Public Relations Writing: Lesson #2 - p. 5

Planning your Press Release (continued)

In the message planner you will find separate sections devoted to the principles of pre-writing. It is important that you include all these steps for every press release you write in this class from this point forward. Here are what you need to include, in the order that they appear on the Message Planner.

Important note: for your assignments, you don't print out the Message Planner form, or fill in the blanks on it. Just make sure you include all the information indicated on the Message Planner, and include it in the same Microsoft Word document as your press release. It's not the planner form that's important -- I just need to be able to see your planning process. Click here to see a sample of what I mean.

Items to include on your Message Planner are:

  • Client, project, date -- this will be useful information when you have a number of planners to sort through.

  • Objective -- this is where you tie the press release to the overall objectives of your PR campaign. We'll cover this in more detail later. For now, just use common sense to answer the question, "What do you want people to do?" as a result of reading your story in the newspaper. For example, you want people who read the "From the Heart" story to respond favorably -- with food contributions, money donations, and kind feelings toward the civic spirit of the Westland College students.

  • 5 W's -- decide who is to be the focus of your press release. Close your eyes for a minute and watch the movie in your head: who is the featured player? what's happening to your "star"? where is this going on? when will it or did it happen? why is it remarkable, or how is it worthy of note? These are the basic elements of the story and they're what an editor is going to want to know.

    We'll cover the 5 W's in more detail later. For now, just a hint: editors want the "where" to be here, locally, in this town... and editors want the "when" to be now, today or recently or this week or soon.

  • Key Ideas -- often you will have more than one answer to "why" or "how"... in fact, you will have plenty of ideas and partial thoughts that combine to make this story interesting. List them all here. Actually, your key ideas will usually require a full page to list and organize. Put down every idea that occurs to you. If you're using the Message Planner sheet to "fill in the blanks," use the back of the sheet to continue listing all the ideas you come up with. If you're doing your Message Planner as a Word doc, like this , just list all the ideas right after your "Angle."

  • Angle -- you have investigated the details of the story, but it's "not yet news" -- not until you've satisfied the needs of an editor. I call this the "Sixth W" -- "So what?"

    Close your eyes and use your imagination again: imagine a crusty old editor with his cigar hanging out of his mouth... you have rushed up, breathlessly, to give him your story -- Who, What, Where, When and Why... he doesn't even bother to pull the soggy old stogie out of his mouth: he just growls at you, "So what?"

    You need to have an answer ready for that question. Why should an editor "hold the press" for your news item? Is it really news? If I send back your Message Planner with the simple comment, "So what?" -- that's my way of saying you haven't yet elevated your "not yet news" to real news ... you haven't answered the question raised by the Sixth W .

  • Outline of paragraphs -- your first paragraph, of course, is going to be your lead. We'll talk more about that later, but for now you should understand that your lead is going to be your entire story in miniature. It will convey the 5 W's, along with your message, all infused with your news angle -- to satisfy your readers, your client, and above all your editor.

    The rest of the paragraphs in your release will make the points, one by one, to support your lead paragraph. What are those points? What do you need to include to tell the full story of "From the Heart"? Each paragraph should make one and only one point, along with whatever information needed to clarify or emphasize that point. When you have made all the points you need to make to deliver your message, you're done. So at this point on your direction sheet you should simply list (in abbreviated form) the points you're going to make.

Now let's get on to the message itself. Go on to the next page.

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