Stephen Sondheim has written music and lyrics for some of the most enduring musicals of the last half century. I have no idea if he has ever written a press release, yet the lines he wrote could have emerged in whole from the textbook for PR 101:
Content dictates form
Less is more
God is in the details
All in the service of clarity
Without which nothing else matters.
In his recent book “Finishing the Hat,” Sondheim details his creative process and lets readers peek in on his world of countless revisions, maniacal collaborators and the sheer force of will needed to make great art (and great PR). In the end, his insights serve as critical checks for those of us striving to be better writers, creators and course-changers. He understands that success demands thinking in both the largest and smallest terms with equal attention to detail.
1. Content dictates form: A lyric (like a media pitch) must have a purpose, whether it’s advancing the story, giving the audience insight into a character or creating a moment of pure emotion. In media relations, we often get so hung up on press releases and media alerts that we forget to ask ourselves the basic question: Is this the right format for my content?
2. Less is more: With any media interaction, it’s critical to give the correct amount of information. We’ve all been deluged with over-zealous emails that instantly strike us as spam because the author was not considering the needs of the audience.
3. God is in the details: We’ve all made a small typo that has derailed a pitch, sabotaged an interview or simply allowed our prose to be less compelling than it could have been. Even in our busy days, the key is to revise and rework until content is fully polished and each line is both correct and concise.
4. Without clarity, nothing else matters: If the audience can’t understand the point, it doesn’t matter how well targeted, researched and annotated your work is. In the end, we live and die by getting messages through exactly as we intend them.
Do you agree with Sondheim’s commandments? What else should be added to make this a comprehensive list for media relations?
Luke Capizzo is an account executive at Identity. A version of this article originally ran on Identity’s blog.