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On Fixing Writing

March 5th, 2008

In today’s PR world, we all move really fast.  We are dealing with hundreds of reporters, industry bloggers, customer bloggers, YouTube videos, analysts, and others.  We do this all in the name of managing the conversation around our clients.  We pitch fast, we react fast, we prep fast, and we write fast.

Writing fast isn’t something Shakespeare did.  Or any other significant writer for that point.  It took months, even years, to write something.  They went to great lengths to ensure that their writing was communicative, moving, and thought provoking.

Back in the day, when a PR person wrote a press release, the only people who saw it were reporter and the client.  And yet, great effort went into making it as strong as possible.  Thanks to the web, today’s press releases are read by thousands of people.  And yet we rarely put more than an afternoon into them.

And that seems foolish.

This revelation was inspired by a recent interview with Don Bates, APR, Academic Director, George Washington University, Graduate School of Political Management.

In the interview, Bates, a PRSA fellow and honorary trustee of the Institute for Public Relations, said, “So I think that’s largely what’s missing at a junior level in PR these days—the cursory research, talking to the client, back grounding and true reportage that makes a release or whatever you’re crafting solid, successful and really worthwhile. Because of this, younger writers in the profession may end up faking it with words and trying to make a story out of it with sparkle but no real meat. You end up with a lot of verbiage, but it all just becomes empty brochure material…”

Basically, we’re moving too fast.  And the result is empty communications that makes PR people no better than the basement bloggers they try to avoiding working with.

Bates’ solution is simple: “Senior level executives need to sit down with staff and, for example, have them read a book on rhetoric and discuss what it means to their PR writing. So overall, we need more mentoring and tutoring. Agency heads need to look at writing just like they do account management—they need to see it as something that needs to be nurtured and developed.”

To be honest, most of the writing in press releases these days is – at best – formulaic. Too much “innovative solutions,” not enough sharpened messages.

So how do we find a balance between Shakespeare and brochure material?  Practice seems like a good answer.  Why not have all PR people write blogs? Or anything? As long as they’re writing.  It will help them find their voice, and at the same time help them better understand bloggers.  What’s even better – blogging can be done pretty fast.

Posted Under: Media & Journalism
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