25 Criteria to Review Before Writing for PR Purposes

By Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, PRSA-NCC Writing Workshop Instructor

(Next Washington, D.C., workshop, April 30, 8:30-4:30, at The George Washington University. )

Before you write anything for professional public relations purposes, you need to review these 25 accepted criteria to ensure that your assignment is well-written, its structure is correct and its content is sensitive to the needs and interests of the target audience.

These criteria apply to all PR writing. They are based on what PR managers, writers, researchers, journalists, editors, teachers and consultants consider as essential based on their professional knowledge, experience and expertise.

Print the list, which is alphabetical, on a large note card or half sheet of paper you can attach to your computer, printer, bookcase or somewhere else close at hand where you can easily read it.

  1. Accurate
  2. Actionable
  3. AP styled
  4. Attributed
  5. Audience-centric
  6. Benefits focused
  7. Clear
  8. Concise
  9. Credible
  10. Direct
  11. Engaging
  12. Evaluated
  13. Factual
  14. Incisive
  15. Informative
  16. Insightful
  17. Logical
  18. Measured in tone
  19. Persuasive
  20. Positive
  21. Readable
  22. Researched
  23. Simply stated
  24. Strategic
  25. Substantiated

Please share the list with colleagues, students, clients and employers. You have my permission.

About the Author

Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a well-known PR/PA executive, writer, teacher and consultant. He has worked for national and international corporations, nonprofit causes, professional associations and agencies. He conducts writing workshops worldwide. He has taught in China, Japan, Singapore, Italy, Switzerland, Peru, Spain and other countries. Don also teaches graduate public relations courses at New York University and is a senior advisor on PR agency M&A with Gould Partners. He owned and operated The Bates Company, NY/DC-based PR and marketing firm, which he sold after 12 years in business. He is a member of the PRSA-NCC and PRSA-NY chapters, and an honorary trustee of the Institute for Public Relations, which he helped to establish.

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How To Shift Negative Traits into Positive Leadership Attributes

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Guest post by Heathere Evans

My grandmother lived to 101. On her 100th birthday, I asked her to tell me how she managed to live such a successful life. “Everything in moderation,” she said with a little sparkle in her eye. Who knew that Nana’s simple wisdom would prove to be one of the most effective strategies for personal growth and professional success?

In the work I do as a leadership coach, I see over and over how hard we are on ourselves. We all have things we would like to improve. Perhaps you have a list of what you’d like to stop doing, start doing or change. But even self-improvement needs moderation or we can start thinking we’re not good enough, we’re broken. Before we know it, we’re not feeling good about where we are—ever. It’s classic destination addiction, a term coined by my mentor and friend Dr. Robert Holden that describes a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job and with the next partner. This kind of approach to “self-improvement” is the No. 1 cause of self-induced stress.

But what if there’s actually nothing about you that needs to be fixed?

How to Evolve Our Limiting Traits

Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong or broken about any of us. Inside what we consider to be “negative” traits and behaviors we’d like to improve are simply aspects of ourselves that need to be recognized, brought to the surface and strengthened. Most often, our success depends on the ability to make that shift to the strongest parts of who we are quickly and adeptly.

Think of aspects of your (or anyone’s) personality as existing on a spectrum. Limiting traits are on the lower/weaker end and more productive traits are on the higher/stronger end. To reach our full potential, we need to learn to evolve low-end traits to the highest end of the spectrum, so they actually become personal strengths.

This level of growth often takes some coaching, but every aspect of your personality has a gift to give you. The key is to stop looking outside and start strengthening what’s within. Below are four examples of how personality traits perceived as negative are nothing less than strengths in disguise.

PERSONALITY TRAIT SPECTRUM

WEAKEST POSITION –> STRONGEST POSITION

Self-Doubt   –> Skilled Inquiry

If you’re running self-doubt as information or evidence, then it becomes a block. But one of the most important skills of successful leaders is asking the tough questions! Give the Inner Doubter a new job—helping you build powerful skills in inquiry.

Complaining –> Requesting

Recently I worked with a team in the midst of an organizational change that had not gone well. As a result, lots of people were frustrated and complaining. What do leaders do when we notice we’re caught in complaining? Create a powerful request. The aspect of the personality that notices when things could be improved is an important part of who we are. We want to embrace it and give it a job that supports our success by making requests that improve things in our offices and our lives.

