By Rusty Cawley
The right time to create a fact sheet is any time you
need to spoon-feed a reporter on a complex subject.
Reporters don’t mind thinking, they just don’t want to
think too hard. They simply don’t have the time. They
are writing history in a hurry. The accent is on
PR Rainmakers recognize this and use it to their
Creating a fact sheet gives you more control over the
story that you will have without it. A reporter in a
hurry is very likely to take your fact sheet and covert
at least part of it into a section of the story.
The fact sheet offers the reporter a short-cut that few
can refuse. So offer it.
There are four steps to creating a powerful fact sheet.
Step 1: Gather content.
Bring together every recent document your company has
produced on the subject you want the reporter to cover.
Consider widening your net to include documents
produced by related associations, colleges, think tanks
and even competitors.
Talk to the folks in your company who really know the
subject. Focus not only on the executives, but also on
the grunts who truly produce the work and thus know it
inside out. Take careful notes.
Think like a reporter. What would a journalist need to
know? But also look for the surprising, the interesting
or the unusual: things the reporter might not expect.
Include these ideas as well.
Step 2: Organize and outline
Sort your information by subject. Some PR Rainmakers
use binders or folders. Others use computer software.
Go with whatever works best for you.
Let’s say you represent a drug manufacturer who is
issuing a new pill that instantly cures hives caused by
consumption of MSG. Your content might include the
pill’s formula, the team that created the pill, the
size of the company’s investment, the potential market
for the pill, the active ingredients, the chemical
reaction to MSG in allergic humans, and on and on.
You want to take each bit of useful information and put
it with related information. Give each “box” of
information a name: “team,” “market,” “ingredients,”
and so on.
Your goal is sort out your content until it makes sense
Next, on a sheet of paper or on a computer screen, you
want to write a master list of the names of each “box.”
This will provide the basic outline for your fact
sheet. Rearrange the outline until the structure makes
Step 3. Prune, combine and simplify.
The goal is, in few pages as possible, to produce a
fact sheet that hits the topics you want to see in the
Rule of thumb: At least five boxes, and no more than
10. Prune away until you reach a number between those
Look for opportunities to combine boxes. For example,
if you have some content sorted as “executive team” and
another as “research team,” consider combining these
into one box labeled “team.”
Also, you need to find ways to simplify complex ideas.
Search for comparisons and analogies that will express
complicated processes. Transform jargon into English.
Focus on benefits, not features.
Trim, trim and trim some more. (When I started this
article, there were eight steps. Now there are just
four. That’s where you want to go with this part of the
If the subject is just too complex to reduce to a
single page, consider creating more than one fact
sheet. Just make certain each fact sheet focuses on a
single aspect of the overall topic.
Step 4: Format and produce
There are as many ways to design fact sheets as there
are topics. You will need to use your experience,
creativity and common sense to choose the one that best
organized your material.
Try to keep the fact sheet to one page. Certainly no
more than three.
Use a readable typeface, such as Arial, in a 10 to 12
point typeface. Double spacing isn’t necessary, but use
a blank line between paragraphs.
The page should begin with the word “Fact Sheet,”
followed by a very brief headline that explains the
subject of the page.
From that point on, work with your outline. Use a small
header to introduce each “box.” Consider using a bullet
to open each paragraph.
Insert only the most interest, most vital or most
relevant information you have to offer. Remember: Your
job is to make it easy for the reporter to write the
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