Writing Rules for PR: 6 Questions With Ann Handley

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In this day and age, PR professionals create content and hope to grab their audience’s attention in a world full of click-bait headlines, 140 character posts and disappearing picture messages.

Though it may seem difficult to connect through the written word, “Everybody Writes” author Ann Handley says writing is more important than ever, and to succeed, you just need to choose your words well, write with economy and tell true stories really well.

Sound easier said than done? Ann’s “Writing Rules in PR” webinar on August 20 will give you tips and tactics for reaching your target audience. As we head toward the webinar, we interviewed Ann and received a sneak peek at PR’s current content creation landscape and tips for how to succeed in it.

Q: What is the most common mistake you see when it comes to online communication?

A: Well, I see a lot of grammar and usage errors. But that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as uninspired, boring, generic writing that lacks confidence and a point of view. We are a planet of publishers, yet many of us are squandering our opportunity. 

Q: From new players like Snapchat and WhatsApp to relative dinosaurs like Facebook and Twitter, visuals have flooded online channels. Are we reaching a point where writing takes a back seat to visuals?

No. Visuals are important — believe me, there are very few people who love Instagram with the same passion I do. (Ask anyone who has ever hung out with me — I Instagram the bejeebus out of everything remotely photogenic. I swear sunsets are tired of me and try to be less vibrant just so I’ll leave them alone….) 😀

Text is still the backbone of the web. Our words still carry important messages to our customers — they tell them who we are, and whether we are trustworthy or funny and interesting, or whether we are stiff and discombobulated and flat-out boring. Text is still the backbone of most everything we communicate. 

Q: What does the future of written content look like?

It’s customer-centric, not corporate-centric. It’s accessible, economic, direct, simple, and has pathological empathy for the people you want to reach. And there’s probably less of it: I’d rather read one great thing that took 10 hours to put together than 10 meh things that took 1 hour each to put together.

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Q: Much has been made of content shock. What are some ways PR pros can stand out with their written content?

Well, certainly by writing ridiculously well: Editing your work so that it has an economy and style that conveys your messages simply and easily. This is where that pathological empathy comes in handy: The best content acts as a kind of gift you give your readers or users or prospects. Will they thank you for your content? 

Q: Content creation is often time-consuming. What are some tips for becoming a more efficient content creator?

Reimagine existing content. Spend time crafting something special, and then use that as the basis for other content assets. So, a series of blog posts become an ebook, or a research report becomes an infographic.

Check your archives. There’s some great stuff therein that can be reimagined into other content assets more readily than creating anew.

Become a faster writer. Writing isn’t a gift linked murkily with muses and mysticism — it’s a muscle we all can work. So, work that muscle — get buff; get ripped. The more you work it, the faster and more efficient you get. 

Have a content calendar. Perhaps this is a boring suggestion, but it’s totally necessary.

See content moments everywhere. Sometimes, what’s boring or obvious to you or your company makes for compelling content to outsiders.

Q: “Everybody Writes” hits stores in the middle of September, and it discusses how every marketer and PR pro is, in fact, a writer. What opportunities does this create?

A: It means that businesses who value not just what story they are telling but how it’s told will win. Or, to paraphrase Jack Kerourac: “It ain’t only whatcha write, it’s also the way atcha write it.”

Want to write your way to PR success? Reserve your spot at Ann’s “Writing Rules in PR” webinar now!

Image: Toshiyuki IMAI, Kevin (Creative Commons)

About Brian Conlin

Brian Conlin is a content marketing manager for Cision. A former journalist, he enjoys researching and developing accessible content. When not writing, you will find him watching baseball and college basketball, sampling craft beer and enjoying Baltimore. Find him on Twitter @BrianConlin13.

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