PR & Journalism EducationJournalism

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 stand out 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.

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