PR (public relations) writing isn’t for everyone, but everyone needs good PR writing. So let’s make this easy and call this blog simply “PR writing for dummies.” There’s even a book you can buy to help you with this, but I’m going to share what I have learned over 23 years running my PR firm, Logos Communications.
To begin, let’s first take a short step backwards. Public relations (PR) is a longstanding, specialized service that leans heavily on the written word and storytelling, whether it’s a press release, a blog such as this, a digital newsletter, social media post, web page or some other form of communications.
It would be easy to just zero in on PR writing in the form most of us think of – the press release. But I’d like to take the best elements of a press release and help you realize those same elements figure in the multitude of PR communications you may need or encounter as an executive or business owner.
There are plenty of dos and don’ts in PR writing, and I’m not going to spend much time on them. I would rather concentrate on the form or style that works best to convey information or a message.
What’s PR writing good for?
I reluctantly call this blog “for dummies,” but there really is nothing to laugh about when trying to prepare a written message, whether it’s a new product announcement or new hire or even something negative like a plant closure or an accident at one of your service centers.
So, no we’re not focusing on “dummies” here, just the idea of keeping it simple and helping any business leader who struggles with the mechanics of putting together a press release, an announcement to the media during a crisis, or even an invitation to a celebration of success.
Let’s be clear: PR writing has many purposes and is good to understand because of its various roles when things change at our companies or in our communities. The main value of PR writing is sharing information and telling your side of a story. You do that on social media, in your marketing copy, and certainly on your website.
You also share your story with the community where you work and live, with your staff and shareholders, if you have them, as well as the local, regional and potentially national media, from print to electronic (television and radio) to digital forms.
Organize your writing an easy way
There is a relatively easy way to organize your writing, whether it’s a press release, marketing flyer or web copy.
Start with the premise that your “news” or information is going to be as simple as possible. For that, try to be concise – no more than one page, if possible. So, organize your message as follows:
- A date, either for release or publication
- A “headline,” which summarizes what’s being shared
- The “lead,” which is the hook for why your content might be important, either to a reader, a news editor or customer
- Key points that explain the information
- Contact information
- Brief “boilerplate” that explains who you are or your company’s story; this could be history, products and services
One option is to provide a “quote” from you or your team member(s), as well as embed key words that connect with the information or message (this relates to SEO).
Having shared this, let’s be clear – this grouping of information can work across many PR approaches. If you are writing a social post, it may be more informal, but you’ll still want the headline and the “hook” or lead. You will still need to share timing (a date) of some kind. You can eliminate the background, or company “boilerplate,” since it should be in your social media profiles.
This general structure will help you be concise, clear in your message, accurate and considerate of your audience, especially if that audience is in the media and looking for story ideas or photo opportunities.
Keep it focused on important facts
Another way of explaining the idea of PR writing for dummies is to follow the guide used by journalists. This is the five Ws and one H. The Ws are who, what, when, where and why, while the H stands for how. These key facts are the message in a nutshell. How you organize them will depend on the channel, the timing and what the PR is focused on.
For example, the “when” might be the least important aspect to the message, or the most important. If you are launching a new product, or opening a new store, when that happens is critical information to the audience. The “why” you are opening a new store may be the least important info. In this case, it’s likely because you want to expand into new areas or grow your company.
A lot of information can be a challenge to organize, but if you follow this general structure, it will be more natural, and you will begin to use PR writing to your benefit. Whatever you do, avoid redundancy and confusing language (industry speak, for example), be honest and accurate, motivated only by the desire to share information with your customers, your other audiences and even your team members.