Public Relations Writing
Introduction to Public Relations
School of Speech Communication
James Madison University
Dr. Michael Smilowitz
What to expect?
• Discuss the rhetorical contract.
• Distinguish journalistic writing from
public relations writing.
• Describe the types of writing done by pr
• Begin discussing the press release.
Public Relations Writing
“Writing does not take place in a vacuum. Every
writer works within the framework of individual
experience, the proper use of the English
language, a sense of personal values, the
purpose of the message, and the effect it is
intended to have on the audience. Public
relations writing is no different.”
Wilcox and Nolte, in
Public Relations: Writing and Media Techniques
The Rhetorical Contract:
In exchange for an audiences’ attention,
speakers, or writers, are promising to provide
audiences with something worthwhile.
To make sure the audience will regard the
message as worthwhile, speakers and writers,
engage in a:
Rhetorical Shift
The Rhetorical Shift:
Preparing a message from
your point of view is not
likely to achieve a positive
To help assure the success of the message, it is
essential to anticipate how the audience will regard
the message from their own point of view.
Differences between Journalistic and
Public Relations Writing:
There are at least three differences:
• Goals
• Audiences
• Channels
Differences between Journalistic
and Public Relations Writing:
Differences in goals:
Journalistic goals:
• Provide news
• Attract audiences
• Appear objective
Pr goals:
• Advocacy for client
• Attract media
• Appear fair minded
Differences between Journalistic
and Public Relations Writing:
Differences regarding audiences:
• Audiences are not
carefully researched
by journalists.
• Journalists write for
the audience of the
medium for which
they work.
• Audiences are
regarded as
Public Relations
• Audiences are
carefully identified
• Pr writers write for a
wide variety of
• Audiences are
regarded as
important to the
client’s needs.
Differences between Journalistic
and Public Relations Writing:
Differences regarding channels:
• Journalists write
typically for just one
channel (medium).
• Journalists have the
channel chosen for
Public Relations
• Pr writers write for a
variety of channels.
• Pr writers often pick
the best channels for
particular purposes.
What do PR specialists write?
• Fact sheets
Descriptions of the who, what, where, when,
why, and how of an issue or an organization
in a brief, easy to read format. Fact sheets
are designed to be informational, rather
than strategic.
Biographical sketches
Fact sheets written about key individuals in
the client organization, including issue
spokespeople and special employees.
What do PR specialists write?
• Backgrounders
Broad reports, sometimes summaries, to
provide journalists, and others, a detailed
familiarity with the client
• Position papers
Arguments that support the clients position
on an issue, or group of related issues.
Evaluating the writing
Beyond the obvious necessities of
readability and grammatical
correctness, written messages should
be assessed for their functional
Evaluating the writing
Patrick Jackson,editor of pr reporter, lists
five questions:
1. Is the message appropriate?
Messages must be appropriate to both the
sender and the receiver.
2. Is the message meaningful?
A message is meaningful if it sticks to its
subject and provides information the
audience deserves to know.
Evaluating the writing
3. Is the message memorable?
A message is memorable if it is geared to the
interests of the audience, and includes verbal,
graphic, and sometimes aural imagery.
4. Is the message understandable?
To be understandable, the message must be
within the audience’s frame of reference and
5. Is the message believable?
For a message to be believable its source
must be regarded as trustworthy and credible.
The news release
The news release is the “meat
and potatoes” of public
relations writing.
Tucker, Derelian and Rouner, point out that PR
professionals must be every bit as good
(maybe even better) than journalists at:
1. Knowing the needs of the audience to
whom they are writing.
2. Knowing the needs of the medium for
which they are writing.
3. Spotting a good news opportunity.
4. Writing a basic news story.
The news release
Tucker, Derelian and Rouner also identify six
questions to ask to see if a story really is news”:
1. Is it new, different, or unusual (or can it be
packaged as such)?
2. Does it have a sense of immediacy? It it timely?
3. Does it affect great numbers of people?
4. Does it involve a prominent individual or
5. Is it controversial?
6. Is it local?
Where are news releases sent?
Daily newspapers
Community newspapers
Specialty publications
Wire services
Local radio stations
Local and national television stations.

Public Relations Writing - James Madison University