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Assignment 1
Readings:
Book Chapters 1, 2, 11, 12, 13
Lecture
Supporting Videos
Campaign Review
Select a public relations campaign now underway and assess it. It should be a governmental or
nonprofit public information project. It can be for a non-profit organization, a governmental state
or national campaign or even a political campaign or ballot initiative.
Find at least three or more samples of the campaign materials (media releases, website posts,
brochures, advertisements, PSAs, etc.). You do not need to provide the materials in your
submission but do describe the materials you found.
Assess the campaign for its objectives, goals, and strategies. Include some ideas of what you
would propose to improve upon the campaign.
The assessment and general recommendations should be 3 pages.
Assignment Grading Rubric
Criteria
At least 3 samples discussed
Points
20
Content:
70
Objectives, Goals, Strategies Discussed as well as Recommendations
Spelling & Grammar
10
Length 2-3 pages
Total Points
100
Public Relations
WRITING
Str ategies & Structures
Copyright 2017 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
From the Wadsworth Series in Mass Communication and Journalism
General Mass Communication
Biagi, Media/Impact: An Introduction to Mass Media,
Twelves Edition
Fellow, American Media History, Third Edition
Hilmes, Only Connect: A Cultural History of Broadcasting
in the United States, Fourth Edition
Lester, Visual Communication: Images with Messages,
Sixth Edition
Overbeck, Major Principles of Media Law, 2015 Edition
Straubhaar/LaRose/Davenport, Media Now:
Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology,
Ninth Edition
Zelezny, Cases in Communications Law, Sixth Edition
Zelezny, Communications Law: Liberties, Restraints, and
the Modern Media, Sixth Edition
Journalism
Bowles/Borden, Creative Editing, Sixth Edition
Davis/Davis, Think Like an Editor: 50 Strategies for the
Print and Digital World, Second Edition
Hilliard, Writing for Television, Radio, and New Media,
Eleventh Edition
Kessler/McDonald, When Words Collide: A Media Writer’s
Guide to Grammar and Style, Eighth Edition
Kessler/McDonald, Cengage Advantage Books: When
Words Collide: A Media Writer’s Guide to Grammar
and Style + Exercise Book, Eighth Edition
Rich, Writing and Reporting News: A Coaching Method,
Eighth Edition
Public Relations and Advertising
Diggs-Brown, Strategic Public Relations: Audience Focused
Approach
Diggs-Brown, The PR Styleguide: Formats for Public
Relations Practice, Third Edition
Drewniany/Jewler, Creative Strategy in Advertising,
Eleventh Edition
Hendrix, Public Relations Cases, Ninth Edition
Newsom/Turk/Kruckeberg, Cengage Advantage Books:
This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations,
Eleventh Edition
Sivulka, Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of
American Advertising, Second Edition
Research and Theory
Baran/Davis, Mass Communication Theory: Foundations,
Ferment, and Future, Seventh Edition
Sparks, Media Effects Research: A Basic Overview,
Fifth Edition
Wimmer/Dominick, Mass Media Research: An
Introduction, Tenth Edition
Copyright 2017 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
eleventh EDITION
Public Relations
Writing
Str ategies & Structures
Doug Newsom
Professor Emeritus, Texas Christian University
Jim Haynes
Southern Methodist University
Australia • Brazil • Mexico • Singapore • United Kingdom • United States
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This is an electronic version of the print textbook. Due to electronic rights restrictions, some third party content may be suppressed. Editorial
review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. The publisher reserves the right to
remove content from this title at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it. For valuable information on pricing, previous
editions, changes to current editions, and alternate formats, please visit www.cengage.com/highered to search by
ISBN#, author, title, or keyword for materials in your areas of interest.
Important Notice: Media content referenced within the product description or the product text may not be available in the eBook version.
Copyright 2017 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
Public Relations Writing:
Strategies & Structures, Eleventh Edition
Doug Newsom, Jim Haynes
Product Director: Monica Eckman
Product Manager: Kelli Strieby
Content Developer: Jeffrey L. Hahn, JLHCG
Associate Content Developer: Rachel
Schowalter
Product Assistant: Alexis
Mackintosh-Zebrowski
Marketing Manager: Sarah Seymour
IP Analyst: Ann Hoffman
IP Project Manager: Farah Fard
Manufacturing Planner: Doug Bertke
Art and Design Direction, Production
Management, and Composition: Lumina
Datamatics, Inc.
© 2017, 2014, 2011 Cengage Learning
WCN: 02-200-203
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this work covered by the copyright
herein may be reproduced, transmitted, stored, or used in any form or by
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2015947424
ISBN-13: 978-1-305-50000-6
Cengage Learning
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Printed in the United States of America
Print Number: 01 Print Year: 2015
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
Dedicated to all public relations practitioners, educators and
students who care about communicating clearly and effectively.
Copyright 2017 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
Brief Contents
Preface xix
PART 1 PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
1. Public Relations and the Writer
1
2
2. Ethical and Legal Responsibilities of the PR Writer
12
PART 2 Writing Principles
33
3. Writing to Clarify and Simplify the Complex: Style and Content
4. Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation
34
58
5. Social Media Writing 75
PART 3 Preparing to Write
6. Research for the Public Relations Writer
7. Writing to Persuade
93
94
127
PART 4 Writing for Select Audiences
151
8. Media Kits, Media Pitches, Backgrounders and Columns
9. Writing for Public Media
152
179
10. Email, Memos, Letters, Proposals and Reports
221
11. Newsletters 245
12. Magazines and Brochures 264
13. Speeches, Presentations and Other Orally Delivered Messages
PART 5 Writing in Turbulent Times
297
315
14. Crisis Communication 316
vi
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
Contents
Preface
P A R T
1
xix
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility 1
C h apter
O N E
Public Relations and the Writer
2
How Strategic Public Relations Writing Is Different
3
Job Descriptions Vary 4
Analyzing, Predicting and Counseling
Competence in Convergence
Reactions and Responses
5
6
7
Stakeholders/Publics, Channels and the Role of the Writer
Setting Priorities and Selecting Channels
The Role of the Writer
7
8
10
Exercises 11
vii
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
viii  Contents
C H A P T E R
T W O
Ethical and Legal Responsibilities of the PR Writer
Core Values and Personal/Professional Behavior
Dynamics
12
13
14
Values 15
Influence of Personal Standards 15
Educating
15
Refusing
16
Requesting Reassignment 17
Taking the Assignment
17
Influence of Organization and Industry Standards
Perceptions
17
17
Organizational Culture and Values 18
Automatic Responses
18
What Happens When You Aren’t Told? 19
Influence of Public Relations Standards of Practice
Accuracy
19
20
Honesty, Truth and Fairness 20
False or Misleading Information 21
Influence of Laws and Regulations
Negative Laws
Contracts
22
22
23
24
Commercial Free Speech
Libel Laws and Privacy Issues 24
Copyrights and Other Rights
Government Regulators
28
Influence of Priority Publics
Shared Values
27
29
29
Adversarial Groups
30
Exercises 31
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

P A R T
Contents  ix
2 Writing Principles
33
C H A P T E R
T H R E E
Writing to Clarify and Simplify the Complex: Style and Content 34
Message, Recipients, Medium
Message
35
35
Recipients: Publics/Stakeholders and Others 35
36
Medium
Style 36
Readability/Listenability
36
Naturalness 40
Variety
41
Euphony
42
Human Interest
42
Trite Expressions 42
Eliminating Bias
Quotes
43
43
Internet Language Use
43
Content: Simplifying the Complex
Know Your Subject
44
47
Use Plain English 49
Take One Step at a Time 54
Make the Central Points Clear 54
Explain the Unfamiliar with the Familiar
55
Make the Message Accessible 56
Tell Stories 57
Exercise 57
C H A P T E R
F O U R
Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation
Ambiguity and Grammar
58
60
That Versus Which 60
Subject–Verb Agreement 61
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
x  Contents
Myths of Grammar
61
Split Infinitives
62
Sentence-Ending Prepositions
Usage Manuals
62
63
Verbs 64
Emotive and Cognitive Meaning
Spelling
65
65
Word Choice and Meaning
Punctuation
69
69
Global English? 72
Always Check
73
Words of Advice to Post on Your Desktop
73
Exercise 74
C H A P T E R
F I V E
Social Media Writing 75
Mastering Social Media Writing
What Is Social Media?
