August 25, 2014
/ by Brian Conlin
Despite what all the red ink dripping off your most recent copy might imply, writing talent resides in all of us.
“Writing is a habit, not an art,” Ann Handley said during her “Writing Rules in PR” webinar. “We can all learn to be better writers by focusing on some basics and fundamentals.”
That’s terrific news for PR pros because writing plays a tremendously important role in their jobs, and it will continue to do so.
Before getting to Ann’s writing rules, let’s look at three reasons she says the writing craft still matters in PR.
1. Content competition – Three in five businesses have recently increased their content budgets, making it harder to break through and create something unique. Standout writing will help set you apart.
2. Earning earned media – PR pros write press releases ad nauseum, and well-written releases get reporters’ attention, especially if they seamlessly integrate the information they want.
Here’s what reporters look for: breaking news (77 percent), story angles (66 percent) and quotable sources (52 percent).
3. Everybody writes – “There is tremendous power in being able to own the media and not just rent it to tell your own story,” Ann says.
Your words tell your target audience a lot about who you are. Connect with them using owned media by providing useful, empathetic and inspired content. If your content lacks any of those three variables, the content will fail.
Now, onto the six PR writing rules that will help you produce useful, empathetic and inspired content:
“Content is almost anything that our customer experiences from us,” Ann says.
In addition to blog posts, webinars and white papers, your landing pages and “About Us” pages also count as content. No matter how insignificant your content may seem, remember that publishing is a privilege and that nobody has to read what you put out there.
Speak briefly, make the topic interesting to your audience and don’t miss a chance to differentiate yourself, even if it’s with only a unique call to action.
If you are having trouble doing that, try Ann’s method. Write with one person in mind. It will help you create content that speaks to them on a more human level.
Remember jargon and buzzwords do not connect with people on a human level. Use simple language. No one will complain that you have made something too easy to understand.
“What would your content look like if your customer signed your paycheck?” Ann asks. “Would it change what you publish?”
The goal is to create content that your customers will thank you for. Think about your content as gifts. What do your readers get from what you create? If the answer is “I don’t know,” you have room for improvement.
Want an empathy hack? Ann says it’s as simple as using the word “you” as much as possible across your web properties and social channels.
Want to see Ann’s entire presentation? View the free on-demand version now!
The people who find writing the most difficult are those who haven’t set a course for their writing. In other words, they haven’t thought through what they want to say and how they intend to get their message across.
Use outlines and mind maps to get started or find a method that works best for you. Ann makes a list of the key points she needs to hit. At the top, she puts her main objective to help keep her on track. Having a list makes her feel more confident that she will complete the project than an intimidating blank page does.
Don’t focus too much on a product’s features. Whether writing about routers or radishes, writing about how the product benefits people will have a bigger impact, Ann says.
Pay careful attention to your lede (intro) and your kicker (closing). The lede is like an invitation to a party and the kicker makes you wish you could stay longer.
For ledes, try using anecdotes, presenting a problem your audience can relate to, painting a scene or quoting a crazy bit of data.
“Words really are your currency,” Ann says. “I encourage you to choose words judiciously. Don’t waste your opportunity.”
Whether you’re writing a blog post, white paper or even a social media post, your words serve as your proxy, Ann says. They can make you appear brilliant or stupid, friendly or annoying, helpful or a shill.
Do these six rules give you confidence to take on your industry’s goliaths? They should.
“Content innovation is more about brains than budget,” Ann says.
What are some other PR writing rules you abide by?
Image: josef.stuefer, Hey Paul Studios, daveynin, Gordon Joly (Creative Commons)
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