Gate-crashing: Writing PR that Reads Like Reporting

Yesterday’s post about practice writing was weighted toward creative writing (not that professional communications can’t be creative, but, in this case, I was talking about fictional creative writing). Today, let’s look at it in the context of PR and corporate writers.

On the first day of work as a young PR professional, I was handed a clipboard with a three-inch stack of press releases penned by my predecessor. They were a helpful starting place: a guide to the way the institution positioned itself, branding language, boilerplate, the annual cycle of announcements, events and new hires.

BTW, in those days, that clipboard was the official storage file for press releases, so I wound up retyping things that I found useful, like boilerplate, into a computer for safe keeping – practice writing of the organization’s best practices.

Today, you’ll find company press releases on almost every corporate website, which makes it easy to see – and practice – your competitors’ best practices, especially those examples of releases that you know earned those other guys valuable media coverage.

But, if you’re going to be a great PR writer, learning the ins and outs of press release-writing doesn’t come solely from practice writing of press releases. The best practice is to study and copy the kind of writing done by the media outlets where you’re hoping to secure coverage. So, if that’s the industry trades, you’re going to be writing in a completely different, and more highly technical, style than a press release going to network and cable broadcast news organizations. Just like pitch letters, you may want to think about writing more than one press release per subject, each with its own targeted type of writing.

Study – and copy – your target media outlets’ writing for:

  • Style – is it newsy, technical, folksy, humorous, stodgy? Do columnists or bloggers have writing styles that vary from the rest of the publication or website?
  • Language – the nuances, catch phrases, technical terminology of the industry.
  • Substance – what facts or new information are revealed in stories, how are trends and thought pieces backed up by data? What is the publication’s commitment to reporting, digging for details?
  • Length – how long is the typical story about the subject of your press release? If their coverage of new business leaders runs to two grafs, how much of your two-page release will they be using?
  • Color – do they typically use quotes, statistics, sidebars? If you can provide similar items that match theirs, you may pick up additional coverage.

Keep on reading and copying your target media. It’s where you’ll pick up story ideas, learn who covers what subjects, discover which reporters have pet peeves and interests, and develop a style that reads less like PR and more like the story about your company or organization that you want to see online, on TV and in print.