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Do good writers make the best PROs?

10th April 2013

If you’ve decided on a job in PR because you love writing, have you made a big mistake? Writing skills are important, but some argue it is more vital for PROs to have a head for business and strategy. For example, it is essential to understand today’s online environment. As Jeremy Walters, editor of online magazine What’s New in Publishing, says: “SEO and digital marketing expertise is crucial to effective PR. The first page of Google is more valuable long term than the front cover of the FT. That’s how PR has changed. To not include SEO in press releases and PR activity is almost negligent because it’s a huge opportunity wasted.“

But if your main talent is writing, then as long as your skills are complemented by others in your team, then it is worth honing your craft says Walters: “In my experience, the best PR agencies have a balance of people – some are great at writing, others are superb at selling and creating relationships. Very rarely do you get both attributes in one single person. If you do, they’re normally running the company and don’t get involved in either day-to-day!”

Disagreeing with one of Walters’ points, Nic Shaw, editor-in-chief at PR firm Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, argues that people who are both strategic and creative are not that rare: “The ability to write well and a having a head for the strategic side of PR isn’t unusual – the best communicators are the individuals who understand all aspects of storytelling, from the choice of words to how they’ll work together to achieve an objective. It’s just that the writing skills usually develop first.”

If you are a creative type, it is possible to develop practical skills. David Alexander, managing director of PR agency Calacus, says it is a matter of challenging yourself: “It’s a commonly-held believe that PR consultants are mainly artistic people who predominantly use the right side of their brains while technical roles require individuals with more left-brain activity. Clearly as PR is evolving, us PR ‘artists’ are having to challenge ourselves by using the left side of our brains to fully master SEO and digital strategies. The evolutionary nature of public relations means that we are always learning and that new skills are required on a regular basis.”

Waggener Edstrom’s Shaw also disagrees with the idea that digital marketing expertise is more important than writing. Shaw says: “Good writing skills are far more important than understanding SEO or digital marketing strategies. Fundamentally, if you can’t communicate your clients’ messages eloquently, concisely and accurately, in a press release, blog, briefing pack or email, then you’re in the wrong business. Good writing skills should, therefore, be a prerequisite for working in PR. Furthermore, as search engine algorithms evolve, high-quality content that offers genuine value to the reader will rank higher than that dictated by SEO or other digital marketing tactics, making good writing skills even more valuable.”

Do you need to write to work in PR?

Robert Bownes, account manager at agency Ballou PR:

“While understanding SEO and digital marketing strategies is of growing importance and a good skill to have, being able to write clearly and concisely is the basis of the best PR. The majority of businesses understandably lack perspective when describing their product or brand, often relying on jargon and buzz words to convey their message. As a result, a good PR professional must have the ability to translate these thoughts into prose which is both accessible and interesting, while also retaining the underlying key points.”

Julia Ruane, director of agency ChiCho Marketing:

“Good writing skills are essential. You will fall flat on your face if you cannot communicate correctly via the written word. I am of the view though that good writing skills are pretty much essential in any job. A strategy by itself is useless if you cannot communicate it effectively. Remember that words are your essential tools. The right words will help you to achieve your strategy, whether that's via one metatag, a 140-character tweet or a 1,000-word article.”

Nick Murray-Leslie, CEO of agency Chatsworth Communications:
“Poor writing undermines the message or worse, fails to convey it. That doesn't mean overwriting is okay. In our agency we are big fans of the Campaign for Plain English.”

Written by Daney Parker

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