Why PR Pros Are The Most Versatile Writers

As a profession, public relations evokes images of media pitching or crisis management. But according to the 2018 USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations Global Communications Report, writing is the skill most valued by PR recruiters.  That makes sense; persuasion is fueled by artful storytelling, and despite the growth of video, many stories are still told through the written word. Successful PR people tend to be good writers; yet even more impressive than the quality of good PR writing is its versatility. From blog posts to media pitches, we shift gears constantly, adapting to many different kinds of written content.

Less is more

Media pitches and social posts require writers to pack the most punch into the lowest word count. We must convince a reporter that our story is relevant, important, and entertaining enough to publish – often in no more than three sentences. More accurately, we have to convince them in one short sentence: as most PRs know, the email subject line is critical. For more fundamentals on how to pitch the media, see this earlier post.

Bylined articles

One of the most effective engines of executive visibility is the bylined article, which B2B PR experts routinely help craft. When penning a byline, the writer must simultaneously capture the voice of the executive and adhere to journalistic style. It can come down to a compelling, non-promotional point of view in 500-700 words, with both editors and readers in mind. On top of that we must keep SEO and PR messaging in mind while trying to write entertaining prose that dazzles the reader. Bylines are harder than they look; if you want to know the secrets of byline best practices, see this earlier post.

Am I boring you?

There’s an ongoing debate about the role of the press release, which is pronounced dead every few years. It’s not the most creative PR product, but the news release is still essential for announcements – and don’t forget the power of SEO. One of the first documents PR people learn to write, press releases are ideally a single page, written in sound journalistic style (give ‘em the 5 Ws), peppered with an executive quote or two, and ending with a company boilerplate. Clearly they aren’t designed for home runs, but they’re PR’s utility player, useful for building a record of company progress. See this earlier post for more on uses for the modern press release.

The long game

The white paper has its own specific audience and purpose that separates it from other PR content. White papers offer insights in a long format and they’re generally written in a more academic style than a press release or byline. White papers are key collateral in the B2B world, as they can enjoy a long life as educational documents designed to move sales prospects toward buying decisions – while remaining overtly non-self-promotional. PR writers can afford to get further into the weeds in white papers, since they aim for an educated and narrow audience. Although often used to develop sales and marketing leads, white papers can also boost credibility and the perception of expertise or authority for company executives.

Making your case to hoist the trophy

Winning industry awards demands one of the more highly specialized type of PR writing. Most tech industry award competitions like those put on by the Drum, Digiday, and many other trade publications require entrants to compose 500-1000-word essays that persuade judges you have the best product, service, team, or software. PR pros must pivot from journalistic or academic styles, instead writing with a storyteller’s hat, detailing how the product or service solved a customer’s problem – otherwise known as a case study. See this earlier post for tips on winning business awards. PR writers often help write case studies used on the company’s website, and if the customers or accomplishments are high profile enough, can be pitched to reporters as a success story.

A blog-eat-blog world        

PR people can relax the journalistic muscles when writing blog or LinkedIn posts for clients’ owned media channels. While blogs can fulfill lots of different of objectives, some formats allow PR writers to add a little flair, be more opinionated, and even a bit self-promotional. Blog posts can be key thought leadership assets and even help reflect the personality of the executive and the brand. Further, many companies use blogs content to communicate directly with both internal and external stakeholders, requiring more carefully measured tones.
At one point or another, PR pros must write like reporters, professors, salespeople, teenagers (social media), and novelists. When not working on the types of assets above, PR pros are busy writing emails and slack messages – requiring another whole brand of finesse. Do you know a professional that demands more versatile writing chops? For some simple tips on improving your PR writing, see our earlier post.

6 Quick Tips For PR Writers

If you’re in PR, chances are, you’re a writer. Now more than ever, public relations recruiters prioritize writing skills. Yes, visual content is very important in what we do, and we’ve woken up to the power of podcasts, but don’t underestimate written-word content. According to USC’s 2017 Global Communications Report, written communications is second only to strategic planning in important skills for future growth in public relations. A professional communicator is arguably one of the most versatile writers around. But some just entering our profession may be surprised by what type of writing a typical PR position requires.

PR writing may not be what you think

Versatility rules

On any given day, we can be asked to craft media pitches, bylined articles, PR plans, or blogs posts. Each requires different writing styles, though all feature the elements of persuasion. With media pitches, PR pros must tell or tease a story to a journalist – and fast. Meanwhile, an executive byline for a thought leader must not only be a solid piece of journalism, but it should reflect the voice of the executive. A PR pro must be able to switch gears between various formats, keeping in mind the different audiences and objectives for each.

