Strong writing skills are more crucial than ever in public relations.
As paid and earned media converge and branded content rises in popularity, PR pros who can write well are more in demand. Journalists, too, have infiltrated PR, where they can continue to write stories, but with more job security and higher salaries.
According to a recent report from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, writing is the top skill that PR firms look for in new hires—yet it may be the hardest to find.
“Please make sure they have good writing skills! That is so important and yet missing in most college grads,” said one survey respondent.
Dorothy Crenshaw of Crenshaw Communications says that as PR evolves, writing skills are more important than ever for its practitioners.
Not everyone agrees.
In an op-ed for PR Week, the University of South Carolina’s Shannon Bowen asserts that as PR has evolved into a management discipline, college communications curricula must shift more toward critical thinking and ethics. She contends writing skills can be taught in the workplace.
Crenshaw counters: “Strategy must drive communications tactics, and critical thinking is a vital skill in our business, but I take issue with the thesis that advanced writing skills are no longer crucial for ‘real-world’ PR jobs. PR has surely evolved, but writing skills are more important than ever.”
Evaluating PR candidates’ writing skills
Hiring poor writers and thinking they’ll get better can be a recipe for disaster. So, how do you know whether you’re hiring a good writer?
Look at examples of the candidate’s work. Assign a writing test or some other exercise so you can see how they write “on their feet.” Can they write coherently and compellingly?
Though many believe they have the writing chops to excel in PR, not everyone does. So, what’s the best way to get better?
- Write more. One great way to improve is simply to write more. Even if you can’t write as much as you’d like on the job, seek other opportunities. Start a blog, or contribute to other blogs. Volunteer for writing projects that fall outside your usual responsibilities.
- Take a class. Udemy offers online writing courses. There are also workshops and sessions offered by business writing pros like Ann Wylie or through organizations such as the American Marketing Association or the Public Relations Society of America.
- Read a book about writing. My favorite is “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley. Also, read her list, 12 Books That Will Make You a Better Writer and Storyteller.
- Read more. Did you know that reading more helps your writing? ” Reading exposes us to other styles, other voices, other forms, and other genres of writing,” says Belle Beth Cooper of Buffer. “Importantly, it exposes us to writing that’s better than our own and helps us to improve.”
- Follow writing experts. Last, follow writers such as Wylie, Handley and Josh Bernoff for examples on how to up your writing game. Contently and Copyblogger also publish great posts with writing tips.