I am often asked by people what PR (public relations) writing is supposed to look like. Certainly, there is no magic formula, though there are plenty of good ideas to share on the topic and several critical components to good PR writing.
Before we proceed, however, I’d like to first explain what is PR writing. The answer is pretty simple. PR writing is content released to be media or other public channels to share an important story or update on your business, your service or your brand.
As we dig into how to create effective PR copy, keep in mind what PR writing is not supposed to be. Remember that PR writing is not some kind of legal brief, a contract, a technical manual or an essay for an English course. Most of all, let’s be clear: PR writing is not marketing copy. PR writing is not a sales pitch or an advertising message.
That’s a lot of negative stuff, I know. But let’s face it. Too many people believe PR writing is a sales sheet. Not at all. PR writing is all about putting together a solid story to share, providing succinct facts and information and following a journalistic mindset in your press release’s structure.
Let’s dive into how to do it effectively.
Organize your message properly
Most often, you are pitching an idea to the media in the form of newspapers, magazines, television, radio, or online publications it’s a good idea to understand how your structure impacts your chance to be seen or heard.
You have a great story to share, but it may get lost simply by your inability to properly organize the information. The easy way to fix this is to follow an inverted pyramid format. This journalism style has been around for year, but it’s still relevant to today.
So, what does the inverted pyramid mean? Basically, it’s a way to ensure that the most important information you share is at the beginning of any press release you write and send to the media.
If you are launching a new product or opening a new storefront, make sure to state that right up front. Don’t hide the facts through marketing language, but instead share them in a succinct way in the first few sentences of your news release.
This usually is centered on the 5 W’s and 1 H: who, what, when, where, why and how of the information. Again, we’re in a mindset that many journalists understand. When a reporter wants to write about the new firm your business is acquiring, what they want is information about when this took place, how the deal was completed, why your company went in this direction and other basic facts, perhaps focusing around the cost of the purchase or the impact on employee staffing.
Connected with all of this is what’s known as the “lead.” This is the first paragraph or two of your story that is written to draw in the media (i.e., the editor, reporter) and get them interested in your news.
A good example of this might be the use of an emotional connection. Let’s say your foundation has just sent thousands of dollars to help individuals in a community ravaged by a hurricane. A way to grab attention with that lead might be to specifically state how many meals the money will create or the number of shelters your philanthropy will support.
Storytelling should make a connection
This is the perfect transition into another key point – you need to tell a good story. I realize that some news can be rather dry and mundane, but I truly believe there is an interesting story in everyone and everything.
I remember a few years ago when one of our PR specialists went to a local mechanic to get some information for a web update and came back saying how fascinating the place was because of the people working there and the service they were providing. Now most people probably wouldn’t find a repair shop interesting, but I would counter that with what I just mentioned – there is a good story in everyone and everything.
So how do you tell a story? Making an emotional connection is one way. Through your PR writing share the emotional, the unusual and the exceptional aspects of your story. Again, this offers challenges when you also need to present the basic facts. Still, develop a mindset that your goal is not only to share some news, but let readers know what it is about your company or service that stands out.
Again, think like a journalist. Sometimes the media is mockingly called a “tears and fears” industry because they play to our emotions and seem to focus on things we worry about and other “bad news.” And yet the approach works on many levels, especially the “tears” when we read about a family in need or a community suffering a calamity.
Don’t misunderstand me. Your job is simply to remember that there are emotional connections, interesting stories and helpful ideas to share. What the media does with your release or PR pitch is up to them.
Don’t forget the most important information
In the end, beyond trying to find a way to “tell a story” or make an emotional connection, remember the single most important point: make sure you include the facts as you know them in an accurate and reasonable way.
This approach will help you avoid straying into some kind of sales pitch or marketing speak. Build your facts around what we talked about above – what is it you are sharing, when does it happen, where will it take place, who is involved and why are you trying to get the media to report about it.
The other mechanics of the information you share should center around the “how” of the story – in other words, How did the news, new product, new service, new acquisition, etc. happen?
Facts are very important. The media loves companies – and business leaders — who are open and transparent, especially when that company is asking to be reported about (and even when they are not). So provide as much as you are able, even with other restrictions you might face (shareholder requirements or trade secrets).
I know from personal experience, for example, that many companies do not like sharing financial information. Conversely, the media and public want exactly that kind of information. Why? A company’s finances points to a number of important aspects of a story, from numbers of employees to dollars committed to property, plants or storefronts. They also underscore larger values – loyalty and direct or indirect commitment to a community or region.
Ultimately, the kind of facts you provide is your choice. If the media is interested in your press release, they will likely be asking for more information anyway, so why not provide as much up front as you can?
In the end it’s all about answering the 5 Ws and 1 H, emotional connections and a set of accurate facts shared in a structured way that grabs attention and tells a compelling story. This is the heart of good PR writing.