It’s About Great Writing

  • May 10, 2011
  • Fran Stephenson
  • 3 min read

While the decline of the publishing industry over the last decade is no secret, there is one emerging trend that new professionals should be watching. – the role of brands as publishers.  At last week’s  South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, this topic was covered heavily. One panel had a razor-sharp view on the subject.

Brave New World: Debating Brands Role as Publishers examined the intersection between the decline in traditional journalism and the opportunity for brands to use storytelling  to talk directly to consumers using great content.

One member of the panel said all brands should think and act like publishers.  Another talked about how different content channels can be used by brands to talk about different things. Yet another believed we should be eliminating the middle men – journalists – altogether.  One panelist was concerned about how we would police brands when they lie.

What does this mean for the new public relations professional?  It means that public relations pros in organizations of all sizes have more opportunities to tell their story directly to the consumer – through blogs, wikis and other online places.  And organizations also have an obligation to tell stories honestly, in a timely manner, and using the most basic tool of all – great writing.

Lately great writing has a lot of new buzz words in the online community – dynamic content, content creation, content strategy.  All of these titles are jargon for writing with purpose, or writing with the audience and market in mind.

The labels may be new, but the principal behind them is not.  William Zinsser is the quintessential journalist and nonfiction writer whose landmark work On Writing Well has been the reference against which all others are measured.

At the heart of Zinsser’s beliefs about writing is that it’s a transaction between writer and reader. When done well, two qualities will emerge:  humanity and warmth.

“Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next, and it’s not a question of gimmicks to ‘personalize’ the author. It’s a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength,” Zinsser says in the first chapter.

This advice rings true for all forms of nonfiction writing – magazine, newspaper, web site, blog and any others you could imagine creating as a public relations professional.  As PRSA members telling the stories of a brand, cause or an organization, we are also obligated to tell it honestly and ethically.

New professionals can be confounded by the actual process of writing – it may or may not have been part of a degree program. So where should you look if you want to improve your writing skills?

Here are four ideas to improve your writing immediately:

  1. Read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser
  2. Start a daily journal in which you write about something that interests you in a journalistic style.
  3. Find a writing buddy and exchange and critique each others’ work.
  4. Set aside time each day for writing, even if it’s only 30 minutes.

There are many more steps you can take to improve your writing, but these are a great way to get started. So when your boss starts to talk about the new content strategy, or creating dynamic content, you’ll know that all he or she is looking for is great writing with a purpose and an audience.  And you will be ready to deliver it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post originally appeared in the PRSA National Newsletter for New Professionals in May, 2011.