Strong writing skills are more crucial than ever in public relations.
As paid and earned media move closer together and we see branded content continuing to rise in popularity, PR pros who can write well are more in demand. We’ve even seen journalists make the move to PR, where they can continue to write stories, but with more job security and higher salaries.
One case in point is Elinor Mills, who, after 22 years as a reporter, went to work at a PR agency in a new role it created focused on content. This came about, Mills says because the agency recognized that PR is becoming more and more about content.
“PR is increasingly content and good writing,” says Mills, who is now senior vice president of the content studio at Bateman Group.
Strong Writers Are in Demand
According to a recent report published by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, writing is the top skill PR firms look for in new hires.
While strong writing may be the skill most in demand, 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 of the survey respondents.
Further backing up this point of view, Dorothy Crenshaw of Crenshaw Communications says that as the PR profession evolves, writing skills are more important than ever for public relations practitioners. But not everyone agrees.
In an op-ed for PR Week, University of South Carolina’s Shannon Bowen, Ph.D. argues that as PR has evolved into a management discipline, college communications curricula must shift to make room for the teaching of skills like critical thinking and ethics. She believes there should be less emphasis on teaching writing skills, which she says can be taught in the workplace.
“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,” says Crenshaw. “PR has surely evolved, but writing skills are more important than ever.”
Evaluating PR Candidates’ Writing Skills
Hiring a poor writer and thinking they’ll get better is a recipe for disaster. So, how do you know if you’re hiring a good writer?
Be sure to view examples of the candidate’s work. Ask them to complete a writing test or some type of exercise so you can get a feel for how they write “on their feet.” Are they able to write coherently and compellingly?
For more tips on evaluating a candidate’s writing skills, read 3 Essential Ways to Evaluate Your PR Job Candidates.
Become a Better Writer
While many may believe they have the writing chops needed to excel in PR, it’s true that not everyone does. So, if you recognize you need to improve, what’s the best way to get better?
- Write more: One of the best ways to get better at writing is—you guessed it—to write. Even if you can’t write as much as you’d like on the job, seek out other opportunities to write. Start your own blog. Ask to contribute to other blogs. Volunteer to take on writing projects that fall outside your usual responsibilities.
- Take a class: If you want to check out an online course to improve your writing skills, Udemy offers some. There are also workshops and sessions offered by business writing pros like Ann Wylie or through an organization like the American Marketing Association or the Public Relations Society of America.
- Read a book about writing: My favorite is Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. And what books does Ann recommend? Read her list, 12 Books That Will Make You a Better Writer and Storyteller.
- Read more: Did you know that reading more also 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: Lastly, follow writers like Wylie, Handley, and Josh Bernoff for examples on how to up your writing game. Contently and Copyblogger also publish great posts with writing tips.
Writing is a skill that will never go out of style. If you hone your writing (and storytelling) skills, your path in public relations can be limitless.