When a PR pro writes, it usually is a marketing activity—and that writing must be sharp, clear and focused.
PR writing is as varied as marketing content: press releases, brochures, letters, blogging, website content and video-script writing. In small businesses, the PR manager and the content marketer are the same person.
Here are 13 rules to follow to hone your writing skills and final product:
1. Journalism’s story foundation still applies.
If you’ve studied print journalism, you understand the inverted pyramid. The most important content goes first and details follow.
This is true today; people are still in a hurry.
Grab the reader’s attention first with the most important stuff, written in a compelling way. Focus on value to the reader, not to you, in the beginning.
2. Focus on the “5 W’s.”
You must answer the 5 W’s, especially in a press release. To make your piece more compelling, start with “why” instead of “what.” This will stimulate more interest.
3. Make your story scannable.
As Star Trek Captain Jean Luc Picard said, “Make it so.” People are in a hurry. They want to know your piece’s sub-topics, so they can decide what to skip and what to read.
Many newspaper articles use subheads. Adding numbered or bulleted points helps too.
4. Use active voice.
It has more impact. Instead of:
The law was passed by the city council last night.
The city council passed the law last night.
5. Be specific.
Add data and numbers, rather than just make general statements. People trust your writing more when you do this and it adds power to what you say. Research to get data that will reinforce any claim you make.
6. Know your audience.
You may have several audiences, and their viewpoints may be very different. Know what’s important to each audience, through research (when necessary) before you write.
If you pitch mature investors, your tone and voice will be very different from a pitch to 20-something potential customers. Even business writing may require varied tones. A letter to a young entrepreneur will not read like a letter to a bank vice-president.
7. Headlines, headlines, headlines!
If you don’t have a compelling headline, don’t publish until you do. You will have wasted your content. If you aren’t creative, use a headline generator tool to get solid ideas.
8. Dump fluff.
People want information quickly. If you write an informational piece, give that information fast and clearly without padding.
9. Tell a good story.
Your organization has a story. If you’re a startup, you came to your idea for a product or service because you wanted to solve a problem. Focus on that idea more than on your product or service. Your story will be more compelling and your organization better received.
10. Incorporate visuals and videos.
As you narrate, use as many visuals as possible, but not visuals of your products. Feature your team, satisfied customers or your participation in community events. In videos, emphasize the value you bring.
Watch the video on the Dollar Shave Club homepage. It was a huge PR success that garnered more than 22 million views.
11. Use a thesaurus.
Writing that uses the same limited vocabulary is boring. Find simple, fresher synonyms. You’ll often find more descriptive, piquant and interesting words.
12. Get rid of adverbs.
Hemingway didn’t use them—and you shouldn’t, either.
Words like “very, “extremely,” and “actually” are fluff. Mark Twain said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very.’ Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should.”
13. Edit carefully.
Read what you have written out loud. You’ll catch many errors. Don’t rely on spell checks or grammar checks to catch everything—they don’t. For example, commonly misused words such as “effect” and “affect” will not be flagged.
If you edit carefully, you will catch most misused sound-alikes. Your other option is an editing tool. There are plenty of them. No longer should any writing be published with errors.
Rick Riddle is a blogger whose articles help readers with self-development, entrepreneurship and digital marketing. Connect with Rick on Twitter and LinkedIn. This article was previously published on PR Daily in December 2016.