My editor-in-chief is a gift. He reviews more than a dozen articles a day prepared by the writers on our public relations team. He catches typos, adds and tweaks wording for clarity, and lets us know when our message is not getting through.
I try to thank him frequently because I imagine his is a thankless job.
He left me a comment recently that caught me off guard. He said he "enjoyed" reading one of the articles that I wrote.
I had almost forgotten that, on top of everything else, we should be giving our readers something to enjoy.
If you are reading this, Sam, thanks for the reminder.
If you are a writer for PR, you are busy cranking out multiple articles each day on topics such as legal recruiting, NFTs, and the gig economy (all of which are topics on my task list as I write this). Some topics are innately fascinating to the broader population, but those are usually the exceptions.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to craft compelling articles on the topic you've been assigned. And if compelling takes too much time, at least make your articles enjoyable.
Here are some tips I recommend for getting there.
1. Believe in the client
I have some clients I cannot wait to write for. They have altruistic organizations that are pushing boundaries and changing lives.
Then, there are the others I don't get excited about. However, I didn't choose them, they chose me, so I try to take some time to get excited about what they are doing, too.
For example, I recently wrote an article for a client about preparing for an IPO. I didn't know what an IPO was when I got the assignment, but I found out it is related to stocks.I would rather go to the dentist than talk about stocks...
I began by doing some research on the client, and I was soon inspired. She is a woman of color who is working to "propel the trajectory for women and diverse investors and entrepreneurs." That is the kind of mission I can get behind. If getting there involves guiding others about IPOs, I'm in: Where do I write?
When you buy into the client's mission, you get excited. When you are excited, your writing will be more exciting and more enjoyable to read.
2. Prepare well
One of my favorite quotes about writing is not actually about writing, it is about preparing, and it comes from Abraham Lincoln: "Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax."
I have adopted the quote to inspire my PR writing preparation process. I typically have 2-3 hours to complete an article of 600-1,000 words. That is a tight schedule. Still, I spend the bulk of my time learning about the topic, trying to become what I call a "600-word expert."
When I neglect the research and just dive in—perhaps inspired by a great lede I came up with—the results are usually disastrous.
My advice is to keep researching until you feel like you know the topic. If that is not your usual practice, it may be a little stressful at the beginning as you research while listening to the clock tick. In my experience, however, research empowers you to write more efficiently and authoritatively.
3. Remember your audience—all of it
Years ago, when I was a writer for a newsletter on money laundering, I had a specific audience in mind. PR writing is not that simple; your audience consists of a diverse group of people.
First is your publicist. He or she has given you an assignment with a topic, keywords, and—if you are lucky—some specific instructions. You must build on those requirements and satisfy the publicist's needs.
Second is the publication and its audience. The publication often has requirements that get piled on top of the publicist's. You also need to consider its audience. When writing for an industry-specific outlet, you will need to use some industry-specific language. If you don't, it won't be remotely enjoyable—or credible.
Then there is the client. Some are super picky about language, and some aren't. But most clients have strong feelings about their brand, and they all appreciate seeing an article that people will enjoy reading. But they will need to approve it before you are done writing.
And finally, we have the audience member most difficult to please: the algorithm. Among the hundreds of PR articles I have written, only one has been for a print publication. Today, to write for PR is to write for a digital world. Your article will be scrutinized by the algorithm, so one of your goals is good SEO.
Here are three quick tips for improving SEO in your PR writing:
- Shoot for shorter sentences. Under 20 words is a good rule of thumb.
- Write in the active voice.
- Practice "chunking," which means writing short paragraphs separated by a space. I try to stick to three-sentence paragraphs, which means fewer than 60 words. The experts say you should shoot for fewer than 150 words.
* * *
If someone hired you to write for a PR firm, you are a good writer. You will face challenges—like a 2,500 word article on making cybersecurity a boardroom priority—but you can do it.
There are rules to follow, just as there are best-practices to apply. Success, however, starts with believing in yourself and letting it flow. Write on.
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