Posted by: Rajiv Harjai | May 30, 2007

PR Writing, not Journalism

One of the aspects which every tutor, practitioner and employer emphasize is ‘Writing Skills’ which is a key aspect in PR. In every job advertisement, one of the most common skills which is asked for is “Writing Skills.” You have to know how to write effectively in order to make it in PR.

In the Public Relations world, writing is emphasized to such an extent that many students and practitioners get into this paradigm of using fancy language and hence neglect their target audience and the target audiences idioms. While you should have journalistic writing skills, your message should be simple and clear to your target audience.

There was a great point made by Mr. Narinder (former information advisor to the former Indian Prime Minister) last week. In summary he said, advertisers are not necessarily good communicators, often the language used is incomprehensible to the masses due to the high standard of vocabulary used, even Journalism is guilty of the same. The language and communication skills needed for PR are somewhat different from advertising and Journalism. In PR often we are required to be advocates without appearing to be so. We must have the skill to communicate in the idioms of the target audience.

I have personally experienced this in giving a lecture on Activism. Having lived all over the world, I have picked up a lot of jargon from the world which is really good as it helps me communicate with a wide variety of people from different cultural backgrounds, but sometimes I sound like an alien as well. In my last year of university I gave a lecture to the masters students on Activism. I named it “Activism 101” only to find out that I had to explain what 101 means to British Students. 101 is American Education lingo which means starting/basic. In American universities, every subject in the first year (freshmen year) will have 101 after the name, e.g. Persuasive Communication 101, Mass Media 101 etc… )

While the bright side was that everyone did learn what 101 means, in reality most of the time you might not get a chance to explain what you mean, hence keep your target audience in mind when any communication is drafted.

Therefore, PR writing as said above is more about communicating effectively keeping your target audience in mind than sounding like a journalist or an advertiser.

Remember this is our (read Public Relations) way to be more effective than Journalism and Advertising.

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Responses

  1. Very nice blog. Cheers!

  2. Thanks DNVC …

  3. Spot on Rajiv. Sadly, there is a lot of PR that is just overblown puff (try any PR Week job ad offering more than £40, 000 and the odds are it is written in gibberish) and this gives students the impression that this is what ‘good writing’ is.

  4. I agree with you – Raj, PR writing should be in such a way that it can influence the target audience. However, this is only possible if the target audience is kept in mind. Moreover, I think influence here is also contributed by the presentation of information, and not just the type of information for the target audience.

    Advertising is also successful keeping in mind the type of audience and product. For instance, in India you will generally find children advertising for chocolate milk drinks like Horlicks, as usually children drink milk. It is very easy for children to influence other children.

    A section of Journalism/Media in India, might just focus on one side of the truth which will give them more publicity, or higher TRP rates. The one side of the truth, which will influence the target audience. For instance, Richard Gere and Big Brother winner – Shilpa Shetty participating in AIDS awareness rally is not important. What is important for Journalism/Media is Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty in the AIDS awareness rally.

  5. Point well made Raj! PR writing is all about communicating effectively, or else what would be the point of writing if no one could comprehend it.

    You make an interesting point about keeping your target audience in mind, while writing…there are absolutely no two ways about that. Its important to keep in mind the context you are working in and the language proficiency of your target audience.

    Good writing skills are not displayed by the use of fancy language. The use of high end vocabulary can be left to the lexicographer, it’s his job. Effective writing should have no frills attached. What makes a good piece of writing is its simplicity and its ability to get the message across to the readers.

    Ironical as it may sound, but the use of high end vocabulary, often turns off people, because lets admit it…after all no one likes to realize, or be told that their language proficiency is limited. You don’t really want to write an article or a press release and have people sit down with Merriam Webster, to be able to understand your written piece. That would be a sure shot way of losing your target audience.

    Cheers!

  6. This is all good stuff – but the reality of PR is quite brutal. A bit like journalism. Stay in touch


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