Inner Critic –> Inner Coach

The consistency of the Inner Critic is unmatched in its ability to support our success when it is shifted into the Inner Coach. The inner conversation that was negative switches over into one that is encouraging, supportive and helpful.

Relentless self-improvement can mask feelings of not being good enough and keep us from realizing the gifts of who we are. As we grow as leaders in our lives and our workplaces, let’s embrace and evolve our personalities. Here is a coaching exercise to get you started:

Coaching Exercise:  In what parts of your personality do you think “this needs to change about me” or “this needs to be fixed”? See if you can name one talent or skill you have related to it.

About the Author: Heathere Evans, APR is a leadership consultant known for her emotional intelligence workshops and coaching programs that help transform cultures, individuals and brands. She can be reached at pivotincorporated.com, on LinkedIn and IG @coaching.evolved.

How Online Reviews Improve Your Public Relations

By Grayson Kemper, Senior Content Writer for Clutch

People value and increasingly reference online reviews for your company during their vetting process for services providers.

Reviews are the online form of word-of-mouth marketing. Evidence shows that 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

According to a recent survey, almost all consumers (97 percent) take customer reviews into account as they are making purchases. In addition, customers spend over 31 percent more on a business that has predominantly positive reviews on their site.

These statistics demonstrate that online reviews can both influence whether a customer decides to partner with or purchase from your company and how much they are willing to pay to do so.

Given these stakes, your business needs to use online reviews to engage people online and improve your public relations. If you can do so, you open the opportunity to make a positive impression of your business, better promote your products, and generate more sales.

How Online Reviews Can Benefit Your Business

Reviews can improve your relationship with customers. Customers trust and often engage with online reviews. Reviews also can result in increased customer conversions. Customers who read positive reviews about a business have a 133 percent higher conversion rate.

As clients browse the reviews posted on your site, they will gain more confidence in your products and business as a whole.

Negative reviews can actually work in your favor as well. As long as you handle negative reviews properly, you can prove that your business values excellent customer service.

Online Reviews and Directory Sites Help SEO and Web Traffic

There also are SEO benefits to online reviews.

All major search engines offer reviews, such as Google Reviews, particularly for local listings. Allowing your site to be listed and reviewed increases the chances that people encounter and click through to it, which increases your website traffic.

In addition to search engine reviews, you can list your company on directory sites such as Angie’s List or The Manifest. These sites generally rank well in search engine results for a broad array of terms, which presents the opportunity to earn secondary traffic. They also provide an opportunity to demonstrate the results you can produce for your clients, a crucial factor of consideration for every potential client.

How to Turn Online Reviews Into PR Tools

Your business should encourage your customers to leave reviews on your site.

Client reviews largely contribute to your company’s reputation. Positive reviews can increase your company’s credibility. Even if you have negative reviews, you can improve your image if you can demonstrate a sincere willingness to fix an issue or improve on past mistakes.

Online reviews are a powerful marketing tool, as they play a significant role in influencing customer purchase decisions. If handled correctly, reviews can be used as a PR tool to improve the reputation of your business.

Grayson Kemper is a senior content writer for Clutch, a B2B research and reviews firm in Washington, D.C. He focuses on marketing and emerging technologies research.

Hobby Your Way to CEO

By Helen Sullivan, APR, Fellow PRSA

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Are you working too hard to have time for a hobby? Rethink that. If you want to move up the corporate ladder, get a hobby. That’s the takeaway from a fascinating article in the October 2018 Harvard Business Review (HBR).

According to HBR, many CEOs of top companies in the United States have one thing in common: they make time for hobbies they are passionate about, and those hobbies enhance, rather than detract from, their ability to succeed.

According to the article, David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, moonlights as a DJ. Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, plays squash. Whether they’re cycling, studying Taekwondo, being a drummer in a band, playing basketball, building a collection, flying airplanes or fishing, these CEOs don’t just play, they excel. Many attribute their hobbies to their success—teaching them lessons in humility and authentic leadership, providing a true escape, helping them learn never to quit and finding ways to be their best.

My favorite quote was from Andy Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts, who said, “I train a lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and you know, when someone’s trying to take your head off, you pretty much can only think about that.”

Down time is much needed time to refresh your body and soul. Don’t feel guilty on that golf course, race course or online art course–you need that, and maybe your career needs it, too.