75
The Digital Diamond
76
Channel Indulgence
77
The Voices of Social Media
75
78
The Content Challenge 79
Being Invisible
80
Being Unselfish
80
Insidering
80
Writing for SEO
81
What We Know and Don’t Know
Determining Keyword Phrases
The Science of SEO
81
81
81
Blog Writing 82
One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi …
Break the Rules
82
82
Change the Writing Process 83
Copyright 2017 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).
Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

Contents  xi
Social Media Writing 85
Relevant, Useful and/or Entertaining 85
Invisible
86
Use Hashtags 86
Include a Link (URL)
87
Be Quick, Be Clever
87
Write for the Channel 87
The Science of Short Writing
In the End
P A R T
90
91
3 Preparing to Write
C H A P T E R
93
S I X
Research for the Public Relations Writer
Planning for Research
94
Research in Public Relations
97
Define and Segment Publics
99
Demographics
94
99
Psychographics and Lifestyles
100
Two Basic Types of Research 100
Categories of Research for the PR Writer 100
Storing and Retrieving Research Data 103
Sources for PR Writers and Researchers
105
Secondary Sources for Research 105
Primary Sources for Research 106
Verifying
112
Communication Audits 112
Research Using Social Media
113
Skepticism—A Requisite for All Research
114
Questions to Ask 114
Answers Prompt Questions 115
Position Papers
115
Testing Readability 120
Exercises 125
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
xii  Contents
C H A P T E R
S E V E N
Writing to Persuade 127
Opinion Formation and Change
Opinion, Attitude and Belief
130
130
Models of Attitude Formation and Message Recipients 131
The Influence of Social Media 132
The Nature of Persuasion
Aspects of Persuasion
132
132
Rokeach’s Value Hierarchy 134
Steps in the Persuasion Process 135
Typology of Steps in Persuasion
Persuasion and Logic
Expectations
137
137
138
Experience
138
Perceptions
138
Connections
139
Values 139
Persuasion and Communication
Source
140
Message
141
Medium
143
Public
139
145
Effect 146
An Alternative Theory
147
Five Ideas to Keep in Mind
148
Exercises 149
P A R T
4 Writing for Select Audiences 151
C H A P T E R
E I G H T
Media Kits, Media Pitches, Backgrounders and Columns
Media Kit Use
152
154
Media Kits for Special Events 155
Media Credentials
163
Materials for Media Rooms—Crises and Special Events 163
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

Contents  xiii
Media Pitches
165
Be Prepared and Be Persistent
165
Keep It Short and Use Email
167
Backgrounders
Format
169
175
Columns
175
Public Service Announcements 177
Online PSAs
Exercises
178
178
C H A P T E R
N I N E
Writing for Public Media 179
Opportunities for News and Information
News Releases
179
180
Who Gets News Releases? 183
183
What Is News?
Writing News Releases and Structure
Approach
183
183
News Writing Style 187
Electronic Transmission of Releases and Distribution
Types of Releases
188
188
News for Broadcasting
190
Facts, Sights and Sounds 191
191
Announcements
News Conferences 192
Broadcast News Releases 195
Broadcast News Writing Style
196
Physical Preparation 198
Structural Considerations 200
Supplying Pictures and Sound 202
News Features
203
Digital Delivery and Use 203
PR As Broadcast News Suppliers
204
VNRs 204
News on Call
Talk Shows
205
205
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
xiv  Contents
Handling Messages During Crises
Advertising Now in the Mix
206
Advertising as a Persuasive Force
Appeal
206
207
207
Positioning
Behavior
208
209
Basic Guidelines for Writing Advertising Copy
Purpose
210
210
Objective Facts
210
The Publics 211
Media
211
The Creative Approach
Visualization
211
212
Language 215
Repetition
215
Writing Advertising Copy for Electronic Media—Television,
Radio, Online 216
Copywriting for TV Commercials or Public Service Announcements
217
Copywriting for Radio Commercials or PSAs 217
Government Regulations 218
Exercises 219
C H A P T E R
T E N
Email, Memos, Letters, Proposals and Reports
Email
221
221
Formats and Content
224
Style 225
Memos
226
Memo Formats
226
Classifications of Memos 229
Factors Affecting the Use of Memos 232
Letters 233
Business Letter Format
Types of Letters
233
235
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

Contents  xv
Proposals and Reports
237
Proposals and Reports Compared
237
Organization of Proposals and Reports 238
Readability and Applicability
240
Annual Reports 241
Direct Response and Direct Advertising 241
Out-of-Home Media
Sales Promotion
242
243
Exercises 244
C H A P T E R
Newsletters
E L E V E N
245
Criteria for Successful Newsletters
246
Filling Unmet Needs 248
Uniqueness
250
250
Writing
Distribution
250
Knowledge and Skills
Frequency
Format
251
251
252
Types and Functions of Newsletters
253
Employee and Member Newsletters
253
Special-Interest Subscriber Newsletters
255
Technical and Content Considerations 256
Reporting and Writing for Newsletters
Writing Tips for Newsletters
256
258
Fitting Newsletter Copy and Design 258
Writing and Designing Newsletters on Computers
Designing
261
261
Exercises 263
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
xvi  Contents
C H A P T E R
T W E L V E
Magazines and Brochures
264
Magazines 264
Topics
265
Employee Publications 270
Association Publications
271
Trade and Industry Publications 271
Corporate Publications for the Public 275
Brochures 275
Purpose
281
Persuade
281
Inform and Educate
Concept
282
282
Purpose and Object
282
Giving Shape to Information
284
Rules 284
Accuracy
285
285
Active Voice
Style 285
Tone
285
Visuals
286
Designing Brochures 287
Format
287
Using Computer Templates 290
Type
290
Paper
291
White Space
Color
292
292
Reproduction
293
Letterpress
293
Offset 294
Gravure
294
Distribution 294
Exercises 295
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

Contents  xvii
C H A P T E R
T H I R T E E N
Speeches, Presentations and Other Orally Delivered Messages 297
Speeches
298
Visualizing the Setting as You Write
Types of Speeches
299
Paring and Timing
302
299
Persuading 303
The Mechanics of Organization
Style
303
303
Setting the Stage and Writing the Finale 306
Presentation Scripts 306
Differences and Similarities 306
Types of Presentations 307
Planning
307
Development
308
Matching Words and Sights 308
Computer Advantages/Disadvantages
310
Other Speech/Presentation Occasions
311
Media Interviews
312
News Conferences
313
Evaluations
313
Exercises 314
P A R T
5 Writing in Turbulent Times 315
C H A P T E R
F O U R T E E N
Crisis Communication 316
General Motors Recalls
317
Planning for Crisis Situations
Corporate Information
Crisis Planning
Precrisis Planning
320
320
322
323
Triggering Event/Initial Phase 327
Communication During the Crisis
Resolution/Recovery
329
331
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
xviii  Contents
Overall Public Relations Plan 332
Review, Revise and Affirm the Mission Statement
332
Examine the Present Situation 332
Analyze the Data
334
Prepare Forecasts 334
Write Statements of Objectives and Goals
335
Develop Strategies 335
Define, Prioritize and Analyze Publics
Prioritizing Publics
335
336
Prepare Message Strategies and Statements
Develop Media Strategy/Mix
Strategic Use of Media
336
336
337
Develop Schedule, Assign Responsibilities and
Establish Budget 337
Tactical Implementation
338
Devise Monitoring and Measurement Systems and Procedures
Exercises
338
340
Notes 342
Index 351
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
Preface
W
elcome to this 11th edition of Public Relations Writing. The authors are the same,
Doug Newsom and Jim Haynes, PRSA Fellows with years of practice, university teaching
and many workshops at home and abroad. What is different is a slight change in the book’s
subtitle to Strategies and Structures.
