Public Relations Fact Sheets
by Professor Annette M. Taylor, University of Dayton

I. Fact sheets are fact filled public relations documents, usually one to two pages in length, that provide key background information for media, targeted publics and stakeholders.

A. Purpose: Fact sheets help to bolster an organization’s prestige and credibility. They are among a variety of background materials used to enhance the organization and educate the organization's publics (a term used in PR).
B. Audience: Fact sheets are used by journalists to supplement news releases and to assist them when they are preparing their own stories. 
    1. Fact sheets help other people better understand the scope of services and benefits, the extent of a problem, the significance of an issue, the interesting or unusual features of a program, or comparative statistics.
    2. People may use the information to decide whether to support the organization or a program, to attend an event, or buy a product.
C. Media and Distribution: Public relations practitioners distribute fact sheets separately as hard copy or electronically through e-mail, or as part of a package, such as in a press kit, user guide or Web site.
    1. Fact sheets are always self-contained: They must be able to stand alone, whether or not they are included another package. They require no further explanation.
    2. Fact sheets should leave no doubt as to the sponsoring organization. The organization’s name is prominent.

II. Fact sheets seek to enhance a positive factor or undermine a negative factor concerning an objective of a public relations campaign or situation.

A. Fact sheets usually strive to establish credibility for the organization and/or its cause, and, in so doing, persuade a targeted audience to its way of thinking, or to take a certain action.
    1. The message that audiences get after reading fact sheets might be something like:
        a. The organization has a qualified staff, located in Dayton and not outsourced to foreign countries.
        b. It has the key equipment to do the job.
        c. It has longevity in this community and, therefore, a proven track record.
        d. It has great programs that serve the community.
        e. It has widespread support in the community.
    2. The message to journalists just by producing a fact sheet might be:
        a. The organization has done its homework.
        b. It is helpful and forthright.
        c. These are powerful messages to the press, and help to maintain positive relationships with the media.
    3. Another example: A fact sheet might be used to undermine a negative employee impression that the company is not spending enough money on cleanup of hazardous materials at the plant. The fact sheet could list costs, equipment and labor targeted on Plant #24, which will be closed in August for a massive cleanup. The facts – costs, equipment and labor – bolster the company's credibility.
       
B. Credibility is established by the facts.
    1. Fact sheets are designed to inform people about things they don’t already know. Fact sheets have depth.
    2. Facts are obtained with sustained research and interviewing inside and outside the organization.
        a. Outside the organization, public relations practitioners will look to government and scientific data.
        b. PR practitioners also will look to the organization's competitors and reputable commercial research sites.
    3. Facts are the evidence that will persuade the audience to the organization’s point of view.

C. The writer must know the underlying motive for producing the fact sheet before he or she begins.
    1. Only in that way can the writer know what to include and what to omit.
    2. Only in that way can the writer know how to prioritize information – what to emphasize and what to de-emphasize in the document.

III. Fact sheets focus on one topic.

A. Fact sheets can be about an organization, a program within the organization, a subsidiary, an event, an issue, a sponsored program outside the organization, equipment, processes, etc.
   
 1. But fact sheets on the entire organization or the history of the organization don't work. Those are book subjects.
     2. Instead, try, key programs with brief descriptions and key dates in the organization's history.

B. Because fact sheets are brief documents, they must have a narrow focus. The key is to be very specific in defining the subject matter.

IV. Fact sheets can be presented in a data-list form or follow a narrative approach.

A. The data-list form comes in various formats.
   
1. A short form is to list a series of notable facts using subheads (subject headings) and bullet points.
    2. A longer form is a Q & A (question and answer) series that deal with frequently-asked questions about a subject followed by concise and clear answers.

B. The data-list form sometimes has the feel of a resume.
   
1. Instead of a name as a title, the fact sheet has a heading precise to its topic.
        a. EX: Manufacturing Process
        b. Taking Care of Your Heart
        c. Where Your Tax Dollars Go In Our Schools
    2. The data sheet is an informative catalogue of relevant information about the issue or organization. It can be organized by categories with appropriate subheads.
        a. EX: History
        b. Research and Development
        c. Achievements
        d. Outlook
    3. Or it can be organized chronologically.
        a. 1925
        b. 1960s
        c. 2000
    4. The fact sheet can combine the two organizational patterns with categories as sections and the information underneath organized chronologically.
        a. Research and Development
            1925 New headphones design that didn't cause neck injuries.
            1965
High quality stereo ...
    5. In any case, bullets may be used as a graphic element or as emphasis. Have a reason for using.
    6. Fact sheets with some graphic element – bullets and/or subheads – usually are more attractive and easier to read than those without.

C. Fact sheets using the narrative or news-story form have sentences, topic sentences and paragraphs with transitions.
   
1. They include the same, precise information as the data sheet.
    2. They might be organized chronologically or by topic.
    3. They are reader-friendly, with short paragraphs and subheads.

V. To prepare an effective fact sheet most efficiently, follow these five steps.

A. Identify your purpose and audience for this document.
    1. What do you want this fact sheet to accomplish? If you don’t know the intended results, you won’t know what to write – or even whether a fact sheet is the best format. To identify a fact sheet purpose, ask yourself:
        a. What factor are you trying to enhance or overcome – a positive or negative public attitude?
            1) That company really is doing a good job on the downtown projects.
            2) Service is so good now, I can’t believe they can make it better but they did.
        b. What behavior do you want the targeted audience to adopt after reading the fact sheet?
            1) I better get rid of that old baby crib because it’s dangerous!
            2) We better get our family checked for nail fungus.
        c. What key idea do you want the targeted audience to have when they finish reading?
    2. Who are you speaking to? All communications have a targeted audience. By knowing the audience, you’ll know what information to include, how to frame the information (what words to use) and what aspects to stress.
        a. What do these people know and think about the issue?
            1) Do they know anything at all?
            2) If not, why not?
        b. What are my audience’s needs, interests and concerns?
        c. What information will be relevant to this audience?
        d. What language and tone will work with this group?
            1) How can I connect my issue to their needs, issues and concerns?

