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Effective Tools of Public Relations

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Large public relations departments have editorial staffs consisting of writers, editors and production people. Depending upon the particular project, a PR writer might help put together a company newsletter, magazine or newspaper; write articles for trade magazines, prepare speeches and news releases and supervise the preparation of quarterly and annual reports. Rarely do you find PR writers who are involved in all of the above. However, it's safe to say that your average PR writer will be involved in a number of writing projects.

Press Releases: The press release is a basic tool used by public relations writers to gain media coverage. It is a tightly written one- or two-page statement describing an event, news item, product, appointment, or TV or radio promotion. The idea behind the release is to arouse the reader's attention.

Press releases are sent to newspapers, trade magazines and to television and radio stations. When you consider the number of different organizations, businesses and PR agencies that routinely prepare press releases, it's not hard to understand how a press release can be prepared on wide-ranging subjects. Regardless of the subject, however, the purpose of the release is to gain immediate attention.

The best releases are brief. Nevertheless, a lot of time is spent preparing them. A release is written so that its reader can absorb the material quickly without having to go back and read it twice. They're simply written, direct and to the point. In fact, the best of them appear to be deceptively simple. Don't be fooled, however.

It's quite common for an experienced public relations writer to spend a couple of hours writing one release consisting of a little over 200 words. The real challenge is preparing a straightforward release based on weighty, technical material.

An experienced public relations writer knows when a release is accomplishing its goal. If you send a press release to a newspaper or magazine and you don't hear from them, or eventually see anything in print, it's safe to assume your release wound up in the wastepaper basket unread. All too often releases are discarded because they're poorly written, so unclear that the editor can't be bothered deciphering the essence of the story.

This is why public relations writers agonize over the preparation of a single release. If it's about an important event, the release of a new product-such as the announcement of the debut date of the super widget mentioned in the introduction-a great deal of time is invested in preparing a crystal-clear, succinctly written release.

The best a public relations worker can hope for from a press release is a call from an editor inquiring about doing a feature story based upon the material in the release. And even if the material in the release is reduced to three or four lines in a trade magazine or newspaper, the public relations writer has accomplished his goal, drawing attention to his client, project or news item.

In large public relations agencies it's quite common for releases to be rewritten a number of times before they're printed and mailed out. A junior PR writer usually does the first draft before it is turned over to a senior writer for another rewrite. Finally, the reworked copy winds up on a supervising editor's desk where more changes are made.

When the junior writer finally sees his release in its finished form, he's startled to learn that the final copy is radically different from what he wrote. The lead might be shorter and more to the point, and the essence of the story may have been reduced from 500 words to a tight 250 words. Put yourself in the junior writer's shoes, if you can. You would probably be understandably upset when you discover that the final version of the release barely resembles the copy you presented. Yet, this is par for the course and an important part of the process whereby junior writers learn to hone their skills before they advance to the position of senior writer. If you're serious about mastering your craft, you'll learn to put your ego aside and profit from your mistakes.

Take a look at the enclosed sample releases. If you were working on this account, would you make any changes in the releases or leave them as they are?

House Organs: A house organ is an all-inclusive term covering a variety of company publications that represent a vital form of internal communication. It could be a four, six, or eight page newsletter, a company newspaper and even a slick four-color magazine, the kind you see on your neighborhood newsstand. These all fall into the loose category of house organs. They're produced by a company's public relations department and are distributed to all employees.

The rule of thumb is the larger the company, the bigger and more expensive the house organ. International Business Machines (IBM), General Motors and Bausch & Lomb, for example, have expensive four-color magazines that are as impressive as any magazine you'll see on a newsstand. But whether it's a fancy 64-page monthly magazine or a quarterly mimeographed eight-page newsletter, they all serve a similar purpose. They keep employees informed of current happenings within the company such as births, deaths, and promotions, as well as news items and world developments. And if it's an international company, workers can read about how their fellow workers are faring abroad. Company magazines routinely profile workers, giving readers a glimpse of what it's like living and working in another state or, perhaps, another country.

Executives in one part of the country get a chance to find out what fellow executives are doing and how they worked their way up the corporate ladder. All in all, house organs, especially those prepared by the PR departments of sprawling multinational companies, bring employees closer together.

Production: Public relations workers are not directly involved with the actual production of company newsletters, magazines or newspapers. Yet, they are expected to know something about layout, typography and photography in order to supervise the production of them. In producing a company newsletter, for example, the public relations staff works closely with the production staff.

As editor of your company's in-house publication, you have some definite ideas on how the stories should be laid out. First, you want the stories presented in a certain order and then you want them to make an attractive graphic presentation. In order to accomplish this, you have to know something about type styles, crop ping and sizing photos so they fit precisely to your page, and something about preparing headlines that attract attention. Or if a layout for a story or photo spread is not exciting enough, you have to be able to guide the art director so that it is redone to your specifications.

In short, you have to be familiar with every aspect of the publication, from conception of article ideas, production and layout to the actual printing of it. After all, it's your product and you want it to be as perfect as it can possibly be.

Annual and Quarterly Reports: Many public relations writers specialize in preparing quarterly and annual reports. It's not uncommon to find generalist PR writers doing this along with other writing functions. But since it is technical writing, it requires not only good writing skills, but a financial or business background as well. The public relations writer works closely with the company's president or comptroller in reviewing the company's financial record for the past year, along with looking ahead to new developments (new products, increased earnings, changes m staff) in the upcoming calendar or fiscal year.

The quarterly and annual reports are vitally important because they provide an accurate summation of how well the company is doing and what its plans are for the future. And since they're read by potential and current investors, the media and members of the financial community, they must be professionally prepared, informative and well-written. A great deal of care is given to putting these reports together so that they reap positive results. To insure accuracy they're usually sent to the company's attorneys and accountants before they're approved for printing.
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