Inside you’ll find many changes in the chapters, since the field is constantly in flux.
We welcomed a new colleague to handle the social media chapter for us: Steve Lee, whose
business has been digital communication since its inception in 1998 and thus the focus
of his teaching experience as an adjunct and workshop presenter. The Internet and social
media have affected the way all of us communicate, professionally and personally. To quote
Lee, “Social media has become such a vital tool for public relations practitioners that the
majority of public relations and communications managers believe that understanding
how to use and manage social media channels is essential to success.”
Use the text as a home base to alert you to “learning/teaching” examples you encounter
daily. Practitioners and professors always are sensitive to incidents in all media that create
learning opportunities. Public relations practitioners—especially those in firms and
agencies—discover, discuss and critique incidents daily to help guide their practices. For
professors, such incidents are the next presentation for their classes, and the examples are
always at your fingertips to show, talk and tell.
We, as authors, cannot update any textbook fast enough to keep up, but we welcome
your inquiries, ideas and initiatives. You can find us at doug.n@att.net and jhaynes1102@
sbcglobal.net.
Doug Newsom and Jim Haynes
xix
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
xx  Preface
Acknowledgments
We would like to express our gratitude to colleagues, practitioners and students who offered
informal comments on the book and to more formal directions from reviewers who recommended changes and offered guidance and suggestions for this edition.
We also are very grateful for the many who signed permissions for us to use materials
that appear in the illustrations.
We ’d also like to thank the dedicated team at Cengage Learning for their support,
mainly Kelli Strieby, Product Manager, and Jeffrey Hahn, Content Developer. Thanks also
to Jyotsna Ojha, Project Manager at Lumina Datamatics.
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
PA RT
1
PR Writing:
Role and
Responsibility
Finding facts, communicating
effectively in all media, knowing the
law and being ethical—all are essential
for the PR writer.
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Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.
C h apt e r
O N E
Public Relations
and the Writer
W
hat an exciting time to be a writer. Your message can be crafted for any medium you
can imagine, from an electronic app to moving billboard to a tweet, a blog, a newspaper or
magazine piece, a video feature, a television story or a serious white paper for research and
policy recommendations.
The key words are story and purpose. The audience is a given.
In a world of instant communication, all messages are simultaneously local and
global.
You will be telling an organization’s story whatever you write.
The story must be told concisely with clarity, accuracy and memorability.
Writing coach Paula LaRocque in a twist of the idea that all one learns about living is
absorbed in kindergarten says to think of nursery rhymes.
“[W]hen approaching a story, we’ll do well to remember that old Mother Hubbard
went to the cupboard to fetch her poor dog a bone. And that the cow jumped over the
moon, And that the owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat.
“Actor, action, acted upon: the clearest and most logical syntax English can devise. No
wonder the bright beginnings of nursery rhymes have pleased readers for centuries.”1
Good advice for engaging attention is being clear and memorable.
Your pattern for development of every piece of writing, regardless of medium,
will be:
Purpose—telling an organization’s story in terms of what it is, what it does and why it matters.
Building relationships—tying the organization to those exposed to the communication, however,
wherever and whoever these might be.
Writing strategically—delivering a message effectively to get the desired response.
2
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Chapter ONE
Public Relations and the Writer    3
Communication is wasted if it fails in any of these three.
You should be able to state the purpose in a single declarative sentence, keeping in
mind the expected reaction or response so your message will bring the intended results.
You also want to know if there are unintended reactions or responses, so you need to keep
in mind how to monitor messages to produce prompt, thoughtful reactions.
How Strategic Public Relations Writing Is Different
You may be thinking that you have been writing this way all along. You have sent text
messages, posted and responded to Facebook comments, sent Instagrams, shared videos
and such. The difference is that these were your creations for your own purposes or
reasons. When you write for an organization either as an internal public relations writer or
for a client in an agency or a firm, your message is to achieve a business goal for that organization, whether it is nonprofit or for profit.
Public relations is the strategic management function that helps an organization
achieve its goals and objectives through building and maintaining goodwill with its various
stakeholders/publics. Effective public relations writers are critical to that success. Your
writing is purposeful, persuasive and principled. Principled? Absolutely. You didn’t see
“spinning” in that sentence, did you? Clients and employers may not understand this, but it
is imperative that you do, as a writer. What PR writers do, the legal and ethical responsibilities involved and what they accomplish for their employers, institutions or clients, is the
topic of this first section.
As more public relations units identify their titles as “strategic communication,” that
often indicates an integrated communications practice involving both advertising and
public relations. Technological changes have already blurred the lines anyway in presentation, format and the interactivity of users with a medium. Additionally, many different
tools go into other PR writer responsibilities such as preparing materials for promotions,
special events, campaigns, crises and specialized areas, such as investor relations.
Because PR writers are responsible for tailoring all types of messages for any medium
and a variety of individuals, writing for public relations takes many forms, as you will
realize as you go through these chapters. The more you know about different media and
diverse publics, the more facile you are with all writing assignments, the better off you will
be in the kaleidoscopic job market.
Always and remaining critical talents for public relations people are the ability to
recognize potential stories and anticipating how these might be received by global audiences. Choosing words and illustrations requires a keen understanding of the complex,
and often conflicting, values held among diverse publics. The demands on today’s writers
are for more versatility, greater understanding of the repercussions of convergence among
traditional media and the impact and connectivity of social media and the requirements
of different media as well as increased competence in using visuals and sounds to help
convey a message.
What is traditionally called “social media” have joined the list of media for any organizational message. You may be tweeting or posting on an organization’s Facebook page or
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4  PART 1
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
posting videos as part of a media mix you are using. However, you also will be responding
to comments that come in to the organization from its electronic sites.
Social media content for clients and organizations provides needed feedback.
Interactive websites and blogs are well within the PR writer’s job description, and although
some organizations hire social media specialists for Facebook and YouTube channels, PR
writers may be the ones hired just for this aspect. Appropriate responses in online communication are critical to an organization’s credibility. Remember, most social media postings
are user-generated, unedited content with instant and global distribution.
As the demand for versatility in PR writing grows, there is more emphasis on
accountability—evidence that the messages work. Employers want measured proof
of results from communication efforts. There is no open budget line for communication. Yet there is no need to despair. The writer who is genuinely good at the task of
researching information, learning its meaning and communicating that effectively is
and always will be needed. You must understand what makes public relations writing
different, although, from literary writing, news writing or selling, although you may
be drawing techniques from all three. The major focus for public relations writing is
persuasion.
Public relations writers prepare messages for any medium that can convey
­information. Furthermore, most of the time, these messages—words, images and
sound—are conveyed electronically. Potentially these messages can be received anywhere
in the world.
The difference for strategic writing lies in the power and responsibility of the public
relations person who is in the position of brokering goodwill between an institution and its
publics. There are two aspects to this responsibility. Strategically, public relations practice
involves the ways an organization’s operations and policies affect people—the face-to-face
interaction of employees with customers or clients and the organization’s participation in
the affairs of the community. Tactically speaking, though, good policies and good performance are worth little if people don’t understand the policies and don’t know about the
performance. The heart of public relations practice remains in communication, particularly writing.