Originally posted on the IPMI Blog of the International Parking & Mobility Institute

Get Your Whole Team “On Message” Now: Part 2

Spark Public Relations Cover

This article is excerpted from the book: “Spark: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business” by PRSA-NCC member Robert Deigh

In last week’s blog post, I shared with you two key parts of building your company’s message document, and this week, I’ll highlight the remaining two—must-say messages and “factsheets.”

3) A Dozen “Must-Say” Messages

Using your company ID (the “boilerplate graph at the bottom of your press releases, among other things) as a starting point, your next step is to build a clear, concise set of short messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most. Your first message point might be “XYZCo. is the leading maker of software that enables law enforcement officials to…..”

By answering questions similar to those below, you can build the dozen or so messages that make the case for paying attention to—and doing business with—your company.

  • What are we? What category defines us? Then, what do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them? You’ll end up with something like “XYZCo. is a leading Internet-related, financial services company that enables ordinary people to pay their monthly bills using other people’s money (VCs, take note).
  • Why do other companies do business with us? Because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? Our “first-mover” status? Create a “bandwagon” approach that gives your company cachet through “gilt” by association with other well-known companies. If it’s OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with the US Navy, American Airlines or Wal-Mart, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.
  • What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a pitch for business, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Be sure to include a few easily digestible stats like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.
  • Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.

4) Overall Messages

This is the rest of the information about your organization, the stuff you’ll want to put into a factsheet so everyone on your team will have accurate information. Examples include product lines, past revenue figures, company locations and notable successes.

So that’s it—those are the four key points to your company message document. Get one step closer to having your team “on message” by starting to put these items together for your business.

3) A Dozen “Must-Say” Messages

Using your company ID (the “boilerplate graph at the bottom of your press releases, among other things) as a starting point, your next step is to build a clear, concise set of short messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most. Your first message point might be “XYZCo. is the leading maker of software that enables law enforcement officials to…..”

By answering questions similar to those below, you can build the dozen or so messages that make the case for paying attention to—and doing business with—your company.

  • What are we? What category defines us? Then, what do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them? You’ll end up with something like “XYZCo. is a leading Internet-related, financial services company that enables ordinary people to pay their monthly bills using other people’s money (VCs, take note).
  • Why do other companies do business with us? Because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? Our “first-mover” status? Create a “bandwagon” approach that gives your company cachet through “gilt” by association with other well-known companies. If it’s OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with the US Navy, American Airlines or Wal-Mart, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.
  • What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a pitch for business, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Be sure to include a few easily digestible stats like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.
  • Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.

4) Overall Messages

This is the rest of the information about your organization, the stuff you’ll want to put into a factsheet so everyone on your team will have accurate information. Examples include product lines, past revenue figures, company locations and notable successes.

So that’s it—those are the four key points to your company message document. Get one step closer to having your team “on message” by starting to put these items together for your business.

Get Your Whole Team “On Message” Now: Part 1

Spark Public Relations Cover

This article is excerpted from the book: “Spark: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business” by PRSA-NCC member Robert Deigh

Remember the “telephone” game we used to play as kids? You’d whisper into the ear of your friend something like: “Alf doesn’t know where Kate went” and, after making its way from person to person, the phrase would come out of the last kid’s mouth as “Kate would make a great president.”

The same thing happens in business. That’s because many companies—even large, well-established ones—often don’t make time to define their company and its benefits in writing so they can be understood, and then create a good, solid set of messages. Instead, information gets passed around, email by email, conversation by conversation, until every unit in the company might be saying different things about products and services. The sales people are telling potential customers one thing, the marketers are saying another and the CEO, something else entirely.

The Power of a Unified Message

Customers won’t buy if they don’t understand exactly what it is they are being offered. The same applies to the news media, recruits, partners and investors. If they can’t figure you out, they’re not going to pay attention. Both the definition and the messages can be used by every member of your staff – and others outside of your company who champion your cause, service or product – as a roadmap for effective communication. A group of people, all using the same key talking points consistently is a very powerful communication and public relations tool!

My company, RDC Public Relations, LLC, has worked with dozens of organizations to create effective key messages.

A good message document has four parts:

  1. The company ID
  2. The elevator speech
  3. 4-5 key must-say messages that need to get into all your communications, from press interviews to presentations.
  4. Overall messages: the “factsheet” stuff that everyone on the team needs to know.

