

The answer is: both. A campaign requires a single campaign theme, comprised of different messages, which work together to support the theme. I use the word "theme" to avoid confusion -- to avoid having to talk about the overall message and the individual messages.

For example, look at the typical election campaign. In a well-run campaign, there will be an overall message that goes something like:

    Morris Berkeley cares about traditional American values, to guarantee your quality of life. He's not afraid to make the hard decisions, to guarantee social security, to guarantee a strong defense, to guarantee good education and adequate health care for every family. It may be old-fashioned, but it's good advice: you get what you pay for. Go with the Berkeley guarantee and vote for your future. Vote Morris Berkeley for U.S. Senator.

This is a campaign message but we're going to call it the campaign theme for the Morris Berkeley campaign. This theme will be the selling point every time Berkeley appears on TV or makes a speech. By the time the campaign is over, you will hear this theme a hundred times.

But the theme will be supported by media activities like press releases, speeches, and other events, and each separate press release will have its own individual message. For example:

  • At a health care media event, Berkley will announce his support for a single-payer plan. His message will be "Every family, regardless of income, should be guaranteed basic affordable medical care. Every American has a right to a lawyer; they should also have a right to a doctor."

  • At a retirement community, Berkley will come out against privatization of Social Security. His message will be "We made a deal with the American people, when they were working hard to earn their retirement benefits, that they would have Social Security when they retired. We're going to keep our bargain and honor that guarantee. We're not going to put Social Security at risk. "

Notice how each of these messages supports the campaign theme. By stressing his message of commitment to universal health care, Berkeley is promoting his campaign theme of guaranteeing quality of life (even if it means raising taxes). By doing an event showcasing his message on Social Security, Berkeley is again repeating his campaign theme. The campaign theme is constant, the messages are tailored to each event, and coordinated.

Each of these messages -- and many others -- will be the subject of a separate news story. Remember, every story needs its 5 W's, its news angle, and its message. The overall campaign message -- oops, I mean, the campaign theme -- is not enough to earn you a story in the media. Each individual story needs its own message or it's not going to get in the papers, or on the air.

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