Improve Your Public Relations Writing With These Tips

Writing is one of the most important parts of  a successful public relations campaign. To quote Malcolm Gladwell, “Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.”

People with the skills to write a wide range of content – from bylines and features to blog posts and pitches – are invaluable to their internal teams and business partners. Writing for public relations differs from other types like newspaper, magazine, essay or novel writing. The main purpose is to gain positive exposure, or get a message across to the public.

And no matter how well you write, there’s always room for improvement. Let’s take a look at some tips that can help you become a better public relations writer.

Open with a strong, compelling lead. When writing any type of PR copy, the first step should be coming up with an engaging lead that grabs the reader’s attention. A good lead will set up your copy in a way that doesn’t overwhelm a reader but offers just enough insight to make them want to continue. We strive for brevity, unlike this overly wordy version. So devote some time and attention to your lead and make sure you get it right – it can make or break your piece.

Read your copy aloud. You can spend hours editing and proofreading your copy but still manage to overlook grammar mistakes, run-on sentences and awkward phrases. While many public relations writers often skip this step, reading your copy out loud before submitting to your editor or client is a helpful way to catch any errors that you might have missed. Following this step will help you avoid gaffes like these.

Say more with less. Sometimes, PR bylines and articles come with strict word counts. That’s why writers often feel the need to add unnecessary words to their copy. Instead, try tightening up the copy to give it a clean, natural flow and make it easier to read. Some things to look for include empty phrases and words that don’t add any value to the piece, simpler ways to get your points across, and wordy sentences.

Immerse yourself in written content. The best writers are usually the ones who are obsessed with the written word and love to read. Reading content from other writers is a simple way to help you improve the way you write. Whether you prefer books, magazines, newspapers or any type of online content, any type of reading is a great way to expand your vocabulary and enhance your overall writing skills.

Eliminate passive voice. If you’ve ever submitted copy to an editor, you know that use of the “passive voice”  is one of their biggest pet peeves. Passive voice – “The Phillies were beaten by the Mets” conveys less than active voice – “The Mets beat the Phillies.” It’s good practice to use active voice throughout your copy to make it cleaner and less wordy.

Let your copy breathe. Reading the same thing over and over again can cause you to miss mistakes. Try stepping away from your copy for a few hours, or even a day, and coming back to it with a fresh mindset. This strategy can help you spot any extra words that don’t belong and allow you to trim and tighten up your copy.

Keep writing. The last tip to help better your PR writing is an obvious one, but it’s just as important as the others — practice. From driving a car to learning a sport to perfecting an instrument, the more you do something, the better you’ll be at it. No matter how much advice or feedback you get, repetition is the easiest and most efficient way to improve your copy.

Why Writing Skills Are Still Crucial For PR Pros

How important is writing in public relations today? A PR Week editorial has sparked a fresh discussion about the value of writing skills in today’s PR agency or corporate communications department.  In the op-ed, University of South Carolina’s Shannon Bowen, Ph.D. argues that as PR has evolved into a management discipline, college communications curricula must shift to make room for the teaching of skills like critical thinking and ethics.

Strategy must drive communications tactics, and critical thinking is a vital skill in our business, but I take issue with the thesis that advanced writing skills are no longer crucial for “real-world” PR jobs. PR has surely evolved, but writing skills are more important than ever. Here’s why:

Writing is at the core of persuasion.  The creation of compelling content is a fundamental communications skill, and honest persuasion our goal. If you’ve crafted an op-ed about a business-critical issue or written a keynote speech for a C-level executive, you appreciate the power of the written word to convey ideas, evoke emotion, and build influence. Written and spoken words are still our number-one way for business and government leaders to communicate.

PR is content marketing. Bowen asserts that, “The days of writing news release after news release have given way to the cleverly-worded 140 character snippet.” But social media posts are merely the entry point into a whole new world of content marketing. Today’s PR campaign incorporates a much wider variety of written (and visual) content than in the days of press releases, much of which is longer-form content or brand storytelling. In a given day we may be called to write web copy, a white paper, or a strategy document.

PR ethics must be instilled in the workplace. Bowen makes the case that “PR writing style can be easily taught in the workplace,” but that ethics must be part of a core communications curriculum. But the reverse may be closer to the truth. The very diversity of today’s PR practice and the integration of paid, earned, and owned media means that there is no such thing as “PR writing style.”  Communications ethics, on the other hand, must be institutionalized in the agency and corporate environment, to ensure good practice and train future PR leaders.

Bowen is absolutely right about the high cost of university education and the importance of ethical decision-making for PR and communications pros. But excellence in writing is more than “wordsmithing.” The PR practitioners of the future will be far better prepared to support clients, counsel senior management, or marshall a cogent argument in the face of a reputation threat if they can master not just “PR writing style” but know how to craft and use language for clarity, authority, and impact.