Good public relations requires communication skills, expertise in dealing with all
media, the dynamics of public opinion and the principles of persuasion. Further, the
communicator must know when and what to communicate. This involves analysis, judgment, counseling and planning—in addition to and prior to communicating. In this
chapter, we’ll try to clarify the nature of this complex task and the writer’s role in it.
Job Descriptions Vary
Because practitioners have different backgrounds and experiences in different parts of the
world and that experience is affected by the social, political and economic environment,
the demands on writers vary. Some ingredients to look for are “ethical,” “socially responsible,” “trusting relationships,” “reliable communication,” “anticipation of consequences,”
“counsel to client/organization” and “evaluator of outcomes.”
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Chapter ONE
Public Relations and the Writer    5
Analyzing, Predicting and Counseling
The main roles of the professional are “analyzing trends, predicting their consequences,
counseling organization leaders.” These roles fall into the management context, in which
personnel help to frame, implement, adjust and communicate the policies that govern how
an institution interacts with its publics. It is through public relations that an organization
acts with responsibility and responsiveness—in policy and information—to the best interests of the institution and its publics.2
The management of communication is now seen by many public information writers
as the key to the corner office. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Today most CIOs
(chief information officers) have a more expansive role—and a set of aspirations to match.
Now that the CIO manages the ever more complex information flow that drives a company’s internal decisions as well as its links to customers globally, the job has the look of a
corporate stepping stone to higher ground.” Topics such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, as well as management and economics, were part of the second annual meeting
of a network of CIOs from around the world in San Diego, California, in February 2014,
hosted by The Wall Street Journal. Most of the attendees report directly to the corporate
executive officer (CEO), and most were women. A wide and diverse collection of industries was represented. The information officers said they wanted to be seen “as an essential
and versatile player, able to represent the company and participate in the big decisions.
And to lead.”3
What is important to remember is that these CIOs are senior employees. It is the staff
writers on whom the weight of writing falls on. That is what you can expect and must
be prepared for to climb that ladder. Doing this job well requires a broad educational
background, expertise in many areas and, most of all, good judgment. Unlike the corporate attorney or accountant, the public relations practitioner cannot refer to a body of
laws or procedures that prescribe behavior under given circumstances. Instead, the public
relations person must know human behavior and combine that knowledge with specific
information about people within the institution and people outside whom the institution deals with. For example, the PR director for a bank must consider the views of bank
officers and bank employees as well as those of customers, the community, legislators and
government regulatory agencies. The public relations person for the local school district
must be aware of the feelings of students, parents, voters and the regional accrediting
agency. Any institution has many publics, and the public relations director must be able
to advise management about the possible impact on those publics of various plans, policies and actions.
In addition to analyzing publics and counseling management on the effects of policy,
the PR person must be alert for signs of change. The right policy today will not necessarily
be the right policy tomorrow. People’s attitudes and opinions evolve, and the composition
of the public changes. The capable PR person notes trends in public opinion and predicts
the consequences of such trends for the institution.
Usually, the public relations director also serves as a spokesperson for the organization
and overseer of the entire public relations program. The PR person at the top of the department spends little time on basic public relations techniques such as writing.
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6  PART 1
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
Frank Wylie, a former president of the Public Relations Society of America, described
the division of public relations labor in this way: Senior-level public relations people are
likely to spend 10 percent of their time with techniques, 40 percent with administration and 50 percent with analysis and judgment; at entry level, it’s 50 percent techniques,
4 percent judgment and 45 percent “running like hell.”4
Competence in Convergence
Message delivery is in its second decade of mixing Internet and related personal electronic
devices with printed materials and traditional media such as television, radio and news magazines and papers. The decline of staff in traditional media opened opportunities for writers of
all kinds, from citizen journalists and freelancers to organizational writers. Traditional media
put much of their content online and developed their own Twitter and Facebook pages as
well as using websites, email and actual online subscriptions to keep audiences.
In addition to becoming familiar with all avenues of communication, a writer has to
develop competence in using them to craft messages for the most effective delivery. One
key in talking about media choices is understanding different references to media access.
Think of the acronym POSE that represents your control over the writing: paid, owned,
sponsored or earned.
Paid seems clear. It includes advertising in all media from pop-ups on your computer
when you get email to paid programing on various television channels, and most familiar
are those in print media including special sections.
You buy the time or space and have a contract that allows you to control the content,
including the design and time of presentation. The only exception to control content would
be restrictions cited in the contract you sign. Paid can also include something where your
organization has made a contribution so its logo can be used. Think of tee-shirts for special
events that have all sorts of logos on the back representing organizations that made donations and allow for their logos to be used.
Owned obviously means that your organization owns the medium, which might be a
newsletter or magazine—print or electronic. These are often referred to as “house ads” because
they promote something the publication is doing or offering. When you see something on
television or hear it on radio that is called a promo. It calls your attention to an offer or event
on that station or something that station is sponsoring such as a collection of toys for children.
Sponsored means that a publication or program has been paid for by an organization,
often a trade or professional group, whose members have articles about their organization displayed in the publicity. The organization itself controls the representation, words,
pictures and such, but doesn’t have to pay for the exposure. Videos and films are often paid
for by a trade group or association or even a company to tell its story in the public interest,
and these sponsored programs are offered free of charge not only to public media but also
for educational use in schools.
Earned indicates that the information is considered valuable enough to a medium’s
publics, that the medium uses the material, but not always as sent. The medium controls
the presentation.
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Chapter ONE
Public Relations and the Writer    7
Reactions and Responses
What management expects from exposure, regardless of the medium, is a report of what
happened as a result. An investment has been made, and the organization making it
expects a report.
How did various publics respond? How was that demonstrated? Did reactions indicate
any preferences? How might that affect methods of reaching various publics in the future?
Did some reactions indicate unfamiliarity with the organization, misunderstandings about
its activities, suggest policy modifications or more?
Communication is not a one-way street. Going one way, the PR person analyzes public
opinion and the needs of the community, and opens channels of communication that
allow such information to flow into the institution. Using this information, the PR person
advises management on the policies that are likely to be of mutual benefit to the institution
and the public—or at least acceptable, if not beneficial, to the public.
Then—going the other way on the street—the PR person opens channels of communication that reach out from the institution to the public. The viability of channels may
be shown in using various types of media to interpret the institution’s policies and actions
to its various audiences. Social media specialist, Lida Citroen (www.lida360.com), has a
formula: Values + Action = Credibility. With values clearly posted on websites, anyone
can compare what is said with what is done. If facts or perceptions don’t show a valid
equation, then credibility is lost and reputation jeopardized. Communication in this
direction is largely the responsibility of the PR writer. Exactly what is it then, that PR
writers do?
The variety of publics is so vast that PR people often find it useful to divide the publics
they deal with into two broad classes: internal and external. Internal publics are groups
within the organization (such as employees or the board of directors). External publics
are groups outside the organization (such as the media, your company’s customers or the
state legislature). The distinction between the two is not always clear-cut; stockholders, for
example, though essentially an external public, can have close ties to the institution. One
definition of internal publics is “all those who share the institution’s identity.”
Stakeholders/Publics, Channels and the Role of the Writer
It is a simple thing to say that the task of public relations writers is to communicate with
the public. But in practice, there is nothing simple about it. With most communication
electronic, “publics” include some “stakeholders,” people who identify with an issue, action
or event, though they may have no investment in the organization, its products or services.
Something is posted on the Internet that they like or don’t like or that conflicts with their
values, threatens them or maybe is something that they want to support. Furthermore,
there is no homogeneity to any group, even if they have a name. It’s not as though there
were one single “public” to write for. Rarely is a public relations message important to
everybody in the “public.”
