To Be Successful, Public Relations Writers Need To Think Like Journalists.
Thomas J. Roach
Newspapers and digital-media outlets can build or destroy the reputations of the companies they write about. They are read by opinion leaders and often quoted by other media outlets. They lend credibility to the stories they publish because readers know that professional reporters research their material and attempt to be objective.
Even though it is easier for a company to put its own story out on social media, it can get more impact from a story if it is printed first in a newspaper and then posted as a link.
If a company maintains a good working relationship with the press, then some stories will evolve on their own. A reporter might decide to do a story on road projects and call the local quarry for background information.
Or, a public relations person at the quarry might call a reporter and suggest a story idea. This doesn’t happen very often, but it is the best possible scenario. The company helps generate the story, but it is written by a reporter and has a reporter’s byline on it.
Most public relations stories are written by public relations personnel in the company and sent to the newspaper. These stories appear without bylines, but still look as though they were written by reporters. Once the stories are published, they can be linked to the company’s website and social media pages.
Good Press Releases
It is not that easy to write a good press release. Good press releases are written exactly like news stories. If they aren’t, then no legitimate newspaper would print them. Journalism and public relations students spend at least three semesters learning how to write in news style. Many in the field of public relations are self-taught through reading and trial and error. Here is an example of what we strive for.
A May, 4, 2017, story by the Chicago Tribune meets the newspaper’s journalistic standards for news value and style, and it publicizes legitimate, positive information about the Ozinga Materials & Logistics quarry in Joliet.
Most importantly, the story has news value; that is, it has an angle that makes it different, interesting, and therefore, newsworthy. The quarry in Joliet is 300 ft. below ground. The reporters, Ally Marotti and Chad Yoder, make the point especially clear by pointing out that the rock that comes from the underground quarry goes to make some of the tallest buildings in Chicago.
In the fourth paragraph, the reporters quote Aaron Ozinga, president of Ozinga Materials & Logistics. The quote isn’t a cliché about jobs or state-of-the-art equipment, it is about the unique story angle. Ozinga said: “It’s hard to believe, (that stone starts in an) underground quarry in Joliet and there it is standing tall in Chicago.”
News stories are written in inverted pyramid style, which means they start out with the most interesting information and then provide background and context. If the company benefits from the story, it happens naturally and with credibility. As the story develops we learn that about 20 employees remove 12,000 tons of rock every day.
Doing Their Homework
These reporters did their homework. We also learn that there are 56 construction cranes operating in Chicago, that the material from the mine is trucked to a nearby port, loaded on barges, and shipped into Chicago. Barges hold 70 truckloads, or 1,550 tons of material.
This is a well-written news story, and it is exactly what a well-written press release should look like. The focus is on creating reader interest with carefully researched facts. The benefit to the company is incidental, and it is based on substantiated reputation, not on hype.
Press releases written solely to suit the tastes of senior management, that myopically focus on company accomplishments, and that disregard news style, will not be printed by legitimate newspapers.
To be successful, public relations writers need to think like journalists. Find a topic that has reader interest, research all the angles, keep it objective and let the good news about the company show up naturally when it is called for.
Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].