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April/May 2005
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Public Relations: "The management function that identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and the various publics on whom its success or failure depends." Cutlip, Center, and Broom

April/May 2005
Rubber Cement, the 5 Ws and Press Releases
Rubber Cement, the 5 Ws and Press Releases

The 5 Ws (actually 6 with How thrown in!)

Decades ago when I was in Journalism school, I had a very unique final exam for my editing and graphics course. We sat around a table in a poorly ventilated room, with the door closed, and were each given a bottle of rubber cement, scissors, and blank paper. Let the games begin.

The assignment was to take Associated Press wire copy as it rolled in delivering news on a breaking story, for a total of four hours! First, we learned from the wire copy the basic information, known as the 5Ws - Who, What, Where, When, and Why (by the way, sometimes How - but without a W starting out the word, it is often forgotten as part of the mix). Our assignment was to continually update the facts as they rolled in. Through the use of scissors and rubber cement, we get cutting and pasting together the story as it unfolded - known as "Breaking News."A messy task (this was in the olden days, before glue sticks!). Some of the facts remained the same, and some continued to change as the story unfolded, and we were handed page after page of wire service copy as it came off of the wire.

Think for a minute about the last time you were watching TV and your program was interrupted for a special report. You received the basics of what was known at the time - and by the time the regularly scheduled news broadcast aired, you had more information, more clarity. Often by the morning, the story grew "legs" and shaped up more clearly.

With this in mind, when you see an article in the newspaper, or hear in on an electronic broadcast, the very first paragraph, or soundbite, contains the bottom line basics:

Who is involved, What has happened, Where it happened, When it happened, How - if it is known, it happened, and Why it happened. This is the beginning of what is called the inverted pyramid - designed to give you the bottom line quickly, succinctly. The following paragraphs and/or verbal information "supports" the opening piece of information. Often only a quick sound bite, or a few paragraphs are heard or absorbed by the encoder (YOU, receiving the message). Because of this it is paramount that you understand the inverted pyramid premise.

Suppose you are unfortunate enough to witness a car accident. You see it happen, you call 911; you get out of the car to help. Another car arrives whose driver is a physician. She gives the victim mouth-to-mouth and revives the victim. The victim then gets up, does a dance and starts singing "It's Great to Be Alive!" Moments later, while the victim is still singing, your best friend arrives. What is your perception of the facts leading up to this moment; where are your friends?

You are most likely to tell her the whole story, "I was driving, I saw this accident, etc." That is story telling. In journalistic terms, this would not be the way to describe the events.

You might write or tell your friend, "A female car accident victim on State Road 84 Saturday morning celebrated her great fortune at walking away from a devastating accident by doing a dance and singing "It's great to be Alive," just minutes after a physician passerby from Blank Medical Center revived her."

This is the beginning of your inverted pyramid. As you drill down the journalistic story telling path - by the last graph, you might describe the road conditions, statistics on the occurrences of accidents on this road, or the occurrences of similar accidents involving the make of her automobile, tires, etc.

Back to my story - by the time the assignment was over, we were all pretty giddy from being locked up in a room for four hours, cutting and pasting, and pasting and cutting! I am really glad glue sticks have now replaced that rubber cement!

Press Releases

A while back, I took on a new client. They do Cord Blood storage. Before I could prepare a proposal for them, or write a press release, I needed to understand some basic premises:

So what, who cares, what is unique about them, and what's in it for potential stakeholders?- all-basic marketing questions that apply equally to the public relations effort. I suggest that you write these down, underline them, or keep them in a safe place. These questions are very useful in a variety of business situations.

First step: Research (primary and secondary)


First I called the client and spoke to the person that answers the phone. I wanted to know how a prospective patient would be treated, what is the sales pitch, do I feel emotionally connected as a prospective patient, etc. I spoke to the medical director and to the VP of Business - again seeking out these types of answers. The bottom line: I needed information about common perceptions, misperceptions, attitudes, beliefs about both the company, and the service in order to persuade my targeted stakeholders, through press releases and other public relations tools.

Secondary I went to the Web to check for web sites and articles on cord blood wanted to know everything on the Web about the potential new client. I wanted to know everything about their competition. I wanted to know everything pertaining to cord blood and its benefits. I signed up for online newsletters pertinent to this subject and other permission-based marketing tools. I looked for news of the day as tie-ins, for example, President Bush just set aside a large amount of money for non- embryonic stem cell research (stem cells are found in the cord blood and are 100 percent effective for the donor where bone marrow has traditionally been used). And, I looked for new articles in the electronic and print media - two weeks earlier the WSJ had a huge story on this.

Cultivating a campaign through press releases and other tools

Taking into consideration everything I learned about the client, the competition, and the state of perceptions in the global community about cord blood storage, I was faced with crafting a persuasive and engaging press release that was actually newsworthy.

Like PT Barnum, I created an "event."

Mother's Day was a few short weeks away. My client created a gift certificate for Mother's To Be - and press release focused on the newsworthiness of Mother's Day, gift giving suggestions, and the need and importance for expectant parents to know about this option of storing their baby's cord blood. The results in just the first week of the campaign were: a feature article in the SD tribute,, and an expert column in, and as a side bonus, they enhanced their sales number that month due to the gift certificates (designed as a PR hook, but embraced by consumers as a gift idea). Not bad!

Whether you are communicating through the written word or electronically, the basics of communications are always the same - at one end is the source or sender and at the other end is the receiver --- in between there are a host of elements that can disturb the accurate processing or decoding of the message. Because of this - be very, very clear that you are indeed sending the message you want to your audiences, that it cannot be misconstrued in any way, that you are providing them with a beneficial piece of communication so that they will not turn a deft ear the next time you attempt to communicate with them - and be sure that every time you communicate with them that you have a coordinated, strategically crafted message - the same message each time, so that you develop a brand, a signature for your client.


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