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8  PART 1
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
For example, news that a theme park is creating a new thrill ride is important
i­ nformation to youngsters who enjoy such entertainment, but what they want to know
about it is quite different from what businesses and residents near the theme park want
to know. Concerns of businesses and residents are about increased traffic to the area
and more noise. What that group is concerned with is different from what the city’s
safety engineers and the theme park’s insurance people want to know. These groups’
needs are all different from what the local and state tourism departments want to know.
The tourism departments’ needs for information are different from those of investors
in the theme park, and even those are not the same. If the theme park belongs to a
publicly held company, its stock is traded on the open market, so securities analysts
are another public. Publicly held companies are also responsible to the Securities and
Exchange Commission. If the theme park is your client or your employer, you have to
prepare information to reach all of these publics, and the information for each has a
different focus. This focus is not a “spin.” It is a responsible communication to satisfy
the information needs and interests of particular publics.
A public is any group of people tied together by some common factor. And as
public relations writers soon discover, there are many, many such groups. The public
in public relations should really be publics. Even then, how do you analyze them? The
easiest way is statistically, by gender, education, income, etc. That can be an indicator,
but won’t tell you as much as if you have the psychographics. Psychographics classify
people by what they think, how they behave and what they think about—their special
interests, such as gardening, cooking and hiking. Psychographic information is not
merely helpful to the PR writer; it is often necessary. Consider the public relations
director responsible for a university’s alumni association magazine, who admitted with
some dismay that she didn’t know how to appeal both to an 80-year-old graduate of the
engineering school and a 22-year-old sociologist. She did a research study that revealed
a psychographic pattern binding all the alumni to the institution. This information
suggested the sorts of articles that would interest alumni. The public relations director
was then able to make informed decisions—and she now felt a great deal more confident in her choices.
Setting Priorities and Selecting Channels
What a writer must do is engage an organization’s publics. That is necessary to attract them
to the story you want to tell. The story has to be honest and contribute to the organization’s
transparency. This becomes easier to do when you analyze the possible publics and set
priorities.
Select the publics that are most important for the communication effort. They may
include the group that a new policy will affect the most or the groups whose opinions are
especially important. (See Table 1.1 for a formula to prioritize publics.)
The next step is to select channels for the message that have the most significance
to the priority public and to which they have easy access. Channels may be individuals
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Chapter ONE
TA BL E
1.1
Public Relations and the Writer    9
Discovering and Prioritizing Publics Prioritizing publics may be done in a
number of ways. One informal method is called the PVI: P, the Potential to
influence a public, plus V, the Vulnerability of the organization to that public
(which may change over time and in different situations), equals I, the Impact
of that public on the organization. Here is a tabular form for “computing” a
PVI index.
P
1
V
5
I
Audience or
Public
Potential for
Organization to
Influence
(Scale 1–10)
Vulnerability of
Organization to
Be Affected
(Scale 1–10)
Importance of
Audience to
Organization
______________
______________
______________
______________
______________
______________
______________
______________
______________
______________
______________
______________
Source: Jim Haynes, Instructor’s Guide for This Is PR, 3rd ed. Doug Newsom and Alan Scott (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1985), p. 63.
or media and may be mass media or specialized media and print or electronic or both.
Each medium has characteristics that make it suitable for sending a particular message to a
particular audience at a particular time.
Specialized Media These media offer an opportunity to control the message
and its delivery. Since they are designed for a particular audience they are called
­specialized to distinguish them from media accessible by any audience. Specialized media
include the internal publications or intranets that institutions produce to communicate
with employees, staff, management and others close to the institution, such as ­directors
and stockholders. Also included in specialized media are an organization’s computerized
message boards and audiovisuals intended for internal use only. Among these ­specialized
media are electronic information networks of personal computer users.
Accessible Media Such media include any channel that is relatively unrestricted
by ownership or government. In most democracies, government sends public information through its organizational channels, such as the Food and Drug Administration.
When an organization posts messages in accessible media, these are likely to be seen
by unintended audiences. Because neither the circulation nor the audience of such
media is controlled by the organization that sends the information, such media are
mostly for communication with external publics. Public relations writers using such
media to reach large audiences must remember that these media are seen by internal
publics as well. For example, a leading metropolitan daily newspaper’s female employees
objected to a promotional campaign that displayed women as sex objects. French
police did not like billboards portraying them as “helpful” rather than as crime fighters
facing danger.
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10  PART 1
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
The Role of the Writer
Public relations writers must be knowledgeable not only about publics and channels but
about all aspects of their own institution as well. The PR writer for a social services agency
must understand welfare eligibility rules and federal funding guidelines. A writer for the
highway department must know about everything from road-building materials to traffic
laws. PR writers must know enough about the financial aspects of a business to prepare the
right message for securities analysts and to develop an annual report that stockholders can
comprehend and auditors will approve.
In addition to possessing a broad knowledge of their company’s business, public relations writers must be able to research specific subjects to determine what is and what
isn’t important. They must be able to borrow ideas from other fields—psychology, social
psychology, sociology and political science, for example—to help put their research in
perspective. PR writers must be alert to changing patterns of thought and behavior in
society and must fully comprehend to the issues of the day.
Finally, and most important, the public relations writer must be an expert in communication. If you want to be a public relations writer, you must know how to write effectively in many different styles and for all media. You must understand the principles of
good writing and be familiar with the vast body of scientific research on communication,
persuasion and public opinion. Your goal is to be an efficient, effective communicator.
You must accept that your writing is management-oriented strategic communication and
therefore most likely to be persuasive in nature. Because of the scope of your communication, you must command a knowledge of publics and their cultures—their corporate
or work environment culture, their personal or lifestyle culture and their indigenous or
ethnic culture. Beyond that, you must know the international communication networks
and media systems and how they operate. To be responsible in your communication, you
must know and understand thoroughly the organization itself—what it does, where it is,
who it serves, regulations affecting it and criticisms of the institution’s policies, actions or
consequences of how it conducts itself.
No matter what message you communicate, what audiences you communicate
with and which media you use to reach those audiences, you have to know which
words will work and why. Preparing you for these varied writing tasks is what this
book is all about.
You are critical to maintaining the reputation of the organization you are representing.
The advice from Daniel Tisch, APR, FCPRS, Global Alliance, is as follows: (1) define
what you do in terms that your employer or clients will value; (2) know your professional
responsibility; (3) plan your professional development; (4) start a conversation: “Are we
a communicative organization?”; (5) what are your organization’s character and values?;
(6) build a listening strategy by collaborating with other disciplines; (7) is your organization sustainable?; (8) measure the quality of your organization’s communication.5
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Chapter ONE
Public Relations and the Writer    11
Exercises
1. Collect materials from your college’s website and admissions office about your school.
Analyze them for message statements. Are different appeals addressed to first-year
students, transfers, graduate students, older-than-average students? What are these
appeals? What about your school’s website, easy to navigate?
2. Examine the different types of messages and media used by your school’s public relations office. List all of the publics these suggest.
3. Examine ads and broadcast spots for your school. Compare these public message statements with the admission materials. What message statements are consistent? Are any
of them inconsistent? For example, does admission material suggest it is easy to get
into the school while publicity talks about the high standards for admission? How are
sponsorships for community events on campus presented? What about public access
and parking for events on campus. Are they open to the public?
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C H A P T E R
T W O
Ethical and Legal
Responsibilities
of the PR Writer
A
s you will see in this chapter, ethical and legal responsibilities are anything but straightforward. They are, let’s face it, complicated. In this arena nothing is written saying, “do this
and don’t do that.” One complication is the continuing conflict between the right to privacy
and the right to know. Transparency is one part of that issue.
