I sat down with Lauren to get her perspective on current PR challenges.
Why is poorly written content so prevalent these days?
The bar is lower because there are more publishing platforms run by untrained writers and editors. There’s also the advent of automated writing and outsourced writing. New software lets non-humans assemble and package nuggets of information into simple formats like online slideshows and “Top 10” lists. And ESL speakers are writing first drafts later edited by native speakers.
Some of the new “citizen journalists” have realized that writing is harder and more time-consuming than they expected and are looking for help. We’re at a juncture where more people would like to communicate effectively but don’t have access to the right kind of education.
What advice do you have for PR professionals who want to write better copy?
Take time to think from the audience’s POV, and write about people not products. When you write about people, you put human beings at the start of your sentences and use active verbs. Also, give away the punchline at the beginning to get to the point faster.
Always keep your clients’ long-term business goals in mind. For example, a famous company I worked with had 80% commercial customers, but their long-term goal was to have 80% residential customers. If you were pitching for them, you’d be smart to emphasize a residential angle to further their business goals. If you don’t know their goals, your choices might actually work against them.
Why is there so much jargon in tech industry PR copy?
Unseasoned PR writers may not know their client’s technology or industry, so they use material already crafted by marketing. They move the words around without trying to reach out to an audience. Curiosity and experience eventually make it possible to write in a meaningful way, but some people retain bad habits.
Another reason is that some people come to work wearing a “professional” veneer. When that veneer is on, they don’t write like people; they write like a “company,” in a stiff style.
What can PR agency supervisors do to improve their teams’ writing?
Stop treating the symptom; treat the disease. The problem isn’t grammar and syntax; it’s the thinking behind the writing. People often focus on details like new product features, but there’s a larger story to tell that will improve business outcomes. The writer should look ahead to goals and coming initiatives, and back at important milestones. This puts “news” into context and accomplishes more valuable goals.
Writers need to think critically during the pre-writing phase, and learn who they’re writing for and why. I always say, “Writing is thinking made manifest.” If you can fix the thinking, the writing often fixes itself.