Providing background information on an organization, issue, place, service or product can make the difference between journalists or stakeholders deciding to focus on your message or turning their attention elsewhere.
When it comes to background document formats, communication professionals have a variety of options; it depends on what you think your readers will need. For example, while a backgrounder can tell your “back story” in a succinct manner, readers may need to have the information delivered in an even more concise format so that they can quickly scan the copy and easily locate the specific facts they need. In such cases, opt for the fact sheet.
Headers that signify particular categories of information and brief text related to each header are two main elements of the fact sheet. For example, a fact sheet for an organization may include some of the following headers:
- Company Name
- Date Founded
- Key Executives
A fact sheet for a country might include these headers, among others:
- Major Industries
The information that relates to the header can be a single word, a phrase or a brief paragraph (two at the very most) that provides the relevant data. Just remember that the idea behind the fact sheet is to provide information to the readers in bite-sized chunks. If a paragraph begins to become lengthy, consider breaking the information into two or more categories or whether you’re including too much detail.
Also, since the fact sheet is supposed to communicate the essential information about your organization, product, service, etc., remember to add your contact information, including social media information.
Fact sheets can be one or more pages (though I personally recommend trying to keep it to one page if at all possible). The traditional format involves a two-columned page with the headers in the first column and the corresponding information immediately adjacent in the second column. However I’ve been seeing more fact sheets, particularly online, that are a series of very brief paragraphs with sub-heads. The PRSA fact sheet is an example of this format.
When to Use
Many PR professionals send a fact sheet with their news release when they believe a journalist is going to need background information. Of course, in this digital age, you also have the option of providing a link to the fact sheet in your e-mail rather than sending a physical copy.
In other cases, the fact sheet is part of the materials in a press kit (which can also include a backgrounder). As mentioned earlier, whether you send a fact sheet with a release or opt for the whole kit-n’-caboodle depends on your message as well as what you think the journalist will need.