A lack of transparency is being blamed for many of the world’s problems. From
economic disasters and government disorders to cyber crises, all sorts of systemic failures
seem to have a root cause—obfuscation, if not deliberate dishonesty, thus the demand for
transparency.
Public relations practitioners have included transparency in their “best practices” list
for a long time for many reasons, but focus on just four. First, public relations practitioners
have a highly developed sense of personal and professional ethics that drives them to meet
the spirit of the law as well as its explicit provisions. Second, they believe that their highest
professional obligation is to advocate policies and techniques that are socially responsible.
Third, they uphold the idea that looking after the best interests of priority publics is in
the best interests of their organizations. Fourth, they want the organizations for which
they work to be managed by people who are proactive in outlook and behavior. Thus, they
counsel transparency at the management level, not only to command public trust but also
to set standards for employees at all levels. Public relations professionals and their organizations that don’t meet those standards often cause problems for themselves as well as
others, and earn the title of “spin doctors” from their critics.
All organizational communicators are not professional public relations practitioners,
bound by codes of ethics, though. In an attempt to alleviate that situation, the Global
Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management introduced the Stockholm
12
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CHAPTER TWO
Ethical and Legal Responsibilities of the PR Writer    13
Accords in 2010, which included a code of ethics designed for universal application.
The Global Alliance is a coalition of professional communication organizations representing 70 countries.1 Although the code is a good guide as an effort to consolidate international consensus, it is not enforceable. Furthermore, of all the messages you receive in a
day, how many are from professional communicators anywhere in the world?
There is an expectation that messages, from whatever source, should be genuinely
sensitive to the feelings and needs of others and treat others as the messenger would want
to be treated. That doesn’t always occur. Ethics are founded on moral principles that are
themselves grounded in effects. Moral principles consist of a set of beliefs and values that
reflect a group’s sense of what is right or wrong—regardless of how these terms are defined
in formal rules, regulations or laws.
This is the case whether you agree with the idea that a moral judgment must fulfill
formal conditions or you think a moral judgment must also meet some material conditions.
The difference is that formal conditions call for moral guidelines or rules that are regarded
as universal and prescriptive. But material conditions represent considerations that deal with
the welfare of society as a whole and emphasize basic human good or purpose. For example,
agreements in the Geneva Convention are prescriptive, but they do not address restrictions
on the freedoms of individuals within a society, such as apartheid or immigration quotas.
If you ask for a public’s view of your organization’s ethics, don’t be surprised if your
organization is seen as unethical. The public’s view of an organization’s ethics is likely to be
based less on a definition of morality than on the consequences of what the organization
says and does, which will be seen as either moral or not moral by each and all of its publics.
This sense of rightness, even if it later proves to be in error, is the stuff on which public
opinion is formed.
Clearly, public opinion is important. Much of what you will do as a professional will
be directed toward influencing, if possible, the opinion of publics. Since we live in a global
society, you need to remember that, as a public relations practitioner, not everyone in the
world is free to express a personal opinion.
In many parts of the world, some expressions of opinion, or even fact, are not legal.
This will affect the way you, as a public relations person, do your research and communicate your messages, including illustrations.
In the USA, the country’s First Amendment is treasured, in a real sense the product of
public opinion. That’s a sobering thought because it implies that the First Amendment can
be abridged or voided if public opinion no longer supports it. So if you write, say or do something that violates society’s sense of “rightness,” you may be undercutting your constitutional
right to free speech. That’s a heavy responsibility. As a PR writer, how can you meet it?
Core Values and Personal/Professional Behavior
Our core values are based on our personalized belief system—what we believe to be right or
wrong. We are influenced in these by our family, friends, education and a faith we endorse,
if we do. We take this core of values into the world where it is often tried and tested, but
probably no more so than in the workplace.
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14  PART 1
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
The reason is that organizations, like individuals, develop around a core set of values
that often are set forward in a mission statement or even a formal statement of values.
These values are operationalized in the corporate culture that is often set by the organizational leadership. In looking for a place to work, you need to find an organization that
fits within your own value system. In all probability, the organization that hires you will be
looking also for a “good fit” between the corporate culture and a potential employee.
Even when there is a “good fit,” initially, situations change and so may your level of
comfort in working there. One way to understand ethical responsibility is to look carefully
at the interplay of different levels of influence on your personal and professional behavior.
Dynamics
Pressures in the workplace come from the economic, political and social system in which
the organization exists. As we live and work in a more global society, these pressures have
increased significantly. It’s an understatement to say there is little consistency in cultures.
You are more likely to hear the term “cultural conflicts.”
Governments are a big part of that. Governments change and with them the philosophy of governance as well as the laws themselves and the rules of regulators. Public
relations is a recognized discipline, but it is practiced in many different ways around
the world because it too must be responsive to the environment in which it functions
in representing businesses and nonprofit organizations. Additionally, the organization
itself for which you as a public relations person work is responsive to standards and
practices set by its own industry. If you work for a PR firm or agency, you may have
clients from a number of different industries. The relationship between you and an
organization changes with time. Provisions of communication law are always in flux
because a new court decision may put a different interpretation on a law, rule or regulation. And society’s expectations and judgments about what is right or wrong are notoriously capricious. An example of changed expectations is the effect of what’s happening
in cyberspace to the old protocol of a clear division between advertising and editorial
content. Website editorial independence is seldom carefully defined, and search engines
finding information on a topic cannot sort out the independent news from the sponsored information.2 Compounding the problem are the many organizations that have
placed their websites in the hands of management information systems specialists
instead of public relations people. Because building and maintaining relationships are
not necessarily high on their list of priorities, the result can be damaging to the corporate image.3
Trying to follow your own moral compass in the swirl of this cultural, social, legal
and economic storm is not easy. You can easily get “off course,” confused in your ability
to know with certainty your ethical and legal responsibilities as a writer. Adding to the
confusion is the increasing diversity of the population, especially in the USA. With this
mix comes a complexity of value structures. Although these may be difficult to tease out in
research about your publics, it is crucial that you do so.
Changes simply occur. What is wrong today may be right tomorrow, or vice versa. It is
your responsibility to be sensitive to these changes; otherwise, you and your organization
may get into lots of trouble stemming from the volatility of today’s values.
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CHAPTER TWO
Ethical and Legal Responsibilities of the PR Writer    15
Values
The concept of values is another way of talking about ethics. The study of ethics falls into
two broad categories: comparative ethics and normative ethics. Normative ethics are studied
by theologians and philosophers. Comparative ethics—sometimes called ­descriptive
ethics—are studied by social scientists, who look at the ways different cultures practice
ethical behavior. Values form the foundation of our institutions and organizations, as
well as of our own informal and formal rules of behavior, which may change during our
lifetime.
We’re taught from an early age that some values are eternal verities. But if we see them
violated repeatedly without sanctions, we begin to wonder whether they really are verities
or eternal. A deceptive public relations practice, for example, may go unpunished or even
unnoticed, and its users may gain significant advantages to the detriment of others. Which
are the values we are expected to exhibit as responsible public relations writers?
Remember that ethics, being value based, are different in different cultures, something
to be sensitive to when communications go to other countries and something to be aware
of in other countries, such as the USA, that also have diverse cultures. When the limits of
what your primary public will tolerate turn out to be narrower than those of your organization or yourself, your ethical behavior will be open to public debate, which may result in
censure or withdrawal of support. In such cases, your first concern should be with examining your own personal and professional standards.
Influence of Personal Standards
Your personal and professional ethical standards come from your core values. If you find
that your own standards are in conflict with those of your colleagues (especially your
supervisor) in an organization, it can be personally and professionally upsetting.
