Effective Communications Tip of the Week
Comment on Puff Pieces
who product public relations materials for clients often face the challenge of drafting a news article or feature that has
at least a snowball’s chance in hell of passing through the electronic Hades of a news editor’s desk. The editor’s
desk/computer is loaded with articles and each one (to him) is of equal news value. Puff Pieces are among the first
to make it to the round file or to experience the delete key. Positive Aspect stories at least have a fighting chance
of making it in print or on screen.
A positive aspect article differs from a puff piece primarily in that the PA is written strictly
according to standard journalistic style. It promotes only the positive side of the person or organization; it is a legitimate
news story told in the traditional manner.
A puff piece jumps from straightforward reporting right into unabashed praise. The writers generally
don’t follow an accepted stylebook. They often use first names throughout the piece. Unnecessary and inappropriate adverbs
and adjectives are often tossed out like Mardi Gras throws from a parade float.
For example, a puff piece might read:
"Bob is a terrific boss and we can go in to see him with a problem any time. We think
that's really cool."
A writer who wants the piece to have a lifespan beyond the editor’s, “Bah Humbug!” will follow appropriate
maintains a good rapport with his staff by managing the office with an open door policy."
Notice that the puff piece and the positive aspect piece say
the same thing. The difference is that the latter will possibly see life in print. The first version will be terminated with
is mostly a matter of style, although sometimes the puff piece will slip into
falsehoods. "Bob supports women's rights in the office place" is pretty hard to believe when everyone in the community
knows he refers to his universally buxom female staff as "My little groupies."
The biggest problem with a puff piece is that it is so obvious. The
editor knows his publication will suffer from a loss of credibility. The writer knows this, too. Sadly, Bob (the swell boss)
often doesn’t. Unless his craving for puffery is held in check, ultimately
he is the one whose puffed up bubble bursts the loudest.
Quote of the Week: “The devil’s
boots don’t creak.” Scottish Proverb
Recommended Reading: The Chicago Manual of Style
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