Without question, technology has significantly changed the practice of public relations. Stakeholder targeting has become more specific, new channels have emerged, and conversations have replaced simple news delivery.
It has been transformative—though maybe not entirely.
The keys to being an effective communicator remain the same. Analytical writing and counseling success have remained the same irrespective of whether a writer is pecking away at a typewriter and pulling copy paper and carbons from the carriage, or devising a digital strategy in a remote site thousands of miles away from the client.
Successful PR professionals want to know why—along with asking all the other W’s. When they do, they apply the PR skills they learned in school and on the job. In the process, they are curious once again, wondering about outcomes and scenarios.
Insist upon it—in your thinking, in your writing, in understanding your role.
3. Active voice
S-V-O: subject-verb-object. The subject is acting, as opposed to the subject’s being the object of the action. Remember? It conveys thoughts, recommendations, and ideas better than passive voice. It works.
4. Messages, messages, messages
Messages are not boilerplate. They are not slogans. They are not bumper stickers. Instead, they are the key themes that enable you to touch your audiences in a way that resonates personally with them. Develop them carefully; employ them consistently.
5. Learning what words actually mean
While/although. Above/more than. Lists of common mistakes are available. Get one and learn from it.
6. Owning it
Every document you write, including early drafts, has your name on it. Your professional brand is being created or altered. An artist doesn’t sign a painting until it is as good as he or she believes it can be. You should apply the same standards to any piece of work that has your name on it.
Shape your communications for your intended audiences. You are attempting to achieve a desired interpretation or action—not to show off your ability to construct grandiose sentences. Manage your instincts.
Understand the business/commercial objective; then develop a communication strategy that aligns with it. Communication for communication’s sake doesn’t deliver any value. Therefore, it doesn’t work.
9. Bullet points
Think in bullet points. Talk in bullet points. Write your bullet points first, even though they may belong in the middle of the document. You can listen in bullet points, too. Teach yourself to translate the talk around the room into bullet points before your process it.
10. Timelines and sequencing
Statement, truths, assertions, denials—all can have a short shelf life. So, consider carefully what you are saying today. Best practice? Stick with “real-time truths” that aren’t dependent upon gimmicks. Stay away from “snapshot true,” “de facto true,” or “prospectively true.”
11. Telling, explaining, telling
Readers, listeners, and especially clients are impatient. A linear writing structure makes them wait. Don’t make them wait. Tell. Explain. And then tell again.
12. Seeing it before you write it
At some point in your career you should be able to visualize in your mind’s eye sentences, paragraphs, and even document structure. Work at it. When you get there, your job will be easier and you will be a lot better at it. Don’t write it to see it. See it first.
13. Learning and unlearning
Essays? Creative writing? From time to time—yes. For the most part, however, strategic communication writing is different. It requires new learning.
14. Windows, not mirrors
An effective PR program communicates “through a window” —that’s where the audiences are. “Mirror communications,” which is practiced far too frequently, means you are speaking to yourself. You might enjoy it, but it doesn’t work.
15. Starting over when necessary
Your supervisor or your client won’t remember if you are late, but they will remember if it is bad. If you need more time, alert them, let them know you believe you can make it as good as possible with a little more time, and then deliver the best possible document.
The business has changed in a multitude of ways, and the successful practitioner has to embrace the new environment, but it’s important not to lose the essential keys to success.
Michael Geczi has worked in communications for over 35 years. He
currently serves as an instructor at the University of Southern
California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and also
maintains a private practice in which he provides strategic communications and editorial services. A version of this story originally appeared on his blog.