Suppose that your task is to write, say or do something that, although legal, can’t
readily be reconciled with your own standards. What is your responsibility? To resolve this
problem, you must explore your options realistically. Four basic strategies are apparent:
(1) try to educate those in your organization to your standards; (2) refuse the task; (3) ask
that you be given another task or (4) take the assignment.
Educating
You can try to convert those around you to your point of view. The character of an organization tends to reflect its top leadership. The leadership hires managers, who then hire
people whom they perceive as fitting into and contributing to the goals of the organization.
To say that you must be a clone of the top leadership is absurd, but it is equally absurd to
believe that you would be in the job if those doing the hiring had not assumed that you “fit
the mold” to some extent.
That assumption will be in your favor as you attempt to educate others in the organization to your point of view, because you are presumed to be much like them. If you use
this identification tactic, you’ll probably find that some colleagues are open-minded but
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16  PART 1
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
others aren’t. If your organization encourages dialogue, however, your chances of getting
a fair hearing are greater. But even with a fair hearing, you may not convert them to your
view of the world; besides, you may be wrong. A lot depends on how carefully and thoughtfully you have drawn the personal and professional circles of influence around yourself.
How pliable is your position? What is the absolute limit beyond which you will not
compromise? What justification can you offer to support your position? Is the basis
of your justification appropriate to the situation? You must ask yourself and carefully
answer these questions and many like them before you attempt to implement a strategy
of conversion.
Suppose you ask and answer such questions to your own satisfaction and mount a
campaign to change the organization’s course of action. Can you win? Yes. Even if you
aren’t successful at converting your colleagues, you still may win in two important ways.
First, your colleagues will respect a well-articulated, well-reasoned argument, even
if they disagree with it. That’s because the subject of contention is a matter of judgment.
Neither you nor they can be absolutely certain of the truth of the matter, but each of you
may recognize and appreciate sincere efforts to divine it.
Second, you also win because, when you articulate a different or unpopular standard,
you accept the highest responsibility of being a professional public relations person. You
are expected to counsel your organization against doing something you believe is wrong.
Any lesser standard of behavior is not worthy of being called professional.
If you don’t convert the others to your point of view, you can then adopt a strategy of
refusal.
Refusing
A position of refusal is often greeted with arguments that “It’s OK because everybody does
it.” If those arguments don’t succeed, they are often replaced by anger—even ­retribution—
that may get you fired. Your willingness to risk being fired is the severest test of your
conviction. If your belief is strong enough, getting fired may be a personal and professional
favor to you. That’s because it tells you clearly that the organization does not respect you
or your professional judgment and abilities. You need to know this so you can find another
organization that does. Also, you will not be subject to criticism when the action of the
organization draws fire.
No one and no organization can make you do something you believe is wrong, even
if it is not illegal. If you cave in because you need the money, you like your position, you’re
really counting on an attractive retirement program or the like, your convictions are mostly
for show. That’s your fault. Don’t blame the organization, society or some generalized
“other” for the bottom-line decisions you make.
If you don’t have the courage of your convictions, you may tend to assume that others
don’t either. This may be true of some, but not of all. And such an assumption is likely to
make you less sensitive to the feelings, needs and values of others. As a result, you may
write, say or do things that are harmful to pertinent audiences, without even recognizing
it. Thus you may feed on and perpetuate stereotypes, confuse form with substance and
promote behaviors detrimental to the best interests of your publics/stakeholders. If left
uncorrected, this behavior can end in alienation and loss of support for your organization,
thereby setting the stage for program or organization failure.
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CHAPTER TWO
Ethical and Legal Responsibilities of the PR Writer    17
To paraphrase the Golden Rule, the way you are treated as a writer is a reflection of
how you, as a writer, treat your target publics/stakeholders.
Requesting Reassignment
If you like what you are doing and your prospects for the future look good, you may seek
an alternative to refusing the task. One approach is to ask that you be assigned to something else of equal or greater importance. The problem is that there may be no one else to
take the assignment. Assuming that someone else is available, this strategy will produce
three important results. First, by stating your case clearly, calmly and logically, you will find
out just how persuasive you really are. Second, whatever the response to your request, you
also discover how you are valued by your supervisor and organization. Third, you’ll get a
clearer picture of the people you work with and for—what their values are and how they
relate to the organization and industry with which they are identified.
Taking the Assignment
Taking the assignment, even if you are sincerely opposed to it, labels you as a team player
who puts the values and needs of the organization above personal values. You are seen as
fitting into the culture of the organization. You won’t rock the boat. You will safeguard the
values of the organization because you are loyal and trustworthy. You may even get a raise,
a promotion or both.
The problem with all this is that you may be expected to write, say or do things that,
although not strictly illegal, may violate a primary public’s sense of right and wrong. If you
push beyond what your target public will tolerate, you are likely to find yourself on trial in
the court of public opinion. The judgments can be harsh. Even if you later clean up your
act, you may never win an appeal or get a pardon. That will depend to some extent on the
values and standards of practice exhibited by your organization and industry.
Influence of Organization and Industry Standards
Will having high personal and professional standards mean that you’ll always be swimming upstream in your organization? That depends on the organization you work for and
the industry sector it is part of. Some organizations and industry sectors are seen as monoliths whose only purpose is to make more money or gain additional power and influence.
Such perspectives often are based not on facts but on perceptions that masquerade as facts.
Some organizations and industry sectors seem more gifted than others at keeping facts and
“facts” in close harmony.
Perceptions
Responses to a crisis, especially initial ones, are critical to perceptions of an organization’s
ethical standards and sensitivity to all stakeholders. The response should fit neatly into
an organization’s mission and values statement. If the response contradicts either or both
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18  PART 1
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
of those statements, the credibility of the organization is damaged for a very long time,
perhaps even permanently. Occasionally, an organization even changes its name in an
attempt to escape a bad reputation triggered by a thoughtless or ill-considered response.
Organizational Culture and Values
When you start a new job, you’ll go through a period of training in the culture and values of
the organization. This may include attending a formal training program whose announced
purpose is to acquaint you with the principal processes, techniques and policies that are to
guide your behavior as an employee. These also reflect, but often not as obviously, the values
and culture of the organization. But much of your training comes from simply watching
and interacting with your new associates. That’s how you learn the rules governing how you
should behave in an organization. These rules of conduct may become so much a part of
you that you hardly notice them. You may even respond automatically to new cues.
Automatic Responses
When you do things automatically, you’re less likely to question your behavior or that of the
organization. And if you don’t question how, what and why you do things, you aren’t much
more than an automaton. The only real difference is that you draw a salary. Automatons
are machines whose greatest expense comes in the form of an initial capital investment,
supplemented by routine maintenance to keep them productive. When they wear out or
become outdated, they are simply replaced.
A responsible public relations writer should be a thinking, constructively critical
and contributing member of the organization. In fact, the highest contribution you can
make is not your technical skill but your sensitivity to the needs of your organization’s
relevant publics. If you become so immersed in the culture and standards of the organization that you lose touch with the values of those publics, you can do little more than a
machine can do.
Problems may arise when the messages you shape undergo significant changes in
the process of obtaining necessary approvals. The challenge for you is to see that these
changes don’t affect the sense of what must be communicated. This problem is aggravated
by “editors” who excise segments or change things just to prove they can. You are supposed
to be good enough with words and language that you can retain the sense of the message
without compromising its integrity and without challenging the ego of those who have
authority to approve what you write.
Because you are part of your organization, you are expected to know as much about
what you write as anyone in the organization. You can’t rely on your wordsmithing skills
alone. You must know your organization and its industry thoroughly. You won’t get much
support or respect if you repeatedly make simple mistakes, such as using jargon incorrectly.
You are supposed to know, and you shouldn’t have to be told over and over. That’s part of an
organization’s culture and values. But the practice of professional public relations also has
its own culture and values, thus representing another area of influence on your behavior.
