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5 Keys to Effective Public Relations Writing

If you work in public relations, or if PR responsibilities fall to you by default in your company, it’s a good idea to keep these keys to effective PR writing in mind.

Think First, Write Later

Ideas should precede expressions. Let yours bang around your brain a while before putting anything on paper. Answer these questions:

  • How does this relate to members of my audience?
  • Why is it, or should it, be important to them?
  • How can I grab and hold their attention?
  • How can I best engage and persuade them to be concerned or take action?

Develop a “Creativity System”

A lot of creativity – some would argue most creativity – is the result of building on an idea that’s been around a while or combining two existing ideas to make something new. Borrow systematically and keep files of good materials. Make notes when ideas hit you and so on.

There’s a caveat here.

Creativity for the sake of creativity is not only wasted time and effort, but could actually detract from your message. Your idea might be amazing, awesome, never before seen, but if it rubs your customers’ or your clients’ customers the wrong way, it could have exactly the opposite effect from what you intended. If it’s bad enough, and if you’re a PR service provider, you could lose your client. I’ve seen it happen.

Be creative, but only in the context of what appeals to the target market, and make sure the creative complements the overall communication strategy.


Keep It Simple, Stupid.

It’s amazing how hard it can be to adhere to this rule, especially if you have a boss or client who insists on including every last nitty-gritty detail in the ad, press release, video, e-blast, social media post… whatever. I call that kitchen-sink marketing. When you throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into the ad, press release, video, e-blast, social media post… whatever… your main message is lost. And there goes its effectiveness.

Another part of this involves the most basic of basics. Understand what motivates the members of your target audience, write to them, cut out unnecessary words and paragraphs, avoid industry jargon, off clarifying examples and so on.

Love the Draft/Comp

As much as we’d like to believe we’re the best communicators in the world, that the first draft or comp is right on the money, we’re not. No one is perfect; it’s not likely any of us gets it exactly right the first time. Perfection is achieved through the process of retakes, revisions and rewrites. So write, shoot, design, then revise, revise and revise, then revise again.

Less is More

Keep it short, sweet and to the point. The public relations materials you produce will be stronger and more memorable. Most importantly, they’ll communicate your message more effectively and spur more people to the action you and your boss or client desire.

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* Based on “4 steps to better PR writing,” by Fraser P. Seitel.

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Tip Tuesday – Work Without With

Some rules are made to be broken.

Sometimes rules are made to be broken. That’s often the case when you’re talking about “proper” grammar vs. advertising, marketing and public relations copywriting. And it’s definitely the case when using “proper” will undermine “effective.”

Consider these two sentences:

  • I will provide Fredricks Communications with access to my Google drive.
  • I will provide Fredricks Communications access to my Google drive.

Get rid of that proposition, “with,” and nothing really changes. People still get it, and the sentence is shorter. And those who pay any attention to this blog know I push brevity as Rule #1 for clarity and keeping hold of readers’ short attention spans.

According to several “proper” grammar sources like the English learning website VOA, “with” is necessary:

With is a preposition, and the verb provide has two different subcategorization frames:

  • Provide somebody with something. – The recipient of the thing (Fredricks Communications) is the indirect object.
  • Provide something (to somebody). – The thing provided (access) is the indirect object.

Subcategorization frames? Recipients? Prepositions? Indirect objects?

Clear as mud in the eye to your average Joe.

Here’s the important point – nobody cares, except your former English teachers. And, with all due respect, they never had to sell a widget.

You and me and our bosses and clients care about selling that widget, and we know we need lively, engaging copy to do it. So keep your copy clear, keep it brief and work without with in your advertising, marketing and public relations copywriting.


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Oct. 9, 2018

Image of fist being held over an employee.

“Shoulding” is Messy

Let Employees Contribute and Thrive

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from the pastor who performed the wedding ceremony for my lovely bride and me. We met with him several times before the big day for pre-marriage counseling.

I don’t recall the context of our discussion that particular day, but I remember clearly what he said:

“Don’t ‘should’ all over yourself.”

Here’s what he meant:

Spend your time obsessing about the things you should do, should have done, shouldn’t do and shouldn’t have done, and you’re never going to be happy. In fact, you’ll box yourself into a life of frustration. 

Of course it’s important to set goals and create plans for achieving them. Of course there will be things you wish you would’ve done, or done differently. But it’s equally important to not be too rigid or beat yourself up over those things.

Live well, be kind, apply The Golden Rule and so on, and things will work out. More importantly, you’ll be happier, more content and more open to possibilities.

He also suggesting “shoulding” on others, in this case our soon-to-be spouses, should be avoided. Doing so causes them to be less happy, can make them crawl back into their shells and likely will make them dislike, or even despise, you.

This advice applies just as appropriately to work and employee-supervisor-employer situations. We’ve all heard the old cliché – “Happy employees are more productive employees.” They’re also more dedicated, driven and creative employees, all of which can be important for any business, and especially in my line of work.

Here’s another cliché for you – “Clichés are clichés because they’re true.”

In work situations, “shoulds” not only box people in; they stifle creativity and drive, two things that can be very beneficial to a business and its bottom line.

Consider the following statements:

  • “You should approach the project this way…”
  • “You could approach the project this way…”

See the difference? 

The second is more a suggestion than a directive, and therefore is much less threatening or likely to cause employees to withdraw, crawl back into their shells and play it safe. The substitution of “could” for “should” leaves the door open for other, potentially better, ideas and ways of doing things. 

Here’s a third option that’s even better yet:

  • “What do you think is the best way to approach this project?”

Employees are the most valuable assets of any business, if they’re freed to contribute and thrive. Managers and owners hire them for their brains and abilities; it doesn’t make much sense to shut down their potential before they even get started.

Don’t “should” all over them.

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Old-style ink pen writing "Tip Tuesday" on paper

Tip Tuesday – Is Your PR Writing Overqualified?

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Like using qualifiers? A lot of them, perhaps? As professional copywriters, we need to do a little better.

That’s the advice of Stunk & White, authors of the bibles on grammar and style.

In “The Elements of Style,” William Strunk and E.B. White put it eloquently: “Rather, very, little, pretty – these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.”

Harsh, even without the vampire imagery. Harsh, but right on.

Besides, copywriters should always cut unnecessary words. It’s the “Less-Is-More Principle.”

Which has more life?

  • “It’s rather important to be honest. vs. “It’s important to be honest.
  • “We’re very excited about this product.” vs. “We’re excited about this product.”
  • “I’m pretty sure I gave you the right medication.” vs. “I’m sure I gave you the right medication.”

This isn’t a life vs. death deal – except maybe in that last example – but for a prospective client, neither is hiring you. Take the advice of Strunk & White for your public relations writing:  be a life-giver, not a leech; throw the qualifiers back into the mucky slough.

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