Reaching Your Readers: Writing Effectively for PR



 

As PR professionals, we are always racking our brains to develop impressive, effective writing techniques to engage our intended audience and achieve our desired result. Recently, three members of our 451 Marketing team attended a writing workshop hosted by the Publicity Club of New England (PubClub) where Ken O’Quinn @KenOQuinn, founder of Writing with Clarity, provided insight on how to write more effectively, by organizing, focusing, simplifying, and crafting. Ken is a former AP writer and now professionally coaches writers. He has worked with business professionals and executives at companies such as GE, Chevron, Visa, Oracle, John Deere, UPS, Reebok, and more.

Below are some pointers we picked up from Ken:

1. A draft is a draft is a draft

Ken hammered home the idea of loosening up during the drafting process and getting everything out on paper before editing and refining. He reminded us that our drafts don’t have to be perfect, because no one will even see it the first time around. It seems like an obvious piece of advice, but a lot of us get so caught up in making things perfect when we write that we end up wasting time and complicating the process by trying to simultaneously write and edit. It is much easier and more efficient to get your main points down on paper and go back to wordsmith afterwards before even sending it to a supervisor or colleague for their edits.

2. Always keep the reader in mind

According to Ken, the key to strong and effective writing is to ask yourself important questions from the reader’s perspective before you even begin to write. He encouraged us to differentiate between what the reader needs to know and wants to know. From there, determine exactly how much information to include. It’s also important to consider what you want the reader to do after reading our message, which sometimes is nothing if the message only serves to impart information. It’s easy to load messages with as much detail as possible so there are no questions left unanswered, when, in reality, including too much information often hinders our message from being received. If we ask ourselves these essential questions before writing, it will ensure that only the most vital news reaches the reader and we achieve the desired result.

3. There’s no such thing as a silly question

Ken discussed how to get the most out of an interview. Preparation is key – do your homework! Have a clear understanding of what you want to learn from the person you are interviewing to prevent wasting time thinking of questions during the interview. Remember to ask short questions because the shorter the question, the longer the answer and vice versa. Ken mentioned asking questions that begin with “why” and “how” to obtain the best answers. Although we’ve been told a million times before, it’s important to remember that there really is no such thing as a silly question.  Make sure you ask any and all questions to help you write effectively. You have to understand it to be able to write about it!

4. Organize your thoughts

Ken noted that typically writers tend to include more information than necessary which can cause readers to immediately lose interest.  To help edit your content, he recommends re-reading the material and asking yourself, what is the real news here?  Try to fit the imperative news into one sentence to help trim excess words and details.  Also, ask yourself, what will this enable someone to do tomorrow that they can’t do today?  Does it allow them to do something more efficiently or faster? Does it offer convenience or improve employee productivity, etc.?  Whether it’s a product, service, or event, think about how it impacts the reader’s life.  This is a great tip that’s applicable not just for press release writing, but for pitches, marketing materials, website content, etc.

5. Crafting the perfect language

Seeing is believing – Ken said when readers can “see,” they will grasp your meaning quickly. We learned how important it is to focus on painting a clear image for readers by way of metaphors and similes because it will enable readers to visualize similarities between an abstract idea and something more familiar. Ken reminded us that word choice is a huge factor to crafting cohesive, effective sentences that readers can grasp easily. This includes using industry jargon, avoiding cliché buzzwords, simplifying language, and using examples.

6. Say more with less

At the end of the discussion, Ken reviewed basic writing tips, such as avoiding unnecessary forms of the verb “be” and surplus prepositions like “by, of, for, from.” He also recommended to try not to bury strong verbs – i.e. don’t say “she provided an explanation of the changes” when you can say “she explained the changes.” Additionally, he pointed out we should avoid redundancies like “my personal opinion” and “positive benefits.” While his tips may seem obvious, they’re a helpful reminder. As PR professionals, we love words – we love to talk, and we love to write – and sometimes we love them so much we tend to use more of them than needed.  We definitely can be verbose – so this was a handy reminder to take a step back and review our words so we can remove those words that are edit our work.

And that’s a wrap (cliché to avoid)!