The complexity of this overlay of influences makes ethical decisions anything but
clear-cut.
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CHAPTER TWO
Ethical and Legal Responsibilities of the PR Writer    19
What Happens When You Aren’t Told?
Unfortunately, there’s yet another scenario to consider. One has to imagine that many
investor relations (IR) people experienced this during the recent global financial meltdown.
You are not told about decisions that have moral, and sometimes legal, consequences.
The reason that “best practices” in public relations has the top PR person reporting
directly to the top manager of the organization is that to communicate responsibly, you
have to know the facts. Some top managers don’t agree and hide facts from their public
relations people, assuming that “what they don’t know won’t hurt them,” and certainly
won’t “get outside.” They are just wrong.
When a crisis is brewing, or even seems likely, the public relations person has to know
as much as can be known, and as soon as it is known. It is the responsibility of top management to tell its board of directors, even if it is a nonprofit organization, and to arrive at
an action plan that should be shared with the top public relations person immediately. Be
sure that such procedure is in place before you take a job or you are accepting unnecessary
personal and professional risk. If you are not told, what do you do when you find out? You
have to meet with top management to determine why you were not told and then determine
why you were not told and then evaluate your situation. If you can’t persuade management
to take an ethical and responsible communication of the situation, you are better off leaving.
Leave gracefully, without accusations or threats. If legal possibilities are involved, you also
need to get a lawyer. Yes, you’ll have to bear the cost, but whatever that is, it is not as costly
as the loss of your reputation, which could make you unemployable in the industry. Or, the
result could be a substantial fine or imprisonment, if the event involves legal matters.
Influence of Public Relations Standards of Practice
The reason you could find yourself unemployable is due to a tainted professional performance. Every professional field has its own code of ethics and standards of practice. One
of the most widely acknowledged codes in public relations is the one adopted in 2000 to
replace the 1988 code. (The Public Relations Society of America [PRSA] adopted its first
Source: “Shoe” © MacNelly. King Features Syndicate.
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20  PART 1
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
code in 1950.) The code has much to say about the standards of practice, but a few key
points are especially pertinent to your role as a writer.
Accuracy
Credibility with priority stakeholder/publics is probably the most important asset a writer
or an organization can have. Without credibility, it is very difficult to succeed at what you
want to do. Factual inaccuracies usually are pretty easy for primary publics to detect. The
more difficult such inaccuracies are to discover, the more damaging they may appear in
the eyes of your audience. Publics may conclude that you have deliberately distorted or
misrepresented the facts for some ulterior motive.
They may label you and your organization as dishonest—and you are, if you misrepresent the facts. But you and your organization can also make “honest” mistakes. These
may seep into your writing as a result of rushed, sloppy editing, failure to verify details and
the like. But if you simply rationalize them as “honest” mistakes, you’re really not being
very responsible. You are paid to do things correctly, and this includes preventing “honest”
mistakes from getting by.
To illustrate, the annual report of a major oil company contained an out-of-place
decimal that dramatically reduced estimates of its oil reserves from those it had claimed in
previous reports. The financial community immediately became alarmed because it feared
the company had been puffing up earlier estimates of its reserves. Frantic phone calls and
a dramatic drop in share prices ensued. The company quickly issued a corrected estimate, so the damage, though costly, was temporary—all because the writers, editors and
proofreaders made an “honest” mistake. You can also bet that market analysts and brokers
looked at the next year’s annual report with an extra dose of skepticism. “Honest” mistakes
are sometimes no less damaging than dishonest ones. For example, in the global environment of instant communication if a response to an inquiry in social media doesn’t match
a statement about the same issue on your website, the world will know about it in seconds.
Honesty, Truth and Fairness
The concept of honesty goes beyond the idea of accuracy and raises questions of truth and
fairness. You can deal with documentable facts as a writer and still be dishonest, untruthful
and unfair. So factual accuracy is not enough. The selection of facts and the way you
weave them into the fabric of a message are what establish you as honest, truthful, fair and
credible.
Must you use all the facts, even the bad? No. But to ignore the negatives is not fair.
Even if recipients of your primary message are not highly sophisticated, they are not dumb.
If you fail to acknowledge damaging information, you simply invite disbelief. Not only
will you not be believed, you may also be perceived as unfair. Honesty and forthrightness
served American Airlines well when one of its jets ran into a mountain in Colombia. The
airline’s chief pilot said, “Human error on the part of our people may have contributed to
the accident.”4 Years ago, the legal department might have been in an uproar because of
concern over protecting the company from liability. Now most organizations see that a
greater loss may come from a failure to speak out. A loss of credibility translates to a loss
of customers.
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CHAPTER TWO
Ethical and Legal Responsibilities of the PR Writer    21
Illustrations matter too, and often that is a question of fidelity to truth rather than
an attempt to mislead or deceive. A digitally altered photo released from the USA’s Army
regarding promotion of Ann Dunwoody to four-star general involved keying in the USA
flag as background instead of her desk in front of a bookcase. The USA’s Department of
Defense claimed not to have violated Army policy in altering the photo, but the Associated
Press (AP) suspended use of photos from the USA’s Department of Defense as a result of its
policy of not altering any content from an image.
That situation probably is a more ethically defendable one than another issue involving
the USA’s Department of Defense. The Pentagon Public Affairs office had sent around
retired military officers as spokespeople supporting the government’s military decisions.
Many of the retired military analysts were said to have undisclosed ties with military
contractors. Many retired military officers have gone to work as advisors to companies that
are defense contractors. The uproar that disclosure of this practice created was over the law
against “domestic propaganda.”
False or Misleading Information
Misleading information can lead audiences to make bad decisions. When they discover
they have been misled, they withdraw their support. Although you and your organization
may enjoy some advantage because of a deception, the advantage is usually temporary.
And the consequences of misleading people can be enormous as well as long term. In fact,
disaffected audiences may seek retribution through legal actions, boycotts or other means.
The excesses of false and misleading information that came from Enron and WorldCom
provoked the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 designed to make publicly held companies more
accountable. As a result, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the New York
Stock Exchange issued new orders. Although the public relations implications fall largely
on the IR specialists, other corporate communications people must also be watchful. One
has to wonder about some deliberate and confessed decisions during the financial meltdown that are in direct contradiction to Sarbanes-Oxley and even SEC regulations.
The Sarbanes-Oxley regulations requiring more explicit information about earnings
emphasizes the SEC fair disclosure regulations made in 2000. That SEC regulation requires
that investing decisions be made more accessible to the public and that anytime material information is intentionally disclosed, it must be made available simultaneously to all
publics. That did not happen when Bank of America acquired Merrill Lynch. The bank
officer blamed the regulators for telling him not to make the disclosure. So that action was
intentional. When unintentional, the undisclosed information must be made public as soon
as possible. Disclosure also has to be made through a combination of means to reach as
broad an audience as possible. Many IR officers now post news releases immediately on the
corporate website as well as sending them on all of the wire services. Public relations practitioners also were affected by the Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that created new disclosure
requirements and requires prompt compliance with earlier regulations so that there’s more
public information available about politically active groups and individuals.5 Truth has a way
of emerging in spite of extraordinary efforts to keep it hidden. In the vast majority of cases,
false information is destined to fail. PR writers who knowingly write and distribute false
information, for whatever reason, violate one of the trusts explicit in the PRSA code and
risk losing the respect and acceptance of their primary publics. False information corrupts
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22  PART 1
PR Writing: Role and Responsibility
not only a writer but also the channels of communication used to distribute it. Hence, false
information supplied to a newspaper and relayed to readers damages the reputation of the
newspaper, as well as the primary source, in the eyes of the readers. The result is that the
newspaper may be reluctant to accept subseque…
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