You’ve probably heard it before if you #workinPR: writing is not the only thing that matters. But, it does matter. Studying writing, and even classic literature, in college equipped me with many of the skills I use day-to-day. If you ask my mom about it, she’ll probably tell you I’ll publish a children’s book one day. And although that’s not in my five-year plan, whether I’m crafting pitches, press releases or poetry, I thrive on stringing words together to uncover the best way to communicate.
I ask you this: if you can’t write captivating content about your client, what would make a journalist want to? And it’s not just about grammar – though I can’t convey my love for the AP Stylebook enough. It’s been five months since I was just shy of graduating and our principal, Darlene, called to offer me a position at the agency. And while I don’t profess to know everything about media relations quite yet, I can offer some sentence-crafting tips I carried with me from my English courses to pitching the media.
When you need to create emphasis …
Call upon punctuation, incomplete sentences and white space. Don’t be afraid to use dashes instead of periods or semi-colons. Though your high-school teachers may have taught you never, ever to write incomplete sentences, it’s actually becoming much more widespread in journalistic and strategic writing. Finally, nobody ever said you had to (or should) craft 15-sentence paragraphs. It can actually prove much more effective to have even a one-sentence paragraph for emphasis.
It works – trust me.
When there’s an adjective in every sentence …
Delete. Delete. Delete. Replace them with nouns and verbs. Also, do your best to avoid adverbs – anything that ends in “ly” should be cut from your strategic vocabulary whenever possible. Strong nouns and verbs render your sentences powerful.
When you catch yourself explaining how “great” something is …
Show, don’t tell. Similar to replacing adjectives with nouns and verbs, rather than describing how excellent your client’s product or service is, provide the specific details that make it so. In creative writing, you wouldn’t chronicle a storm by saying, “It was a stormy night.” Instead, “The clouds overhead had darkened and there was a deep rumbling somewhere in the distance.” Though creative and strategic writing aren’t always interchangeable, a similar approach might be catchier to a journalist who appreciates good prose – just don’t ramble on and on for more than a couple of paragraphs (is my golden rule). Try describing without using words such as “great,” “excellent,” “ideal,” “perfect” and so on.
When your writing still isn’t coming to life …
Write in scenes. This I learned from a Fiction Writing Workshop course: there is nothing as compelling as scenic writing. Instead of providing overviews, strive to create snapshots in time as often as you can.
For example, let’s pretend you’re writing a Father’s Day pitch. Your opening might read, “Father’s Day is right around the corner and if you’re still stuck pondering what to get your dad, look no further.” But you could also write, “Picture this: it’s Saturday night and you’re sitting on your couch binge-watching Fuller House when it hits you – tomorrow is Father’s Day and you didn’t buy your dad a gift.” Which version caught your attention?
The key to becoming a better writer doesn’t just lie in reading this blog post – you have to practice to get comfortable executing tips like these in your own, unique voice. Plus, you probably won’t be able to put all of them to use every time, but it is good practice to do so when appropriate. And remember this golden pitching rule: be succinct. If you’re trying to convince a journalist to write about your client, they just need a teaser, not a best-selling novel.
Now, I’m not saying that literature lovers are the only ones who have access to these not-so-secret suggestions, but, as I always say, a little Shakespeare once in a while never hurt anybody. Just sayin’.
- Deanna Haas
A version of this article also appeared on PR Daily.