PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
PR writing should always be goal-oriented.
© 2023 Michael Turney Return to
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Practicing Public Relations
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As important as writing is to public relations, there isn't any one, specific style of writing that can be called "public relations writing." Public relations writing doesn't rely on a special structure or organization such as the inverted pyramid of news writing. Nor does it use unusual punctuation or capitalization like the slashes (///), dashes (--) and ALL-CAPS STYLE of broadcast writing. And, it certainly doesn't use a lot of high-faluting terms like "whereas" or "parties of the third part" like legal writing or the multi-column format of script writing.

There may, however, be circumstances in which a public relations practitioner might adopt one of those styles or another. But, in their day-to-day writing, neither the appearance nor the language of their documents should reveal that they were written for public relations purposes. Quite the contrary. Hunt and Grunig's textbooks contend: "The best PR writing blends into context by adopting a style and tone consistent with the medium chosen for its dissemination... PR writing is doing its job when the audience never stops to think `This is good PR writing.'"

Public relations writing should be driven by its purpose, not by its style, although its style should be suitable for its target audience and circumstances.

The most important thing about writing for public relations is to remember it's writing aimed at achieving a specific goal. It is not writing for writing's sake; nor is it writing solely for the sake of getting published.

The practitioner's role is not to churn out page after page of writing. It's to help the organization gain recognition, present its interests, and establish its integrity and credibility. Insofar as writing helps the practitioner do that, it's a valid public relations task. But, if your writing doesn't further these aims, it's merely a distraction from what your real purpose should be.

You're not in school any longer. Don't write like you are!

Rudolf Flesch, a reading/writing guru who published dozens of books and hundreds of trade journal articles about business writing in the mid-20th century, concluded that most people in business don't view writing as a helpful tool for achieving their desired ends. Instead, they see it as a chore or, worse yet, as a hurdle they have to overcome.

In his 1974 classic On Business Communications: How to Say What You Mean in Plain English, Flesch wrote: "Right now, whenever you sit down to write or dictate a letter or report, you simply do it the way you've always done it, continuing habits that go back to your early school days and unconsciously try to please a teacher or get high marks on a test... You're writing a composition by the rules of the `English Composition Game' you were taught to play in school... (But,) You have to learn that this game isn't played in real life... The kind of writing you do every day - and receive in your incoming mail - may be flawless as a school composition, but from the point of view of a writing pro, it's probably hopelessly bad."

Public relations practitioners should be beyond writing a composition to get a good grade. They should write concise, goal-oriented prose aimed at reaching specific objectives, and they should know the best way to do that is to get right to the point.

Beginning at the beginning and proceeding chronologically to the end may be good for nursery rhymes, novels, and movies, but not for business writing. Good business writers don't satisfy their readers with one fact leading to another until reach they finally reach a conclusion. They do it by stating the conclusion up front and then offering supporting evidence. It comes across as being well-informed, confident, and decisive.

Public relations writing is business writing, and Flesch said, "There's a long-standing business cliche that time is money. Don't waste either one by setting the scene and providing background before you get to the main point. Jump right in... Tell the most important information first, and then the rest of it in decreasing order of importance." If you need to provide background or clarify points, do it after you've presented the main point, not while you're leading up to it.

Honoring the "Time is money" adage, written documents should be as short as possible while including all necessary information.

Perhaps the best way to make this point, which can be boiled down to two words - Be concise. - is to quote another classic book on writing The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. Its successive updated editions have been beloved by journalists and quoted by editors for almost 90 years.

Strunk and White's mantra on being concise is presented as Rule 17 which proclaims: "Omit needless words." For those who require a bit more interpretation, they added: "A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

My suggestion is that you remember: Conciseness is best achieved by keeping your goals in mind and making every word count.

Public relations writing should be aimed at a specific target audience.

Anything written for public relations should be clear and understandable to the people it's aimed at, but that doesn't mean everything should be written at the same level or that everyone should be able to understand it. So, before you start a public relations writing project, be sure to spend enough time/energy to thoroughly understand your target audience and gain a sense of what they'll be expecting to get from your written piece.

And, since each piece of public relations writing needs to be shaped and phrased for its specific target audience, you may need to consider writing multiple, different pieces for the same project. Or, actually, it may be more correct to say that you might need to write different versions of the same piece to match the different educational and cultural levels and style prefernces of multiple audiences. After all, writing a tech manual for medical personnel trying to treat someone who has over-dosed on drugs is very different than writing an anti-drug-use warning for high school students. Sometimes, long words, compound-complex sentences, and even foreign language phrases can be the best way to reach an audience. Capiche?

Furthermore, when you connect with an audience on an emotional and gut level, they're more likely to keep reading what you've written, to believe it, and to overlook any minor stylistic or grammatical flaws in your writing.

Finally, professional writers know that completing a first draft isn't the end of a writing project.

There's a critical difference between the physical act of writing which involves putting words on a page or a computer screen with a pen, pencil, or keyboard and the intellectual process of writing which is choosing the right words and order that will precisely convey your desired message. Clerks and typists do the former. Professional writers, including public relations practitioners, are expected to do the latter. And, even the most experienced writers don't get all aspects of their messages right with their first draft. They don't simply sit down and pound out their ideas then immediately turn them in as a finished product. They review, rewrite and rework their material, sometimes several times, before it's finished.

Phillip Stella, an experienced business writer and president of Effective Training & Communication, advises:
"You'll produce better results if you plan to write, write what you’ve planned, and then rewrite it and make it better."

Table of contents Additional reading on
Effective PR writing focuses on the audience...
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Practicing Public Relations
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3 April 2023