Don’t believe the hype

With persuasion in mind, a PR newbie may come in ready to be a salesman with plenty of hyperbole – “groundbreaking” products and “unique” announcements. It’s more useful to think about persuading and educating rather than selling. Reporters and other audiences have keen BS detectors, and overused, sensational language doesn’t persuade; in fact, it undermines credibility. Leave your “innovative software developed by a true visionary that will revolutionize the world” at home and focus on clear and powerful language. PR writing needs to be high-impact, but not overblown.

Writing for SEO is standard PR practice

Reporters may not appreciate your clever or flowery headline in pitches, so PR writers with chops in the creative area should guard against too-florid content. The purpose of the pitch is to make them want to tell the story – with their own clever language, so a straightforward approach is wise. And when it comes to press releases or other material published or distributed through wire services, natural language is best. Distributed content needs to contain the keywords that will make it searchable, without compromising quality.

Never write for word count

While a recent college graduate may be trained to write to reach a certain word count, at a PR agency she will need to condense, shape, and headline. The translation of unwieldy or technical matters to their simplest core remains an essential skill in PR. Even beginners understand that a press release is pure journalistic writing that should hit on the 5Ws — who, what, when, where, why. Yet many fail to apply the same rigor to client communications. It’s a paradox of business writing that shorter documents take more time to create and edit. But even more than journalists, clients deserve the time investment that results in a shorter and more concise recommendation requires. Less really is more.

Use research for insights, not content

A recent graduate’s research skills will come in handy on the job in PR, but unlike in academia, research plays a slightly different role in PR writing. We typically use it for insights that inform our messages, not for pouring into a white paper or press release. Demographic or psychographic data about customers based on market research, for example, can help refine story ideas, media targets, and even the wording of content aimed at consumers or business customers. The research supports and drives campaigns, but it doesn’t necessarily populate them.

Storytelling is the engine of PR

A grasp of universal storytelling principles is at the core of most successful PR writing. Here is where a creative writing background can be useful — starting with the novelist’s rule of show, don’t tell. While every given memo or press release may not be a story in itself,  the content calendar should serve as a roadmap for the client’s overall narrative, connecting the dots and making the case for what it does – solve customer problems, make a task easier, entertain people, or whatever it is.

PR agencies are always looking for good writers. But good writers looking for a career in PR may have to assess their skills and adapt them for journalistic content, business writing, and creative pitches. It can take work, but it’s worth it.

PR Pros Know Your Prose

I read a tweet recently which featured the phrase “case and point.”  I knew the correct phrase was, of course, “case in point,” but it gave me pause as I thought about other similar examples. The problem with many of these idiomatic phrases is that people have often said or heard the phrases but have seldom, if ever, read or written them.

Hence, the following examples of often misheard/misused phrases that you will want to brush up on for more effective PR writing.

Deep-seeded vs. deep-seated. Even though deep-seeded kind of does make sense, the expression has nothing to do with a feeling being planted deep within one, but instead refers to its being seated firmly within one’s being: “My aversion to anchovies is deep-seated.”

For all intensive purposes vs.  for all intents and purposes.  Intensive purposes? Purposes that are exceptionally concentrated? No, in effect; for all practical purposes. “For all intents and purposes, I do not text and drive.”

Wet vs. whet one’s appetite. While imbibing may have an effect on your appetite, the proper word is whet. It is just such an uncommon word that people seldom see it spelled out. The word literally means to sharpen a knife or to excite or stimulate (someone’s desire, interest, or appetite).

Pore over vs. pour over. If you’re “pouring over” documents be prepared for some messy paperwork! What you should be doing is “poring over” them, or examining them closely.

Home in vs. hone in. Home in means to direct on a target and derives from the 19th-century use of homing pigeons! Used metaphorically, one can home in on something or focus on and make progress toward it. To hone is to sharpen, and it has become an alteration of home in. Although many people regard it as an error, it has become so common that many dictionaries now list it. We can think of honing in as a sharpening of focus or a perfecting of one’s trajectory toward a target. So while it might not make strict logical sense, extending hone this way is not a huge leap.

So, remember the next time you treat something with disdain by saying “I could care less,” no, in fact you could! So use the proper phrase, “I couldn’t care less.”

Any improperly used expressions that irk you? Let us know in the comments.