An ode to AP style, and why it matters in PR

A collection of tips and guidelines for public relations pros from the self-proclaimed ‘bible for journalists and anyone who cares about good writing.’

Like many PR professionals, I earned my college degree in journalism. The curriculum for this degree included many classes focused on writing (in Associated Press style), editing (for AP style), and simply learning how to navigate this industry “bible” that we know as the AP stylebook.

Although I’ve worked in the PR field since graduation, I’ve never felt my AP style training was for naught. Whether speaking the same language as the media outlets I’m communicating with or having the upper edge when debating press release edits with a client, I use my AP style knowledge almost daily. (I still feel like a kid on Christmas morning when I unwrap each year’s new AP Stylebook.)

Here are the top AP style tips and teachings I adore and find ever so useful in PR:

1. There’s no room for serial commas in AP style or in PR. AP style tells us to avoid using a comma before the conjunction in a simple series. (Preferred: The flag is red, white and blue. Not: The flag is red, white, and blue.) In my role as a PR practitioner, I communicate as concisely as possible—whether reducing a wire photo caption to 80 characters or fitting a news headline in 140 characters on Twitter—and eliminating just one character by omitting that extra comma can make all the difference.

2. Likewise, there’s no room for trademarks. Sometimes my clients’ legal departments win out on this one. They insist on including a trademark (™) or registered mark (®) after every mention of a brand or branded product, whereas AP style says to drop these symbols. I might relent and include these symbols on first reference if instructed, but I consider each dropped symbol a big win, a space saver, and one step closer to a cleaner read.

3. Save your sanity, and save capital letters for proper nouns. There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing a sentence chock full of improper capitalization. (“Our Brand offers the best prices,” said Sarah Jones, the Company Marketing Manager.) By eliminating improper capitalization and saving even just one reader from the Too Many Capitals cringe factor, I feel content that I’ve done my job.

4. Make sense of alphabet soup. Do you know what RPM, ft lb or CPM means? Neither did I, until I started working in PR (and for a tool client). Luckily, AP style asks that we make it easier on others and spell out the first mention of each of these measurements. If you’re curious, those abbreviations stand for rotations per minute (tool speed), foot-pounds (a unit of energy), and cost per mille (cost per thousand advertising impressions).

5. Rule at grammar. I like to think that those of us knowledgeable in AP style use better grammar and usage in our work (and our everyday lives), so don’t ignore the little rules AP style has to offer. For example, we AP style gurus save the term “over” to describe spatial relationships: The cow jumped over the moon. We don’t use it to describe the relationship between numbers: The campaign raised more than $3,000. We also know that we can lay a book on a table, where it will lie for the next reader. (Right, colleagues?)

As PR continues to evolve, I’m glad we can revel in one constant: the steady and straightforward wisdom of the AP Stylebook.

When she’s not making news for her clients at JSH&A, you can find Hannah Pomatto sweating through a cardio barre class, exploring new restaurants in Chicago, or writing wedding thank-you notes with her new husband—in AP Style, of course. Connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at hannah@jsha.com.

Topics: PR

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