In this week’s blog, we’ll explore the first two parts of a good message document, and next week, we’ll take a look at the last two pieces.

1) The Company ID

With a bit more detail, the elevator speech (#2) can be expanded into the company ID (No. 1).  The company ID is most often called the “boilerplate” that lives at the bottom of your press releases. It need not be difficult to create a good, solid definition. Start by looking at what your competitors say about themselves. Yours needs to be more compelling than theirs, of course. So, look at all your communication—marketing materials, speeches, letters, business plans, funding solicitations, the web site and the slogans on those little frisbees you gave out at the last trade show. If you can’t find at least three markedly different ways in which your company has been defined, you’re not looking hard enough. Save the best elements from these if they are any good. Toss the rest, even if they are engraved on the building.

2) The Elevator Speech

Creating a killer elevator speech is critical. It’s the 15-second answer to the question, “So what does your company do?” What they are really asking is “What can your company do for me?” A clear and compelling answer is often an opportunity to interest a potential customer, investor, strategic partner or employee.

Look at it from your customers’ perspective. If you are a gadget maker, it’s not as important what you make as what your product does for the user. If it makes life easier or saves money for people at home or work, for example, say so. No one cares that you “make software” — thousands of companies do. But if you make software that “helps law enforcement officers around the world share evidence and close otherwise unsolvable cases,” that’s compelling. Compare that to “we’re a software company that makes products for law enforcement.” Once you draft your elevator speech, try it out on everyone, particularly employees and customers. They’ll tell you quickly if you’re off base. Then, when you have the right one, go back and incorporate it into all your communication.

That’s a quick look at your company ID and elevator speech and how they’re critical to your messaging. Next week, we’ll explore the must-say messages and “factsheet” for your company.

Media Layoffs and the Future of Public Relations

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Guest Post by Sangeetha Sarma, Account Supervisor at Vanguard Communications in Washington, D.C.

More than 1,000 journalists lost their jobs recently as Verizon Media, BuzzFeed and Gannett announced deep cuts to their newsrooms. HuffPost’s entire Opinion section. Cut. The national desk at BuzzFeed. Cut. Dozens of local journalists at Gannett newspapers across the country. Gone.

It’s a blow to journalism and a shame for the reporters who lost their jobs. While this round of layoffs is the latest in a trend of newsrooms scaling back and realigning their structures to stay in business, it likely won’t be the last.

The effects of these layoffs and this evolving media landscape have an undeniable impact on public relations. And as newsrooms adapt to stay in the game, communications professionals, especially those in media relations, should do the same.

Here are a few tips to navigate these inevitable changes and set yourself and your clients up for long-term success:

Emphasize quality over quantity.

It’s not how many reporters you can send a release to — it’s who you know. (By the way, if you’re still sending a bunch of press releases, stop!) Identify a few outlets that reach your primary audience and focus on developing relationships with reporters covering your issue at those outlets. Three reporters who consistently answer your emails and calls are far more useful than 300 reporters who never respond to your releases.

Foster new relationships.

Now is the time to develop relationships with new reporters who may start pulling double duty to cover a wider range of beats. It’s also the time to consider media outlets and types of media (such as podcasts and smaller trades) you haven’t previously pitched.

Step up your Twitter tracking.

If you have existing relationships with reporters who got laid off or who were key players covering your issue, track them on Twitter. They may get hired at another outlet, and just like that, you have a contact at a new media outlet that you may not have had before.

Expand your communications strategy.

While media relations will always be an important part of PR, it cannot and should not be your only method of communication. Start expanding your communications strategy to include different digital platforms, partnership development and potentially conference attendance. A good communications plan should include multiple channels for conveying your message to your audiences.

Set realistic expectations of success.

Everyone wants a story in The New York Times or one that gets picked up by every major outlet. But, now more than ever, it’s important to manage expectations and set realistic measurable objectives. For example: Aim for developing at least two strong relationships with reporters in outlets that reach your audience, step up your trade media relationships, and track the quality of your hits instead of quantity.

Finally, if you know a reporter who has lost their job, reach out to them. Ask how they’re doing and how you can help.

Public relations can’t survive without media. And the best journalists know that publicists with integrity add tremendous value to their stories. Applying these strategies will enable you to continue to thrive in your career and bring value to your organization or client, even in the face of an uncertain media landscape.