I don’t know exactly how many papers I wrote in college, but the filing cabinet packed with bursting folders of my graded projects is probably a good hint that it was a lot. I like to write, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much writing is involved in public relations every day. Not just press releases or articles, but emails, social media content, strategic plans, website copy – you name it! I’m glad I get to use my college-honed writing skills every day for my career.
Writing doesn’t come naturally to everyone, though, which is why having a plan of attack in place is important. Over the years, I’ve learned what works well when you need to tackle a new writing project, whether it’s a pitch or a case study. Below are my tips and tricks for PR pros to begin a new writing project.
You need to know what you’re talking about before you can write about it, right? In an agency setting, that can be easier said than done when you work with multiple clients across multiple industries. If you’re diving into a new project for a client when you don’t feel well-versed in the topic, it’s time to do your research. Know enough about the subject to be dangerous: Look up facts and figures and statistics, read Wikis, ask your client in-depth questions to understand their viewpoint. Researching competitors’ insights on the subject can help, as well, by bringing differing perspectives to the table. Once you have a baseline of knowledge and understand the topic to the best of your ability, you’ll be able to relay it to others through your writing.
Always start with an outline. Whether or not you outlined your college thesis, it’s time to adopt the practice for your PR writing projects… every time. It doesn’t have to be complicated, or even very detailed, but do yourself a favor and create a map to follow when you’re drafting so you don’t get lost along the way. Particularly with longer-form writing like articles and case studies, it helps to know the major points you need to address to keep you on track. I will sometimes start with the most basic outline, below:
- Key Point 1
- Key Point 2
- Key Point 3
As long as you know the main argument of your article, the top three (or more) supporting points, and how they all work together, you’re in a good place to start writing.
Sometimes, sitting down and physically writing can be the hardest part of writing overall. A blank page is intimidating, but you can’t edit what you can’t see. An outline is especially helpful when getting started because you know you’re not building up from a blank page – you have some guideposts. You still have to write your way from an outline to a full piece, though. It’s going to be disjointed, the transitions are going to be messy or abrupt. That’s okay. Once you get the words on the page, you can edit it and make it stronger.
You wrote your draft, congratulations! Now, take a break. Walk away from your draft and let it settle. You may only be able to look away from the draft for an hour, or given your deadline you could walk away for a few days. Regardless, put some space between you and the words you wrote so you can review them with fresh eyes later. Not only is this important for finding typos, you’ll be able to see the overall piece in a different light to improve points, rework wonky sentences, or strengthen your conclusion. Then, when you’ve reviewed and reworked, take another break before you review it at least once more.
While the act of writing technically happens solo, you don’t have to tackle the project alone. One of the best things about working at an agency is having an account team to help digest specifics of projects, as well as other colleagues to help bounce ideas around. After all, if you’re generating ideas as a team you should collaborate on the ideas’ execution, too. I suggest always getting a second set of eyes on your writing to see if it reads well or if there are additional points that could be made. If you’ve struggled on a particularly sticky paragraph, a coworker’s outside perspective can help clarify or strengthen your work. (And someone else will always find the typo you swear you took care of.)
6. Review Again
I can’t stress “review” enough. You’ve read it so many times, but before you send to your client or publish on Facebook or pitch to a journalist, give it one more read-through to check for pesky typos, homophones and AP Style faux pas. Then you can send it on its way!
Writing is a vital component of the communications industry, including PR. I hope these tips help those of you whose hands are sore from typing all day long and still have a blog post to write. Research, outline, and get those words on the page.
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