How often do you sit down to work on a project, open up a clean Google doc, and proceed to stare at said Google doc for 10 minutes (or more), not even sure where to begin? It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or have been writing professionally for years—all writers run into this at some point. In fact, I did it just now in starting this blog post.
And the best recommendation I have when you find yourself in that place—just write. Start somewhere. Anywhere. Find the place where you can focus, turn off your phone and email alerts, and just start.
I have number of ideas for what to talk about in this blog this semester, but after reading through your notes from the first week of class and reviewing your news releases, I thought what you might need (or even want) at the start of a new semester are helpful resources to get you in the right frame of mind and ready to write. So, below are a number of articles I hope will help prepare for what lies ahead in PUBR 330. I’ve selected a few that span a variety of topics and tips, from the psychology of creating the best space in which to write to tips for crafting a good headline.
Let me know in the comments which of these are most helpful, or if there are other areas of writing in which you need inspiration. What other topics would you like us to talk about related to PR and writing in this blog this semester?
A Few Writing Resources and Articles to Help You Get Started:
I had a great conversation with a good friend yesterday. We found ourselves discussing digital campaigns and the perception—or sometimes misperception—of “organic” earned media vs. paid media in an ever-changing, social media influencer-driving content world. We’re bombarded with content daily from brands, businesses, news, and even friends and family. How do we perceive that content and consume it responsibly?
Now, flip that thought. If you’re considering a career in public relations, you will most likely play a part in helping create content for others to consume. You may even find yourself in a role that shapes what audiences and communities think and talk about on a given day. What makes public relations content distinct from other types of content? How do we reach our audiences in an engaging, but also appropriate way?
These are just a few of the things our class will talk about this semester as we dive into learning the various types of content and standards within public relations, practice writing from a public relations perspective, and discuss the importance of ethics within PR strategies and tactics. And throughout the course, we’ll support one another to build each other up as better writers. My hope is that you’ll walk out of class at the end of the semester having grown in your writing abilities and with a clear understanding of PR writing practices.
So, as you prepare to engage in this course I want to leave you with this quote from poet and novelist Margaret Atwood, “A word after a word after a word is power.” Words have power. Words have value. Words can change lives. So how do we use our words well within public relations?
As we wrap up our reading in Danny Rogers’ Campaigns That Shook the World, think back to the campaigns we’ve discussed throughout the semester. We’ve examined campaigns spanning four decades, from Margaret Thatcher’s 1978 campaign to Dove’s Real Beauty campaign.
Though each one offered unique strategies and tactics, common themes reemerged time and again. We typically start campaigns at the same place: What are we trying to achieve? Why does it matter? What are our objectives? It’s how we communicate and how we engage our audience that can change as we adapt to new technologies and the trends of the moment.
In his conclusion, Rogers states that “it would be difficult to change the world today with a campaign that didn’t understand and test the boundaries of one-to-one communication and digital sharing.” Testing boundaries. Taking risks. In public relations, we have to continually look forward if we want to remain competitive in the industry and stay engaged with our audiences. Why is it so essential as public relations pros to stay aware of industry trends, including technological advances? What are ways we can do this? And as we look ahead to the future, what trends do you see coming in the field of public relations based on your experience to date?
A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way. – Flannery O’Connor
In public relations, we discuss the power of words: every piece of writing for PR has a purpose, is part of a broader strategy intended to achieve a goal. Even so, some people are quick to dismiss the impact of a well-written news release or carefully worded Tweet. Yet spend just a little time online and you can prove these assumptions wrong. (This NPR story on cities pitching to Amazon to house their second headquarters, for example.)
Now that we are halfway through the semester in our Writing for Public Relations course, I hope you see more clearly the strategy and intent behind writing multiple pitches and releases. Why I challenge you to focus on improving the power of your words and centering on the primary goal of each piece. Why structure and organization matter.
But understanding the format and purpose is only the beginning. This week we will dive into how you can elevate your creativity within writing for public relations; how each piece is part of a larger story you are telling on behalf of a brand or organization. And I’m not using the term “story” lightly here.
Why do you think “story” is a word often used in marketing and public relations? Why are brands focusing on storytelling through content in all its various forms? I’m not just referring to video storytelling. Take a look at the cities pitching to Amazon example again. How are they using their stories to woo Amazon? What stories—from brands, organizations, nonprofits, individuals—are capturing your attention today and why? Share some of your thoughts below in preparation for our discussion on this topic on Wednesday!
We’ve talked about the importance of understanding who you’re pitching to and why when it comes to sending news releases. For years, public relations professionals have continued to try and identify the best way to pitch reporters. It’s an ongoing challenge, especially considering what works for one may not work for another. One thing everyone agrees on—pitches should be targeted. Personalization matters. No one likes spam.
One PR firm decided to take a new approach—using technology to improve how they pitched journalists. Take a look at this story from NiemanLab about how Upbeat PR is reworking the PR pitch. What do you think? How might this approach help? Any downsides? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
It’s difficult to watch from afar the devastation of recent events, including the series of hurricanes destroying homes, businesses, and cities. Checking in on friends and family who may be impacted. Praying for support and relief.
