Platform: We cannot afford to ignore basic writing skills - PR has seemingly placed so little stock in the written word that it is being shown up by the advertising world, says Esther Kaposi

Have you heard the one about the PR practitioner who couldn’t write?

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.

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