The public relations profession is surely evolving, but good, persuasive writing remains a core component of good PR on both the agency and corporate side. Since strong writing is a skill to be maintained and improved, a refresher course is always in order. So whether your concern is product PR, tech, crisis management, or public policy, here are eight simple rules to help improve writing for PR.
Read it out loud. Good writing is as much about how it sounds as it is about putting words on a page. If you find yourself struggling to find the right turn of phrase, read it aloud to see how it sounds. It’s guaranteed to clarify what’s working and what’s not. (We can always tell when one of our colleagues is hard at work writing because it sounds like he’s talking to himself; he is not, he is reading aloud).
Trim, cut, and trim again. A common mistake novice writers make is verbosity; young or inexperienced writers falsely equate more words with better writing. More often, the opposite is true. A more concise sentence holds the reader’s attention because there are fewer things to distract from the main idea.
Incorporate a good quote. This one is particularly apt for public relations and journalism. A good quote will grab a journalist’s ear as much as a juicy steak will distract a hungry carnivore. Learn to listen aggressively to the way people speak. Develop a knack for hearing the quote that “sings,” and then (if you’re a PR professional) discover how to create those types of quotes yourself. It’s part intuitive, part practice, and partly a fun approach to listening.
Use varying rhythms. This is a simple trick to refining writing and making it more dynamic. If you find yourself crafting a string of long sentences full of parenthetical phrases, break one up to alter the rhythm. See what a change of pace does to the flow. Oftentimes, it’ll help you hit your key points harder.
Replace complicated words with simple ones. Relying on obtuse words is another rookie mistake. The best writing is writing that’s clear. Be confident enough with your content to say things simply and clearly, rather than resort to flowery language.
Use concrete details. Clear writing is also concrete and specific, rather than vague. Was the audience “large” or was it “standing-room-only in a 150-seat theater?” Is the new product “wildly popular” or did it “sell out of its first run of 1 million in the first two weeks?” For PR purposes, concrete numbers are definitely more likely to earn coverage than vague descriptive terms.
Show, don’t tell. We hear journalists say this all the time. “Don’t tell me your new product is innovative, groundbreaking technology. Tell me exactly what the product does, why it’s different, and how it works.” Substance speaks louder than superlatives (no matter how many exclamation points you use!)
Reread, always. Until they invent an algorithm that can churn out beautiful, intelligent prose (God help us!), writing is still done by humans, and humans are flawed. Always reread and edit before finalizing a piece, or have someone else do a final read.