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#PR: Is Good Writing a 'Lost Art' for PR?
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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The other day, Aaron Whittaker, who is one of my colleagues here in the Talent Zoo universe, authored a most compelling and quite well-written opinion piece on the importance of writing (particularly, good writing in my view) and how it impacts PR. Too often, due to pressures from clients and deadlines, us flacks have to churn out our press releases and news without really taking a moment to consider how they are received on the other end by editors and journalists. That is why Whitaker's recent piece is so refreshing.

Before becoming a flack, he noted he once was a journalist: “All too often in public relations, we focus on our role as messenger, but not on the message. As someone who had a decade-long career as a journalist before going into PR, I can't tell you much fun it was to go through press releases trying to sort that out. Unfortunately for both the PR firm and their client, most of the time, when a journalist is confronted with a situation like this, they'll just give up.” He then went on to state: “So while PR pros sometimes get aggravated at journalists and there's an uneasy push/pull relationship, I wonder how many PR pros have ever considered the fact that it was their message that lost the opportunity.”

Earlier in his opinion piece, Whitaker bemoaned the loss of the ability to write clearly, considely, and using good English: “Most people view writing as something that's useful, but not exactly vital unless you're going into a career where it will be on regular display. As a result, we've become a society where the value of writing has been eclipsed by many other things, with an emphasis being put on skills that have the highest perceived market value. Good writing has also given way to time pressures and products like the BlackBerry, which has given birth to a modified version of the English language that's pecked out on keyboards worldwide every day. At first glance, there might seem to be nothing wrong with all this. After all, we are supposed to be prepared for as many potential jobs as we can, right? Many people also feel that with technology changing at a rapid pace, it's all they can do to keep pace with new developments; there just can't be time to practice and/or pay attention to 'ancient' skills like writing. Yet in many ways, the lack of writing skills is on display every day and in a bad way. In public relations, this often takes the form of bad marketing collateral filled with buzzwords that stand in the way of truly describing what a client actually does.”

I am sure a lot of us have been guilty of over-use of buzzwords simply due to a lack of knowing what to truly say. But Whitaker makes a good suggestion on overcoming that issue:

“When you're creating a message for a client, remember the first question a journalist will ask. 'Why are you contacting me and why should I care?' It may sound harsh, but that's what it really boils down to. You have to convince people you have something newsworthy; it won't just stand on the opinion of the PR firm or their client. In the process of doing that, be bold and avoid using buzzwords. Instead, clearly articulate who your client is, what your story is, and what makes that story compelling. Realize, too, that not every story idea you'll be able to go out with will be earth shattering. However, that doesn't mean you can't make it interesting. ...

“Obviously, you probably won't get a major hit every time, but over time, you'll likely find the strategy works. If strategies like this were adopted more broadly, over time it might even be possible for the PR industry to get people to realize that PR involves far more than the celebrity publicity-type fluff that they see on TV news and entertainment shows. Better still, campaigns based on pitches and marketing material that are absent fluff and have plenty of value-added information, such as clear descriptions and relevant statistics, will get much better results for the client. With any luck, this will accomplish a goal that's thus far been rather elusive for the industry: improving client-retention rates. “

Good job, Aaron! I wish more of us would remember to think about how our messages resonate with editors and journalists. It helps to wear the other fellow's shoes...if only for a little bit.

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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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