B. Identify your topic.
    1. Fact sheets have a discernable and manageable topic. Don’t have a topic so broad (and inevitably vague) that you could write a book on it. The topic should be narrow – and specific – so that you can do it justice.
    2. Fact sheets offer background material on one topic.
    3. To get a specific topic, trying phrasing a question as you would a research paper.
        a. Will it be a history? History of what? What time span?
        b. Overview of personnel? All departments? Some?
        c. Description of key programs?
        d. Description of how a program works? Identification and breakdown of funding?
    4. Remember that fact sheets are short, but they must be packed with information.

C. Collect information from many, various sources.
    1. Research prior publications of the organization; parent organization; news databases on your organization, similar organization and topic;  government and private Web sites on the topic. Makes copies and take notes.
        a. Take detailed notes. Remember that fact sheets are filled with data – statistics, dates, names, etc.
        b. Check validity of sources.
        c. Remember that you will have to cite all sources of material. Although government information is free from copyright, your audience still wants to know the source (credibility issues) and you certainly don’t want to take credit for something you did not create. So, note the URLs.
        d. Get permission to use information from sources.
    2. Interview people, e.g., experts, representatives of organization, university professors who understand the issue generally, and others.
    3. Observe the behavior of people and institutions who have a stake in the issue, if relevant.
    4. Research thoroughly. You can never have too much information. Many students make the mistake of having too little information.

D. Outline the fact sheet.
    1. What’s the main topic?
    2. What are the subtopics?
        a. Identify at least three subtopics to cover in the fact sheet. These subtopics might become headings.
        b. If you don’t have at least three, then go back to research stage.
    3. What is the supporting evidence under each topic? Remember that you must have detailed, precise facts. Think statistics, dates, names, definitions, examples.
    4. What is the logical order for this information?
        a. Chronological? Or most recent to far past? Sometimes that’s the most relevant way. But as a backgrounder, starting with when the company was founded and moving forward might make sense.
        b. Most important information to least important? When writing about people’s professional histories, that makes sense. What’s more relevant is their jobs. The fact that they like skiing and have four gold fish, while offering us a glimpse of their personality, should come at the end.
    5. What form will it take? Fact sheets come in various formats and appear on paper and in electronic form (web sites and e-mail):
        a. Key data at-a-glance
        b. Glossaries
        c. Directories – e.g., key contacts, office list locations, etc.
        d. Questions and answers
        e. Suggested interview questions
        f. Texts/excerpts of speeches, reports, books, articles.

E. Write a thesis statement – a summary statement – of the entire fact sheet. The details will be the body of the fact sheet. This statement will keep you on track when you write the fact sheet.

VI. Write the fact sheet using proper media writing style, with an emphasis on information, information for the audience, precise language and accuracy.

A. Fact sheets are loaded with detailed information, especially information not generally known by the publics. Fact sheets answer the 5Ws & H on the subject matter – who, what, where, when, how and why. For example:
    1. They include precise details, exact dates, numbers, dollar amounts and addresses.
    2. They include full names and titles.
    3. They include diagrams, explanations, examples.
    4. They are specific with facts and language.
    5. They steer clear of generalizations, vague descriptions and exaggerations.
    6. Fact sheets are not advertisements.

B. Fact sheets speak to the audience.
    1. Anticipate the audience’s interests, needs and concerns. Anticipate the audience’s questions.
    2. Does the communication raise the audience’s interest in or concern about the issue? Does it speak to them?

C. Fact sheets meet the objective.
    1. Does it provide the necessary information the audience needs to comply with the communication objective? So, for example, does it provide the name of the event, sponsor, location, date and time, purpose of event, expected attendance, the prominent people expected to attend and the unusual aspects about the event?
    2. Does the fact sheet say something about the issue of the PR campaign or project?

D. Fact sheets, to be effective, require proper English and grammar.
    1. Write simply and directly. Use declarative sentences.
        a. Use active verbs and visual nouns.
        b. Never use there or it as the subject of a sentence.
        c. Minimize use of abstract language and concept terms.
        d. Avoid jargon and slang.
    2. Write clearly and precisely. Ambiguities lead to misunderstandings and unintended interpretations.
    3. Be consistent with style, which gives a professional look to the document. Follow AP.
    4. Use third person and objective tone.
        a. Never use first person. You – the writer – are irrelevant.
        b. Do not issue directives – people shoulds and you musts. People do not like to be treated like idiots – they do not like to be told how to think and act.
        c. Avoid second person. Most people resist uninvited familiarity – being "spoken to" as if they were old friends when they are not.
        d. Exaggerations and exclamations undermine your objectives.
            1) Avoid adjectives and adverbs.
            2) Avoid weasel modifiers.
            3) Never use exclamation points.
            4) Don’t use advertising or marketing techniques. Stick to facts.

E. Because fact sheets and other documents may get into the hands of other publics, public relations practitioners are careful about what they write. They should not reveal information that the organization would rather keep internally.