19 Dec 5 Ways PRSA Made Me a Better Writer
When I graduated college and started my first job in the public relations world, I thought that my days of classrooms and group projects were over. All of my learning experiences would come through, well, experience. And that was the case for awhile, until I joined SpeakerBox – a company that not only recommends employees attend various PR seminars, roundtables and workshops, but also requires quarterly, peer-led trainings on a variety of PR-related topics.
My co-worker, Tatiana Peralta, and I recently had the chance to attend our first Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) discussion on writing for PR, traditional, and social media. Here is an outline of what we learned and passed on to our SpeakerBox team:
Lesson 1: Understand what the hook is – and get to it faster!
We opened with a fun interactive exercise that required each person to come up with a compelling article headline based on the information we provided. This not only ensured the audience was engaged, but also conveyed the message that it’s easy to get caught up in the details and supporting points of a story and lose sight of WHY it’s important. When you feel like your pitch isn’t landing, or your press release is missing the mark, take a step back and ask, “WHY should the media care about this, and WHY is it important?”
Lessons 2-4: Master the 3Cs – Concision, Clarity and Consistency
In this lesson, we explored the two top categories of “filler words” that are the bane of concise writing: 1) determiners and modifiers and 2) redundant pairs and categories. We provided sample sentences that showed how these words can easily appear in our writing without us realizing it.
In the tech PR world, where we’re often working with highly technical and sometimes esoteric products and solutions, it’s helpful to use marketing jargon and messaging. However, it’s important to remain vigilant and ensure that jargon doesn’t end up in a pitch, and that anything a reporter might construe as hyperbolic is backed up with actual data.
We addressed the matter of consistency in writing from a two-pronged approach. First in general, PR professionals should stick to AP style, so it’s critical to understand its nuances. Whether it’s a pitch you’re sending to a reporter (who I promise you knows AP style), or a press release that will go across a public wire service, don’t embarrass yourself and your client by using “%” instead of spelling out “percent”. Second, staying consistent with a client’s terminology, language and overall tone is also important, especially with regards to social media. Some clients want a more casual tone – maybe they even want to use emojis in their posts – while others prefer to maintain a to-the-point, abbreviation-free post that reads as it would in a formal press release. Establishing these guidelines early on with clients prevents unnecessary back-and-forth down the line and shows you’re proactively working to align with them as an arm of their team.
Lesson 5: Collaborate and ask for feedback
Don’t just rely on Google Docs
Google Docs is great for collaborative writing and revising, but just because we can see the edits and suggestions in our work, doesn’t mean we necessarily understand why they were made. It’s easy to just go in and accept someone’s edits and carry on – but do we really learn anything from that? That’s why I like to find time to sit down with whoever has edited my writing and talk through their edits. It gives me clarity for why those changes were made, and hopefully helps me avoid making those same mistakes in the future.
Read your writing out loud – to yourself – and to someone else!
This a great way to ensure your message is clear. You can catch any awkward phrasing, run on sentences, or grammatical mistakes. For more casual, high-level writing – such as this blog post – my friend Connor is my permanent (though sometimes unwilling) sounding board. For pitches or other writing that requires a PR expert’s ear, I turn to many of the smiling faces at SpeakerBox for help.
While this blog was peppered with several pieces of advice, if there was one takeaway I’d want you to leave with, it’s to open yourself up to learning experiences outside your day-to-day work. Whether it’s attending a workshop or seminar at PRSA, or reading through some of the amazing online PR resources available – there is something new for us to learn everyday and it’s up to us to take advantage of those opportunities!