Pitfalls in PR writing are plentiful—here’s what to avoid.
Good PR writing is quite the juggling act. You must find the right balance of selling but not overhyping, explaining but not complicating, being creative but staying on message—and all the while be free of typos and grammatical errors. Here are some tips to help you with your next press release, executive Q&A or presentation.
THE WINDUP, THE PITCH…
- We’ve all seen PR writing that promised the moon, but fell far short. The groundbreaking product didn’t break ground. The exclusive interview with a newsmaker you set up didn’t make any news. Overhyping a product or person may make a splash—but is it worth having the media again never return your emails?
- Certain words are associated with self-puffery and can turn your audience off. Have you noticed how just about every company describes itself as the leader, or leading in their field? They can’t all be in pole position. Others to be wary of: easy/easily, game-changing, comprehensive, vision, robust, scalable, mission-critical, bleeding-edge and revolutionary. It’s not that all of these are off-limits, but pepper your copy with too many and eyes will glaze over. I know mine do.
- Of course, your client might be a wild-eyed believer who wants you to evangelize their product or service to the hilt. To keep the hype manageable, it’s important you speak up when the pitch runs into the constraints of the truth. Part of your duty as a pro is fighting the good fight while knowing your advice may be overruled.
- Much of a PR writer’s job is “translating” dense, technical concepts into understandable copy. An easy way to see if what you’ve written makes the cut is to read it out loud. Running out of breath by the end of a tricky sentence laden with industry terminology? Tongue tied by stacks of multisyllabic words? Then it’s time for editing—because if the writer is having trouble, then readers don’t stand a chance.
- Alphabet soup is a fun meal, but too many acronyms can be hard to swallow. For tech PR, some use of acronyms is unavoidable, but keep them under control – one per sentence, or two or three in a paragraph, max. And don’t forget to spell out the meaning on first reference as a service to the uninitiated.
- When in doubt, err on the side of too simple than too complex. Shorter words, and fewer. You want your collateral to spark the audience’s interest, not shut out all but the insiders. Microsoft Word lets you check your writing’s readability (Google “Flesch reading ease” to find out how). A score of 50-plus is good, though some PR teams shoot for 60 (this article has a score of over 70—which has a lot to do with why you’re still reading it!)
SIMPLE DOES NOT MEAN SLOPPY
- Nothing turns a discerning client or customer off faster than spelling mistakes, bad punctuation and poor grammar. You’d be amazed how many PR professionals botch the basics. It’s and its are not interchangeable. Neither are their, there and they’re. And don’t even get me started on than and then. Make enough slip-ups, and you’ll get your readers wondering what else your release gets wrong.
- As famed college basketball coach John Wooden said: Be quick, but don’t hurry. Rushed writing often is bad writing, so take your time. And don’t be afraid of letting your draft sit for a night if you have that luxury; you’ll come back in the morning with a fresh set of eyes for editing.
Finally, if you don’t have the writing chops yourself, maybe it’s time to pay a contractor who does. PR teams often depend on outsiders for photographs, event planning, printing and countless other services to help us better tell our clients’ stories. Why shouldn’t a writer/editor be among your go-to contacts? Good writing may be a dying skill but it ain’t dead yet. And whether you up your own game by mastering these tips, or hire a strong writer, your investment will pay off in spades.
At the very least, you won’t be one of those PR writers.