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.

Where Do You Find Data For PR Storytelling?

Last week’s post covered the trend of data-driven storytelling in PR.

But where does the data come from? For many of our clients we field quarterly surveys designed to generate relevant news or insights. But there are lots of other options for PR pros to source relevant data, and many are inexpensive and fairly easy to find.

Data to power PR storytelling

Social listening sets the stage

Social monitoring and listening not only give us a heads up on customer service issues or negative PR, but they can illuminate industry trends and customer behavior. A PR campaign can include a general theme or direction found in social media data or patterns, or the social data can inform a content calendar. Social listening is also a great method for coming up with fresh ideas that will resonate with a specific target audience.
Surveys are the data gift that keep giving

Polls and surveys are time-honored PR tools for developing campaigns, fine-tuning messaging, and generating earned media and content. The survey possibilities are endless, but here are our favorites.

Omnibus surveys

They’re beloved among PRs because they’re quick and affordable. Unlike custom marketing surveys, they’re administered on behalf of multiple organizations, thus spreading the cost over many sponsors. A good omnibus is a solid way to inform thought leadership content or to grab relevant data to attract media interest. They can also be used like flash polls after a news event. If you’re a cybersecurity firm, a 1000-person survey conducted after a public security breach may show behavior change, persistent sloppy password habits or new attitudes about smart home devices. Whatever the outcome, it’s likely to yield fascinating material for content. Media love poll-results story pitches, especially when accompanied by visuals like infographics. See our earlier post for more on how to make surveys work for PR.

Quality data may already exist

Even a small company may have thousands of marketing contacts collected from CRM, website visits, and social followers. Social platforms like Hootsuite or a marketing one like Hubspot can collect, visualize, and collate data analytics on subscriber demographics, email engagement, website activity, and social engagement. If you do customer satisfaction surveys, you can throw in a question to support a specific storyline or uncover customer concerns useful for PR programming.

Public-domain research is high-quality and often free

A PR pro can find in-depth research online from many government and non-profit sources, all in the public domain. Data.gov, Healthdata.gov, U.S. Census Bureau, and other public agencies routinely produce data analyses and statistics collected over many decades. You can cherry-pick studies from different sources, combine and cross-reference to yield an original piece of secondary research – and a story. For a mattress company, we converted NIH data on how many hours people sleep every night into a branded national index of “most sleep-deprived cities.” Our out-of-pocket cost was $200 for the statistical software that made the calculations.

When all else fails, try a straw poll

They’re unscientific, but they’re cheap and easy. If you’re stuck for byline or blog ideas, you can always ask a handful of peers, customers, or sales reps for feedback on their biggest needs, concerns, or frustrations. The most cost-efficient are online tools like SurveyMonkey and Fieldboom for DIY polling. There are even smartphone apps like Poll Everywhere to facilitate more informal online polls with onsite participants at conferences and panels.

Formal third-party research builds thought leadersip

The high-end method is a partnership with an industry analyst or research firm to create a piece of branded research as a corporate communications centerpiece. We helped a credit-union client with a financial literacy platform team with a trade group to develop a national financial literacy study, white paper, and speaking tour. It’s an expensive proposition, but it can anchor a PR campaign and build credibility over years.