Perfect writing for PR

Posted on: 2012-09-28 in How To   |   Tagged: account manager business writing business writing tips pr account management pr account manager


This post is an excerpt from the PR Account Manager's Handbook. Click here to download the entire series as an ebook.  By @TopLineFounder.

Business writing is a core part of any PR role. To master the art takes time and practice. However, to get reasonably good at it is much easier. In fact, it’s so easy that if a piece of writing that falls anywhere below average lands in my inbox for proofing I throw a cup of coffee over my laptop just to prove a point.

If you don’t want to be responsible for the demise of another Dell, then follow these seven steps for any piece of business writing, and I can (almost) guarantee that the results will be better than average.

Step 1: Get your brief

Before you start, you need to know who you are writing for. If you haven’t been provided with guidelines, you should insist on answers to the following questions.

  • How long does the piece need to be?
  • Where will it be published?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • When is the deadline?
  • Who needs to approve it and will they be available to do so the week before the deadline?
  • What format should it take (i.e. is it a byliner, a feature, an interview or a media release)?
  • Does it need an accompanying image, and who is supposed to source that image?

Step 2: Do your research

Once you have your brief, research the publication and read through examples of similar articles. This will give you a basic idea at least of what is expected of you and will make sure you don’t go off on a tangent.

Step 3: Understand your subject

The biggest mistake people make when writing for business is a failure to develop a proper grasp of the subject matter. No matter how good your style, your piece will be meaningless if you don’t personally understand what you are writing about – and it’s very easy to spot (usually signalled by gratuitous use of big words like pedagogical). In business communications you will often be required to write about subjects that are new or unfamiliar to you, and the best way to approach these is:

  • Research the subject on the web to get an overview. Look at a number of sites covering the same topic so that you develop an understanding from various different perspectives.
  • Discuss your understanding of the subject with a colleague (you’ll probably start to find it interesting about now).
  • Look at articles that have been written on the subject over the last year – do you ‘get’ the key issues that have been at play in this market?

Step 4: Plan your piece of writing

Whether it’s a byliner, a feature, a blog post or a media release, planning is essential to getting it right. This is particularly true in a support role – and as an AM you should ask team members to try to put themselves in your shoes: you are relying on them to do this piece of work to save you time. If it is properly planned, but poorly written, you can edit it into something usable in half an hour. If it is poorly planned and written in beautiful English then you have to redo it from scratch. To plan:

  • For each paragraph, write a one-line summary of what the content will be.
  • Talk this through with your team (or your client) to make sure you have the correct messaging, flow and content.

Step 5: Write

If you’ve done Steps 1-4 properly, then this should be the easy bit. Your first draft should take the following format:

Press release:

  • Attention-grabbing headline (that is also informative)
  • Sub-heading
  • Date and place
  • Para 1: who when where what why
  • Para 2: more details
  • Para 3: quote (this must say something new – not just a repeat of what has been said previously).
  • Para 4+: more details and more quotes
  • Ends / contact details / boiler plates / logos
  • Take the ‘pyramid’ shape – start with the most important stuff and have the least important info at the end.

Byliner:

  • Title (doesn’t need to be informative necessarily)
  • Hook (why are we writing this NOW?)
  • Byline – i.e. name of the person (usually client) who it will be attributed to and their company (hyperlinked).
  • Choose your argument and then find 3-4 points to back it up, each addressed individually.
  • Or, if an ‘informative’ byliner, start at the beginning and run through the subject matter.
  • Don’t include quotes.
  • Is there scope for a box-out?

Feature:

  • Title (doesn’t need to be informative necessarily)
  • Hook (why are we writing this NOW?)
  • Overview of the subject
  • Include quotes.
  • Is there scope for a box-out?

Step 6: Edit

Editing your own copy is good practice (and shows consideration for your colleagues). It means that the next pair of eyes required to proof it, can do so without having to waste their own time on your trivial admin.  To edit:

  • Run a spell check.
  • Look up every person’s name and every organisation’s name used and double check the spelling and how they write it (e.g. TopLine not Topline). Make sure this is consistent throughout.
  • Check for inconsistencies.
  • Check your apostrophes (possession, and abbreviation).
  • Check for grammatical and style errors (we use the Economist Style Guide – if you don’t have one, you should get one).
  • Check for duplicate words. If you have used the word already in the paragraph, then you need to find an alternative.
  • Is the style appropriate?
  • Have you copied anything verbatim from another source? If you haven’t credited the source then this is plagiarism, and needs to be changed into your own words.
  • Run through and see where you can remove words (the fewer words you can use, the better so try to take one word out of every sentence).
  • Keep it simple – don’t be fooled into thinking that big words will impress – they have to be used in the appropriate context for that.

Step 7: Present

  • Save in the correct format with the correct file name in the correct location.
  • Source the appropriate images.
  • Let your team know it is ready for review. Go through it with them and take feedback on board!

 

Hungry for more? Download the Account Manager's Handbook in its entirety by clicking here.


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About this blog

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The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, founder TopLine Comms, an inbound marketingB2B content marketing agency and proud HubSpot partner agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say.  Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact the B2B PR Blog editorial team via email on [email protected].

 

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