Let’s be honest, writing PR copy can be hard.
You’re flicking between multiple copy formats, audience types and clients in the same day. Getting your copy right the first time takes practice and patience.
Back in June, I attended a course run by CIPR on writing skills for PR which covered a variety of techniques, tips and exercises to help improve and outline the key principles involved in writing for PR and how to demonstrate them appropriately when writing day-to-day in our industry.
Here’s an overview of my key take homes from the training day:
Before you start writing, think about these key factors: style, purpose, structure and content
These are vital to think about before you even put pen to paper (or type on your keyboard) – sometimes writing in a specific place brings a flare of creativeness and writing at a specific time of day allows you to feel more confident with your words, so, find your niche and stick to it.
TOP TIP: before diving right into the writing, try to summarise the core point of what you’re trying to say, and the audience you’re targeting, in no more than 25 words and write it at the top of your page so that you can go back and check throughout.
Now it’s time to put that thinking hat back on before you get stuck in:
- Purpose – What’s the aim of this piece? Think about the reader and how you want them to react to it. Do you want to pass knowledge on to them, gain their interest, cause them to take action or just make them aware of something?
- Style – This depends on what you’re writing and where you want to see your writing get featured. Writing a news story for the likes of The Guardian is going to have a very different tone to writing a whodunit novel so choose your style wisely.
- Content – This is where you need to think about what content is going to be interesting to your reader and specifically the media. Does it have an aspect of importance to it? Is it entertaining? Were you surprised when you found this piece of information out?
- Structure – Broadly speaking, for most pieces of writing, you need to start by gaining the reader’s’ attention, then focus on building an interest, create a desire and finally have a call to action. However, if you’re writing a short punctual email that needs to draw the interest of a journalist in, be sure to get straight to the point and always include the following: who, what, where, when, why information.
A handy tip to work out the tone of voice you should go for
It’s time to get you familiar with The Gunning Fog Factor. What a name, right?
The Gunning Fog Factor is a simple mathematical equation (yes maths and PR do mix) that helps us work out the average age a person would need in education in order to understand a piece of written text.
Follow these steps:
- Go to the media outlet you would like your content to be featured in and take a sample of the text around 100 words long and then work out the average number of words in each sentence
- Once you’ve done that, count the number of words that are 3+ syllables, otherwise known as complex words and then add them both together, then finally multiply by 0.4
- This will then give you the number which is considered the ‘Gunning Fog’ Index which is how many years of education is needed in order to understand the content. The amount of years for a piece of text from the Financial Times is going to be very different in comparison to an article from The Sun
This is a handy tip to know when writing up an article or supporting copy for a specific national newspaper or niche industry site.
How to create compelling content
It’s very easy to write up a story or news feature that you believe to be interesting,
However, you need to make it interesting to the majority, not the few. In order to do this, keep the following acronym in mind: TRUTH.
Is your content topical and timely? Is it currently happening and does it affect people in this present time? If so, then people have the right to know and you need to convey the news to them in a sincere way.
You need to make sure your article, feature, press release or blog post is relevant to the primary readers as well as the secondary. The more the story resonates with people the more coverage it will gain.
A good story tends to be unusual and has an aspect of originality. If it is very similar to others out there, then you’re merely churning out information that people already know. In other words, it’s not news and your story is futile.
This next part is key: Is there any tension involved in your story? Be sure to highlight it if there is. Journalists are trained to look at the other side of the coin and take an unusual angle, so if there is any triumph over tragedy, be sure to hone in on it – take this for example.
If you’re writing up actual news that is about real people then it has an aspect of human interest involved – people need to know about it and you need to translate it to them in the best way possible.
If you take away three things from my blog post, it would be:
- Always create your own summary of your plan prior to writing in a maximum of 25 words
- Look at the way specific journalists are writing, their tone and the sort of content they’re featuring in the publications you want to get a mention and link in – don’t copy them, try to put your own spin on it
- TRUTH (topical, relevant, unusual, tension and human interest)
If you ever feel like the words aren’t coming to you, pack up, sleep on it, start afresh the next morning. It works for me, and I’ve been stuck in a PR writer’s block a few times!