Types of Press Materials for Freelance Writers and Journalists
What Kinds of Media Pieces Do Freelance Writers Produce?
Writing about journalism pieces folds so quickly and easily into writing for public relations purposes. This is likely because PR writers work very closely with the media and journalists in trying to get positive publicity for their causes or employers.
Freelance writers who find themselves writing in the PR realm will often do so via a few very common written pieces that are used as the pipeline between the PR writer and the news outlet. Following are some of those common pieces you may find yourself writing for PR purposes:
A press advisory is exactly what it sounds like: a brief piece that advises the press about an event (usually) that the organizers hope the press will attend and then write about afterward. The press advisory tries to drum up interest in the journalist by providing possible arcs for a story, and as many details as needed to make the press interested, but not so many that they won't need to attend the event. Nine times out of ten, this event is some kind of press conference. The advisory gives background, event details, some potential story arcs, and teasers like a speaker list.
The advisory goes out before the event, while the press release goes out immediately after.
A pitch letter is similar to a press advisory in that it is attempting to get the media to cover something- to write a story on something. The difference is that the pitch is usually the story idea- not an event for the journalist to attend. Pitch letters should be short, provocative, emotive, and detailed. This piece is selling to the journalist and their editor- and therefore the writer is selling, too.
A press release sums up an event or happening in such a way that a journalist who has potential to give it publicity chooses to follow up and write a story. The release provides details, quotes, contact information and potential stories and points of view.
A backgrounder summarizes the history, mission, and past points of interest of an organization, event, controversy or issue. It is provided to press people as an addition to press releases or advisories, which must be of a certain length and structure so as not to lose the attention of the journalist. Therefore, the background provides a valuable venue for more information. Backgrounders also serve the purpose of showing a journalist that the organization or event is legitimate, in the case that it is unknown or new to the scene.
Op-eds are long opinion pieces that are often placed in a newspaper "opposite of the editorial" page (hence OPposite-EDitorial). These are about 600 words, longer than the Letters to the Editor which are on the editorial page. Although not always, op-eds are usually written by someone of note- such as a subject matter expert, or an organization that has a stake in the issue, although they may be crafted by a freelance journalist, staff writer, or staff PR person. Op-eds give a position on the issue but may also include elements such as personal stories, etc.
Letter to Editor
The letter to the editor is usually a shorter opinion piece. While it more often comes to the paper from the general public, one may be provided by an organization through their PR/writing professionally.
The fact sheet is similar in function to the backgrounder, although maybe less detailed, shorter, and less of a narrative than a set of facts relating to a story, organization or event. Also, fact sheets are much more oriented to numbers, stats, and figures.
Press Kit or Media Kit
A press kit is a kit of different pieces that are provided to the press in hopes of generating interest and coverage from the press. They may include any or all of the pieces listed on this page, along with FAQs, photos, brochures, graphics, biographies and etc. A press kit is meant to reach out to the press, and to introduce a big picture of someone or something, such as a controversy, issue, organization, or upcoming event. Many writers and PR people find the variety and final product quite rewarding.
Many press kits have moved to online or digital presentations of late.
It is entirely possible that a PR person, staff writer, or freelancer representing an organization is provided a recurring column in a media publication. Often this is a nod to the organization's depth of knowledge on a certain subject matter that has a wealth of different viewpoints and news items to write about. Consider, for example, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating poverty through legislative action. The organization's president may be granted an ongoing column in which to discuss general developments in the area.
As you've likely noticed, the gist of these pieces is often selling to the journalist, in hopes of coverage, or influencing public opinion. Writing within PR or journalism indeed presents a fertile field for writers who are passionate and persuasive. Telling the story via the various pieces is key to piquing the interest of the journalist and getting your client or organization the desired publicity.