Have you heard the one about the PR practitioner who couldn’t
Actually, this isn’t a joke. As it becomes ever harder to convey a
strong message, it’s worrying that the standard of writing in PR is
still so low.
I’ve seen news releases without a news peg and feature articles for
consumer journals that don’t get to the point until the tenth paragraph.
I’ve been sent proposals from well-known consultancies with the client’s
name spelt wrong, and invitations which don’t mention the purpose of the
We’re always being told that PR is about communication. Writing is still
joint number one in the ’most used means of getting your message across’
chart, along with the spoken word, of course. Yet over the years I
continue to be disheartened by the lack of good writing from PR
Considering how important it is, we don’t seem to set much store by the
written word. Advertising agencies recognise the need for crisp,
accurate and witty copy; they employ copywriters, sometimes on large
salaries, to deliver it for their clients. Design groups, which
understand good design and good writing go hand in hand, also use
editors as an integral part of their service.
So why don’t more PR professionals do the same? You would think that
effective writing would be part of the deal when you retain a
consultancy to advise you on how to enhance your corporate image, launch
a new product or manage a crisis. Yet in my experience, there’s often a
black hole where the lively copy should be. How can a consultancy do a
good job if it doesn’t have strong copywriters and editors?
PowerGen’s in-house team is not one of the FTSE’s largest companies, but
we do employ a writer and editor, and retain an experienced
They not only write copy for our publications, but also draft speeches
and articles for senior managers, and provide an editing service for all
parts of the group. I know other in-house departments of large companies
do the same.
You don’t have to be a member of Pedants Anonymous to know what good
writing is. Apart from observing a few basic rules of grammar and
punctuation, it conveys a clear message in a lively and concise way. It
develops ideas logically and leads the reader through to a strong
Not so difficult to achieve, you might think. Well, you’d be wrong if
the weight of evidence is anything to go by. So here are some
suggestions to raise the standard of writing in the PR industry.
First, get the basics right. Bill Bryson’s book Troublesome Words should
be standard issue to everyone in PR. I’ve been using it for the past 15
years. It tells you the difference between ’principal’ and ’principle’
and the correct way to use ’comprise’ and ’consist’, and it also
contains tips on how to bring clarity and life to your writing.
Bryson once said that in his view, the best business writing could be
found in the Economist. This brings me to my second point: PR people
can’t do their jobs without being well informed, so they should be
reading and digesting a steady diet of good journalism as a matter of
Finally, it’s up to senior PR professionals to encourage good writing
among their company’s staff. Consultancies could incorporate a quality
control check on every piece of writing for clients. In-house
departments could do the same. And we could ask all candidates to take a
writing test before we employ them.
Good writing is an integral part of the service we offer. We would all
do well to remember it.
Esther Kaposi is director of corporate affairs for PowerGen.