Yet in the midst of any disaster what impacts me most are the stories of people coming together: Neighbors checking on neighbors. Strangers going above and beyond to rescue those in need. Emergency responders traveling across cities and states to assist.
Humanity steps up during disasters. Unfortunately, some individuals take advantage of these situations—looting, creating false campaigns, starting rumors. Overpowering those are the people who band together to provide assistance and meet needs both short term and long term.
Public relations campaigns become a great way to get the word out on how individuals and groups can help, whether donating money, goods, time, or skills. I’ve seen several campaigns these past few weeks, including five former U.S. presidents uniting to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Harvey and nonprofit organizations like the Humane Society reminding the country how they and others help serve lost and injured animals during natural disasters. Using news media, social media, PSAs, and word of mouth, these campaigns call attention to the needs at hand and give others a means to support in a positive way.
What campaigns have you seen recently that serve the purpose of uniting people toward a cause? What kind of impact do they have? How did the campaign come to your attention? Share your thoughts!
As I reflect on our recent discussions, on the numerous things happening in the world, and how to wrap up the end of the semester, this question keeps coming to mind: What are we called to do? As public relations professionals. As students. As teachers. As interns. As Christians. As people.
We can easily get caught up in the creativity and entertainment of PR stunts, YouTube videos, and hashtag campaigns, or in the “who said what?” and “they should have…” of crisis communication.
But what does it truly mean to be a public relations professional in the world today, and looking forward to the future? As our audiences and consumers seek to hold brands and individuals to higher standards, how do help reach those standards as PR pros? How do we approach each task and campaign with a desire to not only represent our brand well, but also our audience?
If you got the call today and accepted a position in public relations, how would you prepare yourself for that role? What lessons would you take from this class and others to set yourself up for success, to best represent your client, your audience, and you?
Storytelling. Creative writing instructor and creator of the Story Seminar Robert McKee says, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” In many of your responses to recent posts, capturing emotion by telling stories—through words or images—is a common theme. We often hear storytelling is important, that stories carry more weight and help individuals better connect to brands, organizations, and even products. So how do we approach storytelling in public relations?
Public relations is about informing the public, and yes, you’ve heard me reinforce the message of getting to the point quickly and making facts clear. That provides the foundation for learning how to write a strong news release. Now, how do we build on that knowledge to take writing for public relations to the next level? How do we tell stories on behalf of our organizations and clients? In anticipation of this week’s guest speaker who will discuss amplifying our releases and stories online, I wanted to share the following example, or “story,” if you will forgive the repetition. But first, take a moment to consider what comes to mind when you think of the Starbucks brand? What images and words do you connect with what Starbucks is about and why?
Now, read this article: “Why a Washington Post Editor Left to Work with Starbucks” Does this resonate with the existing story and brand of Starbucks? Why or why not? How does this approach to storytelling further amplify their mission and brand? Can you think of any other organizations or brands doing something similar to connect with their audience and amplify their story?
One of my favorite campaigns from this past year was NASA’s “A Year in Space” which followed the journey of astronauts Scott Kelly (USA) and Mikhail Kornienko (Russia) for a year on board the International Space Station.
The campaign used a perfect blend of traditional and new media, including news coverage and social media—as well as Google+ Educator hangouts and resources—and culminating in a fascinating (in my humble opinion) hour-long PBS special. Whether you followed posts on Instagram or Twitter, gathered educational resources from Google+, read or viewed stories in the media, or watched on PBS, each piece reinforced NASA’s goals for the mission and for public awareness. Take a look at the links included above, and check out #YearInSpace on social. What do you think those goals were? Did you happen to see or follow any of the campaign this past year and if so, what stood out to you? Have you seen any other similar campaigns that successfully blended new and traditional media?
Words are a lens to focus one’s mind. – Ayn Rand
Writing. The foundation of our class. To begin to practice good public relations writing skills, you have to first master a few foundational writing skills. I’ve compiled several articles that offer tips and resources to help as you tackle your assignments this semester. Remember, the more you write and read, the stronger your writing will become!
Check out these tips on recognizing and avoiding passive voice. UNC also offers a more in-depth look at understanding passive voice.
If you’re unsure, ask Grammar Girl. (And if you don’t know why grammar is important, here’s the answer.)
Become familiar with using Associate Press (AP) style, the standard stylebook for journalists and public relations professionals.
I could list a number public relations writing tips, but this article captures them well.
Find a peer and swap papers to proof read one another’s work. Outside perspectives help us improve our writing.
Create a checklist of what needs to go into each assignment! Like this one for press releases.
This PR News article could be called, “How to pass this class.”
What writing questions do you have for me? Are you running into challenges with the assignments completed thus far this semester? Let me know. We’ll work through them together. And remember—APU’s Writing Center is available to help as well. Take advantage of your campus resources!