Public Relations Writing: Lesson #2 - p. 3

Items to include on your Message Planner (continued):

  • Message -- this is the most important element of the Message Planner, and it is the culmination of your entire pre-writing process. Look back at your original objective (at the top of the planner), and think about the 5 W's and the news angle ...

    Now put your entire story into a sentence or two -- the main points of the story, what makes it newsworthy, and anything else that you want to communicate for your client, all phrased compactly in a paragraph of one or two sentences.

    One way to think of it: as a short news item. Imagine you're driving home after the press conference, which was a big success. A radio station who received your press release has boiled it down to a short broadcast news story -- 30 seconds or less. What is it that you're hearing on the radio? That's your message.

    Or you can think of it as a sound bite. Imagine your client is the mayor of Turtle Bay, Jimmy Cline. He wants your professional advice: when a reporter asks about this project, what is the 20- or 30-second sound bite -- a couple of sentences -- that he should be prepared to say, that will communicate everything essential about this story.

    Another way to approach it: ask yourself "What's the headline?" That's a common phrase among PR people. It's a good shortcut to the central point. Sometimes a well-crafted headline can help you frame the rest of your message.

  • Visual -- Take a moment to picture your story on TV. What do you want to see on the screen? Think creatively, now, at the beginning of the pre-writing process: You don't want some talking head giving you a 10-second mention. What kind of visuals will help put your message across?

After you've completed the Message Planner, you're ready to write your press release. You'll start with a lead paragraph.

How do a message and a lead paragraph differ? In the same way that your rough draft differs from the final copy of a love letter. Since you're doing your pre-writing for yourself -- no one else (but me) is going to see your Message Planner -- you can feel free to use whatever hype or exaggeration you please. When you turn from pre-writing to writing, you'll "clean up your act," and make your lead more journalistic -- keeping the hype toned down. But your message should be unabashedly enthusiastic -- it should be the theme of your press release, the "take-home" point that you want people to be talking about when your successful PR campaign has done its job.

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