We were excited to review key writing components that we learned long ago, but have since slipped our minds. Ken was a great reminder of all writing blunders and best practices to be aware of when trying to pitch with a purpose and mean it! A big thank you to Ken for his expertise and friendly coaching last night and to the PubClub for organizing the event.

Were these tips helpful for you? Do you have any tips you could add? Check out the event with hashtag #PubClubofNE and follow us @451Heat!

Alice DuBois @aedubois, Meredith D’Agostino @LadyMusic, and Amanda Jupena @AmandaJupena

imgres

Associated Problems: Five Mistakes PR Professionals Make on Twitter

As public relations professionals, we all understand the need for brevity. We learn early on not to say “The person of the male sex strolled to the area that is not here but in another spot.” It’s better to say, “The man walked there.” Nice and easy to digest.

If clarity and simplicity are the pillars of PR, Twitter is the perfect challenge for  us. Limiting ourselves to 140 characters is the ultimate test of our slicing and dicing abilities. This challenge is welcomed and, for once, we have a MAXIMUM limit. Well, other than those nine or so characters we keep for re-tweeting (please retweet, please.)

 

 

What a perfect way for us to showcase our skills. No silly wording or need for fluff. It’s the Donner Party of characters per post… without the cannibalism.

However, many seem to think that with Twitter being a relatively new concept by limiting characters, requires an abandonment of Associate Press Style.

 

 

It doesn’t help that we have so much stacked against us.

 

 

The following is my little list of AP rules (or just general rules of thumb) we neglect on Twitter. Note: I am not using this information to go Emily Post-al on anyone. Use this list as a reminder to check your AP Style Book from time to time. We all commit these crimes of writing. I probably have broken countless rules in this article, and I have my style book right next to my computer.

 

1. Dates

-ALWAYS use the number form for dates

-Abbreviate the months for full dates. Examples: ‘Sept.’ for September, ‘Aug.’ for August, and ‘Dec.’ for December.

-And never use th, st, nd, rd, or any other form of date endings. These are a no-no.

@PRproLaura: “Wow! The event on Feb. 8 was amazing!”

@failAPintern: “I cannot believe I have to wait until the fourteenth for free burritos”

 

2. Commas – Commas are the Anne Hathaway of the writing world; they look great, but are not really good everywhere. And too many just ruins everything.

-Use commas to separate introductions or subordinate clauses.

-Don’t think that more commas better; that can just look as ridiculous as Charlie Sheen stand-up

-@PRproLaura: “Other than pizza, I don’t eat much Italian.”

-@failAPintern: “I really think, that, pending a firing, squad, my day can’t get, much, worse”

 

3. Abbreviations – A good abbrev. is always handy. In a 140 characters, it’s nice to shorten and save. But don’t go too crazy

-@PRproLaura: “I can’t wait 2 go 2 Lion King this evening!”

-@failAPintern:“I luv 2 wrt @ my nu dsk bc my job’s awsm. Cldnt we wrt @ FB 2day 2 get peeps?”

 

4. Active Voice

-Passive voice sounds silly!

-You can make the same point with more clarity and with fewer words.

-@PRproLaura: “I ate the best pizza today”

-@failAPintern: “The best pizza was eaten by me today” (That was harder to write than the “Abbreviations” tweet. Honestly)

-If something is hard to understand, you lose your audience. They’ve already moved on to Facebook or some hilarious YouTube video. Don’t let the funny hamster win. Use active voice.

 

5. Capitalization

-A common misconception is that the best way to grab someone’s attention is by being the loudest.

-All caps do not help your point

-If your message is good, don’t use annoying all-caps to ruin it.

-@PRproLaura: “Tickets go on-sale for the dinner with George Clooney tonight!”

-@failAPintern: “OMGGEORGECLOONEYISCOMINGIAMSOEATINGDINNERWITHHIMOMGIAMGOINGTODIE”

 

What do you think? Is AP style necessary for Twitter? Or do we need to evolve to a new set of Twitter-friendly guidelines? Tweet us @451Heat or leave your comments below!

 

Thanks to Ryan Schreiner, 451 Marketing Public Relations Intern for this Fun Friday post!
-Ryan (@rschre) is a Junior at Boston University