Tips for Breakthrough PR Writing
The importance of writing well cannot be emphasized enough in public relations. For PR Pros, writing is a core competency that is a part of everything that we do – whether that’s a press release, a pitch, a blog post, or just an email to a client. Not only is your work being judged by those paying your salary, but your peers and clients also form impressions about you based on how well you communicate. How we write is a key part of our personal brand.
In listening to a recent PRWeek webinar, titled, “Tips for Breakthrough PR Writing,” I got some critical reminders about the importance of strong writing skills. Often, it’s the little things that count the most. These basic tips were great refreshers on how important it is to pay attention to detail and how be thorough in everything you write.
1. Frame the news
Hype is not news, as every editor will tell you. Words like “state-of-the-art, revolutionary, and first-of-its-kind,” should be thrown out of written vocabulary. Editors want you to get to the point, and fast. Think like the prospects you are pitching – what would make you interested in a story? The opening paragraph of any written piece should be as simple as possible and tell the most important elements to the story. If your first paragraph doesn’t do that, chances are, the reading will stop there. Make sure you know what is really newsworthy. Ask yourself, is it timely? Is there a reason to write about this now, or can it wait? Can you tie your story to anything happening in the world today? Making your writing relevant and keeping it simple are two key elements to PR success.
2. Master the 3 Cs…clear, concise & compelling
Tap into the power of simplicity, e.g. the Nike slogan “Just Do It”. If it can be said in three words instead of five, go with three. This avoids confusion and gets rid of unnecessary extras. After all, time is tight for those in media, so make it quick. Often we can’t just write how we talk, because our conversation is more casual than the written word. But think about how you would tell someone a story and, if you can, write it that way (taking grammar into account). Acronyms in emails to clients should be used sparingly, especially if they aren’t ones that are used regularly in their business. No one wants to have to send you a follow-up email just to ask you what you meant by your acronym shorthand. Finally, have you ever noticed that when you send emails to clients with multiple points and questions, it takes much longer for them to get back to you? Only include key points in emails. This will ensure that the important stuff gets read and answered.
3. Break on through… engaging subject lines & headlines
Always remember what the point of the subject line is in an email: to entice the prospect to open the email. If it’s wordy or takes more than a few seconds to comprehend, the email’s not getting opened. The subject line should help the editor or reporter picture the title of a potential article, so it should be just as short and punchy as the titles of the articles you are attracted to read.
4. Tone it for your audience
We can’t control how our tone sounds on the other end of emails. What might sound perfectly fine to us when we hit the send button can come across as angry, curt or blunt on the other end. Be mindful of how you “speak” in an email. One way to combat this issue is to have a peer read your email first before sending for tone. Getting an objective third party to review your email can help flag any possible misunderstandings before they are created. Never be condescending or presumptuous in an email to editors. If they made a mistake or missed something, there is a right way to ask them to correct it and a wrong way. Make sure that you know the difference!
5. Give grammar your best shot
It’s amazing how some of the smartest and most successful people still make common grammatical errors. No one is immune to these simple mistakes. Some of the most common errors include noun-pronoun agreement, subject-verb agreement, tense consistency, and sentence structure. Consider the image on the right – the first sentence sounds like we want to eat our grandmother, and the second sentence correctly states that we are telling our grandmother that we want to start eating, with her! Punctuation can truly save lives (or, at least, your latest pitch/memo/email, etc.!).
Post by Colleen DeVine, Director