New PR/PA writing, shorter than ever, FYA not FYI, zippier: Are you prepared?

By Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA

Keep writing long, indirect, colorless documents and soon no one will read what you’ve written as intently as you would like – or at all.

Today’s for-profit, nonprofit and government organizations, along with their audiences, expect PR/PA writers – both staff and consultant – to get to the point quicker and with more oomph.

This is due, in part, because readers don’t have time for what social media expert Guy Kawasaki calls ‘War and Peace’ memos or 60-slide PowerPoint presentations for one-hour meetings. Email and texting have robbed us of untold time and attention once devoted to more traditional writing styles and forms.

This is due, as well, to the truncated text that is intrinsic to the internet, the single most important driver of new business writing and design influence. Online images, for example, have replaced a megaton of the verbiage that was normal in the print-dominated world of a relative few years ago.

Because of these and related changes and influences, headlines, subject lines and lead paragraphs must also be shorter and snappier. Writers must use tighter, more concrete language that will get more people to do things quickly on their employer’s or client’s behalf – e.g., buy, invest, donate, volunteer, participate, support, work for and vote.

Copywriting is the key to creating the desired energetic text, especially for blogs and social media sites, which people scan like ads. Copywriting is generally zippier, friendlier, younger in tone, more playful and more emotional than traditional business prose.

Unfortunately, most organizational writers have little serious copywriting experience – that’s found mostly in ad and marketing agencies – so they must go back to school to upgrade their skills.

They must attend workshops and seminars of local and national PR, advertising and marketing associations. They must read books on the topic. And they must subscribe for free to online sites such as HubSpot, Copyblogger and Co-Schedule, each of which will send them invaluable how-to guidelines as context for buying their innovative products.

In the current organizational writing environment, a picture is worth far more than a thousand words. Writers at all levels need to keep this in mind as they’re urged and eventually required to embrace the “snackable” brevity that is fast becoming the new norm in PR/PA and related business writing.

About the Author

Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, teaches public relations writing and management at New York University. He also teaches writing workshops worldwide. For over 40 years, he has handled PR for corporations, associations, and nonprofit organizations. He owned The Bates Company, Inc., an international PR agency, which he sold after 12 years. He has taught at Columbia University and the New School University and is founding director of the graduate program in strategic public relations at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM), Washington, DC. He teaches his well-known full-day writing workshop several times annually for the PRSA-NCC chapter in Washington, DC. His next workshop is August 20.

The Meaning Behind Words: Bates Delivers an Acclaimed Workshop for More Powerful Writing

by Alex Hopkins, Communications Associate, Union Plus

Don Bates at Writing Workshop; Photo credit Danielle Heiny/@DanielleHeiny

Don Bates at Writing Workshop; Photo credit Danielle Heiny/@DanielleHeiny

As communicators, we may take for granted that digital communications has quickly become an integral part of the global infrastructure. When our blogs, press releases, and other writing materials appear on the internet, our words contribute to a make-or-break digital paper trail that not only raises awareness of our employer’s image, but also of our own personal brand. Words thus have more power than ever to become motivators for a vast audience to think and act according to our employer’s communications agenda. For many years, this is what veteran public relations expert Don Bates has taught to communicators both in D.C. and New York City.

On August 18, Bates delivered his popular workshop “Write More Powerfully & Strategically for Public Relations & Public Affairs Purposes in Social and Traditional Media” at Hager Sharp. With over 30 participants, the all-day event gave practitioners the opportunity to form meaningful relationships and work together to turn average written pieces into perfectly-polished prose. Throughout the workshop, participants learned that their teamwork reflected Bates’ observation that communicators should be marshaling their audience to work together to discern and accomplish common goals.

Bates was also joined by Anthony Shop, the Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Social Driver, a digital marketing agency based in D.C. In a departure from the traditional top-down marketing approach of the past, Shop observed in his well-regarded presentation that “social media democratizes information — even if there is a lot of ‘noise.’” Using the analogy of a lightning strike, Shop said that, although marketers may only see lightning coming top-down, the energy sparks actually come from the ground — much like how audiences are increasingly calling the shots in a bottom-up marketing approach. With the ability of just about anyone to become a digital communicator, Shop taught participants that, because there is more feedback than ever from targeted audiences, communicators must use increasingly-original techniques to raise brand awareness amidst the marketing storm of “noise” around them.

By the end of the day, participants received a treasure-trove of Bates’ knowledge in the form of 100+ page binder that they could took back to work with them. What the participants learned from the event reflected the universal acclaim of the exercises and presentations. Remarking on Bates’ insistence on concise writing, one participant said, “I’m going to challenge myself to write tweets that are less than 140 characters.” Another participant agreed, adding, “I’m going to think more of how I can work together with my audience before I write.”

Interested in the workshop? Bates and the PRSA-NCC will again host the workshop in December. To register, visit: https://www.prsa-ncc.org/write-more-powerfully-strategically-public-relations-public-affairs-purposes-traditional-and-social.