The Write Stuff: The #1 PR Skill

Public relations is a melting pot of industries and areas of study – journalism, political science, social media, public affairs and business – to name a few. As professionals, our backgrounds are diverse and the paths that led us to PR vary. No matter how we got here, there is one skill we should all share: clear, exceptional writing.

Sure, the landscape of our profession is continually changing and we have new tools to learn on an almost-daily basis, but a commitment to fundamentals is what makes one PR practitioner standout from the next. We’re a fast-learning, information-hungry bunch, committed to understanding the latest trends. We should also show a commitment to traditional PR principles that remain unchanged on a daily and monthly basis.

The brief, casual language of social media has confused some people on what good writing requires. As someone who’s been in the profession for just a few years, I’d also add that writing is often overlooked in training. All that said, however, I am a proponent of excellence in writing for each and every PR pro.

Messages in 140 characters won’t always get you where you need to go. Here are three reasons why PR practitioners at every level need to embrace solid writing skills.

We pitch writers every day – You know those journalists you reach out to on a daily basis? Odds are they’ve been well-trained in the craft of writing. It’s our job to impress them with materials so well-written, they can copy and paste them (for journalists reading this, please chime in with your thoughts).

Clients expect us to write for them – Whether it’s an op-ed, a brochure, a speech or an annual report, companies hire PR people so that they don’t have to do the heavy writing. Wow them with sharp prose and articulate delivery. Clients should not have to correct or edit work that their PR team sends to them (unless they edit for personal preference, which I think we all witness more often than we’d like).

Only you can decide whether or not you are confident in your writing. Whether you are an entry-level newbie or a seasoned PR veteran, here are five ways to improve if you aren’t confident with your writing.

  • Practice self-editing – Whenever I proof documents for my colleagues, I often find simple, obvious errors that could be avoided with some basic self-editing. Take the time to proof and revise your own work. It makes a huge difference.
  • Use subject+verb sentence construction – Elementary school English teachers tried to drill this into our young brains, but most of us forget the basic subject+verb construction when we get into heavy writing. Writing sentences this way keeps them concise and focused, so revisit the time-tested lesson.
  • Avoid passive voice – This is part two on sentence construction. When you forget to use simple subject-plus-verb construction, you may have a sentence that reads like this: I secured coverage by calling the reporter sixteen times. Compare that to this active voice sentence: I called the reporter sixteen times to secure coverage. Avoid the passive voice for sharper, clearer writing.
  • Watch out for over-capitalization – People love capital letters. Sometimes they throw a capital letter into the middle of a sentence on a random word. Remember that for the most part, only proper nouns, titles preceding a name and the formal names of organizations should be capitalized. Check out the AP style book if you want stricter guidelines.
  • Learn and love style guides – The preferred style for PR writing is AP style. Buy a book, learn it, read it, love it. Use it while proofing every single document you write. If your agency or organization prefers a different style then buy that manual, learn it and love it. You should use AP style to write all media materials – press releases, op-eds and any other media specific literature.

Technological tools cannot replace the universal communication that we all share – writing. We have to communicate with the written word. The more we polish our writing, the more effectively we will communicate with each other and our audiences.

Do you know the difference between a clause and a fragment? Which versus that? Passive voice? If not, take a class or attend a seminar. Polish those writing skills until they shine.

 

About Jessica Love

Jessica Love is a public relations specialist at AugustineIdeas, an integrated marketing and communications firm in Roseville, California. She specializes in media relations, copywriting, message development and event planning for consumer clients in the food and tourism industries. Jessica is enjoying her PR journey as she navigates her way through the industry, trying to learn and improve every day so she can deliver optimal results for her team and her clients.

 

19 Comments

  1. Good morning! Love this post. So important, and these are great tips on how to write stronger prose.

    One thing, though, regarding the passive voice — both of your example sentences are already in active voice. The sentence in the passive voice would become the following: “The reporter was called sixteen times to secure coverage.” Totally unwieldly, right? I think many of us are so well-practiced at not using it that we have forgotten what it is! It does have a time and a place though…here’s a link for the grammar-obsessed: http://www.towson.edu/ows/activepass.htm

    Cheers! New to the blog and loving it…looking forward to learning more from you!

  2. Wow! I felt a little creeped out reading this because it was like you had plucked these thoughts right from my head. I just shared these exact points earlier this week to a group I was speaking to. In fact, I told them about this blog, specifically, and recommended that they all subscribe for solid tips on improving their writing. Thank you for echoing my thoughts!

  3. Thanks for the great feedback! I’m glad others feel the same way. I see a small spacing issue above…will get it fixed ASAP! A post about writing shouldn’t have a spacing typo 🙂

  4. Nicely put, Jessica. I’m amazed at the awful writing I come across in the business environment, to say nothing of misspelled words. One tool I recommend is the Flesch-Kincaid reading level index — built into MS Word. You can quickly gauge your piece, its readability, passive sentences, and grade level.

  5. As a journalist, I fully agree— I’ve deleted press releases immediately upon noticing blatant typos and errors. A well-edited press release makes the writer’s life much, much easier— and we’re much, much more likely to cover things that we easily understand.

  6. Jessica,

    This is a fabulous article on the value of retaining excellent writing skills even in the midst of social media and blogging (which often dilutes good writing principles). Over capitalization is common, as is misspelled words and punctuation errors. One thing I have noticed is the overuse of the exclamation point, but I must admit that I have been guilty of that with some frequency!!!

    I really enjoyed your article Jess. Well done.

    Michele

  7. Hello all the way from Dubai!

    Really enjoyed reading this article and can relate greatly to it given how complicated our press content can become when keeping in mind 2 languages (English/Arabic) while writing.

    Thanks!

  8. Thanks for the article. It’s bang on. But while I fully agree with the points made, I have found that all too many other writers who advocate for clarity go too far, swearing that if a news release has a typo in it, or poor grammar, it will be thrown in the trash. That’s not true of course. Releases will live or die foremost on their news merit, not their eloquence. This said, I wholeheartedly agree we should strive to get it right anyway.

  9. I am in full accord with your thinking that good writing is a primary tool of the publicist. Many successful publicists on the internet contradict that idea by substituting passion and persistence for the most important assets a publicist needs.

    Frankly, I think the way we put our words together is what persuades someone to cover a story — not our need or desire to have the story told.

  10. I was always taught that one of the best ways to self edit is to scan the document for any names of people and places and be sure they’re accurate and spelled correctly. Typically, whenever I write, I just let my brain spill information onto the page and then I must go back to edit afterward. I can only imagine what it would read like should I never edit my documents.

  11. As a verb form, stand out is 2 words; as a noun, it’s one: standout.
    Also: although I agree with you in principle, I also believe that it’s crucial to know how to “write tight” — and Twitter is a perfect venue in which to sharpen that skill. It is an ART to be able to communicate a substantive message in 140 characters — one that should be taught in school!

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