According to a recent survey of U.S. media conducted in conjunction with George Washington University and Cision, PR executives are valuable to media, but they have a lot to learn when it comes to writing for them. As noted in the 33-page report, 94% of journalists use submissions from PR professionals and large majorities also depend on other PR tools such as press kits and special events. In other words, editors and reporters need what PR practitioners provide.
But the survey had less positive things to say about how PR people write. Put bluntly, editors and reporters may love practitioners as helpmates, but they generally hate what they do with words. For example, those surveyed said e-mail pitches and news releases should have better quotes, less boilerplate and stronger story ideas. Being less promotional and more relevant to their editorial interests struck the strongest chords.
So, how does one write in the way journalists prefer?
First and foremost, think strategically. Ask a lot of questions before you write; the answers help to frame your content. Here are some of the most obvious:
• Why am I writing, what is my goal?
• Who am I writing to, who am I trying to influence?
• What form should I use, what length, what style?
• What facts should I include, what arguments should I make?
• Whom should I quote, what should he or she say?
• What do recipients need to know, what do I want them to know?
• What do I want to happen, when?
Make questions like these a part of your writing muscle memory. And when you actually write, make sure your words and arguments reflect conventional standards of PR writing success, including:
• Simple and direct;
• Credible, factual, accurate;
• Measured in tone;
• Persuasively articulated;
• Positively stated;
• Properly attributed; and,
In the end, PR writing is more about word-working (using words to make things happen) than wordsmithing (using words largely for show). And word-working isn’t easy.
Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers, makes the point more acutely. His research concludes that the very best athletes spend the most time practicing and playing from an early age; they play up to 4,000 more hours than their average or mediocre counterparts despite any innate talent they might possess.
Since writing can easily be viewed as a sport in which you’re playing with words to win, why should you be exempt from the same regimen and its implications? At the very least, you should train to become the best “pitcher” in your league. PRN