6 Recommendations That Will Make Your PR Writing Great in 2016


My number one writing insight for 2016 originates in a quote from someone who died in 1910.

Russian author Leo Tolstoy said, “If you ask someone, ‘Can you play the violin?’ and he replies, ‘I don’t know, I’ve not tried, perhaps I can,’ you would laugh at him. Whereas about writing, people always say, ‘I don’t know, I have not tried,’ as though one had only to try and one would become a writer.”

What Tolstoy knew, and many others don’t, is that writing is hard.


Writing Tip #1: Being a Writer, Especially a Great Writer, Takes Work: When LeBron James plays basketball at a level that other players can only reach in their dreams and Julianne Hough guides the celebrity with two left feet through a rumba on “Dancing with the Stars,” you see James’ and Hough’s final drafts, not their hours of practice. Great writing takes the same effort, and great writers practice and polish their work until the final copy looks effortless.

Writing Tip #2: Great Writing Isn’t About You: Understanding that great writing isn’t about you doesn’t mean you refrain from working personal flourishes into your copy. It just means that your goal for the piece should not be to show the world how talented and smart you are. Your goal is to make the audience the primary beneficiary. What you find interesting or think is important is irrelevant—unless you write something that only you will read. This leads to...

Writing Tip #3: Know Your Audience: The goal of every written piece is to get something from the audience. Attention, agreement, support, action, information, contributions, reactions and decisions are just some of the outcomes great writers hope to evoke through their efforts. But in order to achieve any of these outcomes, the writer must first give the audience what it needs to respond. The only way to gain these insights is to ask the right questions: What is the audience’s relationship to the topic? What is the audience’s primary interest in the topic? How will the audience benefit from the topic? What attitudes, perceptions, or fears might the audience have about the topic? What unique facts will the audience need? What questions will the audience ask?

Writing Tip #4: Become a Great Reader: You may be surprised to learn that you’ll find some of your best reading material in the supermarket checkout line. Read about the latest celebrity divorce or how to give your kitchen an inexpensive makeover or get abs of steel in 28 days. You are doing research; not on the topic, but on the writing. You’ll discover supermarket publications contain some of the most concise, clear and easy-to-digest and remember language anywhere. That’s the language great writers speak.

Take Sen. Edward Kennedy’s famous quote from the eulogy of his brother, Sen. Robert Kennedy: “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

Robert Kennedy was a senator, attorney general, a humanitarian and a leader in the civil rights movement and the war on poverty. Yet when it came to summing up his brother’s lasting impact, Ted Kennedy chose simple language to deliver one of the most powerful statements ever spoken.

Writing Tip # 5: Become a Storyteller: Since the first hunter ventured from his village in search of food and returned with dinner and the story of how he obtained it, stories have contained four basic elements—a good guy, bad guy, conflict and resolution. From Shakespeare to Star Wars, well-written stories that contain these elements resonate with audiences and get them to respond with the outcome the writer wants.

Great writers can turn any business, PR or marketing piece into a story. The client or the business is the good guy. The competition or a weak economy is the bad guy. The difference between products, processes or solutions is the conflict. The resolution of the story leaves the audience with no choice but to sign up for what the writer is selling.

Writing Tip #6: Put the Punchline First: Many people write like they tell a joke. They provide background information before building up to the story’s punchline, or most important point. A great writer puts the punchline first and delivers the one indispensable message that the audience must read in order for the writer to get what he or she wants.

Imagine that the first hunter prepared a press release for the people of his village about the hunt. He wants the audience to read the release and recognize him as a great hunter. What is the one indispensable message that the village must have for the hunter to achieve his goal? “Are we eating tonight or not?” they want to know. If the hunter begins his release with, “Tonight, we feast!” the audience has the message most likely to give the hunter the recognition he craves. The details of the hunt can follow for anyone who is not hungry and wants to read past the first sentence.

There is more to great writing, of course, but this “Top Six for ’16” is a nice alliteration and a good start to great writing in the new year. Follow these tips and bad writers will become good, good writers will become great and great writers will start rewriting.

CONTACT: Jeff Opperman is creator of the Writing for Results writing seminar. [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2016 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.