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COMSTRAT 383 - Spring 2016 Syllabus

COMSTRAT 383  – Creative Media Strategies & Techniques (3 CREDITS) Instructor:  Brett Atwood                                Office...

Pitching Your Story

Press Release Writing Exercise


For the following three practice scenarios, please select a lede style and then construct your press release lede for each announcement.

(Disclaimer: These are not necessarily REAL situations and/or announcements! They are only practice scenarios for this assignment...)

  • Client: Amazon.com
  • E-commerce giant Amazon.com is acquiring popular DVD rental kiosk company Redbox.
  • Amazon already has a streaming video service as part of its Amazon Prime service and the new deal is expected to make it more competitive with Netflix.

  • Retailer J.C. Penney has hired former Apple senior VP of retail operations Ron Johnson as its new CEO
  • The retailer is launching an ambitious rebranding campaign this month to re-position it as embracing "fair and square" pricing without compromising style. Many experts suggest that the retailer is emulating the popular approach of Target in its new campaign.
  • The outlet has also come under fire by conservative activists who are opposed to the hiring of openly gay comedienne Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson. 
  • Johnson has gone on the record to defend their choice to hire Ellen. See video statement at: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7398105n


Related Links

Press Release Assignment

For your portfolio, you should create two press releases for your client. After consulting with your client, what are two newsworthy or feature-worthy developments that might each warrant a press release? Think carefully about how a news or feature reporter might value the information that you include. What will peak their interest for possible news or feature coverage of your client?

You might choose to use one of the many press release templates available in Google Drive/Documents.

This link will take you to a list of available press release templates in Google Documents.

DUE: February 25


Which template should I use?

The type of press release that you create depends on the situation and needs of your client. Don't be afraid to download several templates and explore. Find the one that fits the tone and aesthetic that is appropriate for your client.

How do I get my press release exported from Google Documents and on to my digital portfolio?

Once completed, you should save your press release (File > Save) then select File > Download > Word (or you can use PDF, if you prefer). At this point, you will have a saved version of the file on your local hard drive. You should now be able to print it out to add to your overall semester portfolio.

Can I use Microsoft Word?

Absolutely! Microsoft Word also has templates available. See this link for a few.

What type of lede should I use when writing my press release?

In most situations, the lede of your press release will be driven by the potential news value of the announcement. However, there are some scenarios where you might try a "feature" approach to your press release. This is appropriate for "soft news" and situations where the "news value" is not immediately apparent. Whatever style you choose, it should be an appropriate fit for your client and the type of message that aligns with your strategic plan!

Introduction to News Releases

Are you familiar with the news release format? PR practitioners typically issue a news release to journalists and other audiences when they have an announcement or significant news development for their client.

A good press release requires that you quickly and clearly communicate the news value of your company's announcement to the media outlets that you target.

Something to always consider: How will a journalist judge your release if they are very busy? Imagine that the recipient has dozens of press releases a day. How will your press release stand to be perceived as valuable by the journalist to the news beat that they cover?


If your announcement is "hard news," then the traditional news lede approach may be appropriate. This means that the key W's should be present in the first sentence or two of your press release: who, what, when, where and (sometimes) why. Sound familiar? You might recall this approach from your journalism classes.

Some examples:


What if your news announcement is lightweight and/or fun? "Soft news" announcements that target columnists, magazines or feature-oriented publications may be better communicated through a more feature-style approach to your writing. This means that you can include playful, creative and/or descriptive details for your lede. You'll still need to convey important "news" near the lede -- but the first two sentences might not necessarily contain all the basic details. BE CAREFUL with this approach as you do run the risk of the release being perceived as frivolous by many journalists.

Some examples:


In determining what style of lede to choose, consider the content and context. What type of info are you trying to communicate? What is the context in which it will be received? Which approach will be more likely to be successful considering the style of media outlet you are targeting? What is the NEWS VALUE (if any) of the announcement?

WEEKS 5 & 6 OVERVIEW: Backgrounders, Fact Sheets & Press Releases


During these weeks, we will:
  • Begin to revise our Strategic Plan, to include the Competitive Analysis and SWOT Analysis
  • Prepare for one-on-one consultations re: the semester project
  • Learn about backgrounders and fact sheets
  • Review and practice press release writing 

Students should:
  • Read Chapter 2 of the textbook ("Becoming a Persuasive Writer")
  • Backgrounder and Fact Sheet
    • Create a one-page "backgrounder" and a separate one-page "fact sheet" for your chosen client
      • The backgrounder should include a basic history of the client and an elaboration of your anticipated client campaign messaging. It should also communicate the value offered by the client to the customer. Finally, it should include an indication of the future direction and initiatives of the company.    
    • The fact sheet should be more visual in the way the text is presented. Don't be afraid to explore use of various fonts, font sizes and bold headers in the document you create.
      • When your backgrounder and fact sheet are ready, please print them out and be prepared to discuss in class.
      • Backgrounder and Fact Sheet Drafts Due Week of February 16-18
  • Two Original Press Releases

Backgrounders and Fact Sheets


Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing one of the critical first steps in developing your campaign -- research. Through research on previous campaigns and circumstances about your client, you can better understand the current needs for the new campaign.

One step in this process is finding the information that will be used in the creation of a backgrounder. As part of the media portfolio, the backgrounder serves to answer any anticipated "overview" questions about the client.

This is a helpful way to communicate basic background/overview information to the media and other defined publics.
Here are some examples of backgrounders:

Another step in the research phase of your campaign planning is the creation of a fact sheet. A fact sheet is similar to a backgrounder in that it also contains an overview of the client and its activities. However, unlike a backgrounder, a fact sheet is usually structured so that the information can be digested quickly "at-a-glance." It is very visual in nature and it is not uncommon to use bolded headers and bullet points. The fact sheet is used by the media or audience to get a quick understanding of the client and/or a specific initiative.

Here are some examples:
Here is a site with some advice and templates:

WEEKS 3 & 4 OVERVIEW: Preparing your Strategic Plan, Competitive Analysis & SWOT Analysis

For this week, the class will:
  • Begin work on our Strategic Plan, to include the Competitive Analysis and SWOT Analysis
  • Discuss the basics and best practices in preparing a strategic plan
  • Conduct brief one-on-one consultations between instructor and student re: progress on the strategic plan.
  • Learn about the six principles of persuasion. 
  • Identify and reach out to a potential client that you would like to partner with for the semester-long practice campaign project. Meet with your client to assess their campaign needs and to gather information to complete the Competitive Analysis, SWOT Analysis and the related Strategic Plan
  • Prepare first draft of Strategic Plan for Thursday, Feb. 4
  • Read chapters 1, 2 and 18 in the textbook

The Six Universal Principles of Persuasion

In the following video presenation, Dr. Robert Cialdini discusses the "six universal principles of persuasion" including:
  • Reciprocity
  • Scarcity
  • Authority
  • Consistency
  • Liking
  • Consensus
By understanding each of the above, you can help to define and refine your strategic planning and content messaging for your campaigns.


The Greatest TED Talk Ever Sold?

Acclaimed humorist and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock tackles marketing transparency, product placement and brand strategy in a most unconventional way in this TED talk.