I recently attended my first in-person PRSA workshop, titled “Putting More Power and Precision in your PR Writing.”
Attending the workshop were about 30 young and mid-career PR professionals with a sprinkling of more experienced pros seeking a refresher on writing basics (and one of the best views in Washington at HagerSharp, just blocks from the White House).
A few common writing challenges emerged from the workshop:
1) Switching gears among multiple functions: Many of us struggle with creating a distinct tone and style when writing for different document types and audiences (e.g. news releases, social media content, pitches, technical reports, etc.). We also have to work to maintain the right balance of time spent on background research, cultivating leads, engaging with experts on the content we’ll be publicizing and then the actual writing process.
2) Writing tight copy: We all know that readers prefer crisp copy, but how do we get to concise without erring towards choppy? For creative types, it can be a painful exercise to cut out jargon, flowery language and complex sentence structures – but for the reader’s benefit, it is absolutely essential to distill your communications to their clearest, simplest form.
3) Letting go of personal preferences and ego when writing for others: Writing feels very personal and it can be tough to accept edits, or worse, to adopt a style that doesn’t feel our own. We need to keep in mind that it’s paramount to capture the voice of the organization or brand we are representing, and we must adapt our personal style accordingly.
4) Working under external constraints: Many of us feel challenged to produce quality PR products when faced with limited control over corporate fonts, formats and colors, let alone the inclusion of dry legalese or too-long boiler plate language. Likewise, it’s tough to do our best writing in a workplace that doesn’t place a premium on quiet time and privacy for creative effort, time at the end of production to proof, or flexibility to write at the best time of day for you. Where possible, take the initiative to talk to your manager about creating the best possible environment that will ultimately result in optimal PR writing for the organization.
The highlight of the workshop came from the packet of 30 real-world writing samples provided, as each participant was asked to share a work product with the group. It is impossible to underestimate how much you can learn from having your PR work critiqued by a group of peers and likewise from participating in critiquing their own work.
The biggest value for my money came from the contacts I made who are doing similar work at related organizations. Though we didn’t resolve all of these challenges, knowing that I have a new peer group that shares my day-to-day reality gives me more confidence and determination to continue perfecting my writing.
Anne Berlin does advocacy communications and research and science policy blogging for the Association of American Medical Colleges. She is a member of the PRSA National Capital Chapter and an aspiring Toastmaster.