How to Write a Backgrounder
A backgrounder is an informational document often provided with a press release, press advisory or as part of a larger media kit. The backgrounder gives the press or other interested parties a more detailed background of an issue, event, person of interest or launch. How to write a backgrounder is a skill that many freelance writers and PR writers should know.
It is provided because other press or media documents such as media advisories and press releases are necessarily kept short and succinct.
The backgrounder provides more information to the journalist or media outlet without compromising the readability or standard format of the media advisory or press release.
How to Write a Backgrounder
To write a backgrounder, begin with a short introduction to the topic at hand. Then, insert subtitles based on the additional information that you'd like to provide the media. Some examples of common backgrounder subtitles or subsections are listed below. Last, fill in the information as appropriate under your subsections.
Since most of your documents will be aimed at media organizations, write the backgrounder according to AP style. Keep in mind that you're writing for busy professionals, so make ample use of subheads and easy-to-reference graphics, too. Your research may involve interviewing your client or other members of the organization; outside research should be heavily cited within the backgrounder, as journalists will often want to follow-up and verify your information.
Consider editing the backgrounder based on your targeted media outlet. Think about who your ideal media outlet is for the event or launch you're working on, and then consider if they'd be more interested in the history of your event, the roles of the people in the organization, or the geographical applicability of the work at hand (for more on these sections, read on to the next subsection!).
Despite the above suggestions, backgrounders--like all pieces aimed at journalists--should be kept brief. The last thing a PR writer wants to do is lose the interest of the media!
Parts of a Backgrounder
Typical sections of a backgrounder may include history of the organization, event or topic at hand, applicable statistics or other data, the names, descriptions and qualifications of important people within the organization, direct statements about why the event or issue is applicable and worth covering in today's news cycle (and in general), geographical or population data related to the issue, and a couple of emotive, interesting vignettes that the journalist could use to create their story.
Freelance Writers and the Backgrounder
Freelance writers may come across the need to write a backgrounder for clients who are seeking media attention, whether that be a start-up, a non-profit or a business in general. You may be hired to write just a backgrounder, but it is more likely that your client will need several different kinds of media-oriented documents, if not an entire media kit. Again, the need for media documents often comes up in the course of a launch, event or press conference, though this is not always the case.
How to Use a Backgrounder
Backgrounder documents may be used as part of a media kit, such as one stored on an organization's website or given out in hard copy during a press event. Note that this means it should render well in print and electronically.
They are often used in conjunction with press events, such as staged rallies or press conferences. Again, they are generally provided with several other documents as part of a media kit or press kit.
They can be used other ways, too, such as a way to introduce a new organization, issue or event to the media, or as a touch-base for talking points.
A Backgrounder By Any Other Name
Backgrounders may often be referred to by other terms. For example, they may be combined with or confused with a "fact sheet." Often used as part of a larger "media kit."