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.