How to match PR writing with journalists’ work

People often ask me how “PR writing” differs from other writing. At base, it doesn’t; both disciplines aim to tell a story as effectively as possible. PR writers simply have to adjust their work to match a journalist’s writing process rather than their end product.

For both journalism and PR, understanding how the audience want to read and comprehend stories is the most important thing.

Any piece of writing should address the audience appropriately and in language they will find acceptable, whether it’s flat-pack furniture instructions or a press release.

In PR writing your starting point is to help the journalist. OK, that’s not quite true; you need to work for your client, not us, but the best way to do this is to make our lives simpler.

Journalists won’t care about your stories unless they are sure there readers will, so help them by focusing on the needs of their readers first.

Given the pace at which some outlets work, you might find your release or opinion piece cut and pasted into a news feed. Your writing has to be comprehensible to the casual reader as well as journalists that specialise in your field.

Key words and reinforcement are vital – people scan more than they read, and no matter what old gits like me might say, they always did.

How to avoid getting cut out of the story

Remember how journalists are told to write stories – everything important in the first paragraph, then more detail, then more detail, then more detail. Reflect this in your own style – if we don’t know exactly what you’re talking about in the first paragraph we probably won’t read to the second.

Journalists write news stories so sub-editors can cut from the bottom up. If we cut and paste your story into our news (not that this is a good idea but it happens) and it’s too long, we’ll snip it in the same way.
Use the inverted pyramid to help journalists

The News Pyramid is the image journalists are given to ensure that no matter how much cutting is done, the story (and pyramid) is complete. Don’t bury something important at the end.

The Inverted Pyramid lies at the heart of PR writing. You need to flip the narrative around so the bulk of the important content is at the top, then the story (and content) gets smaller and less significant as you move down.



Let’s take an example.

Here’s the sort of thing I get as a journalist, all too often:

My client, XX, has expressed an opinion on the pension changes that came into play this month. He has a lot of experience of this as he used to work as a personal financial advisor and is now CEO of YY. He has a number of concerns including the fact that people don’t know about their pensions and aren’t financially astute. A lot of people will see the big pot of money to which they have access and take it without thinking through any of the consequences in any depth.

There’s useful, substantial stuff buried in there. Using the inverted pyramid, we take the most important bit and put it at the head of the piece, condense and split into smaller paragraphs.

We might end up with something more like:

XX, CEO of YY, is warning against taking a lump sum instead of a pension as the laws have changed this month to allow this. A former financial advisor, his experience tells him people won’t have the education about their pensions to make an informed decision.

Faced with a large pot of money, he fears, people will be tempted to take it without understanding the consequences.

“The fact is that people don’t look at their pensions enough,” he said. “Not everybody is financially astute enough to consider everything in detail and they may not know what they’re looking at when the facts are in front of them.”

The PR writing now matches the journalist’s news pyramid. The story has a news hook, the CEO’s background and therefore his substantiation goes further up but is condensed – but above all, the substance of what he says is pulled to the front. He’s also credited with some quotes – we made them up and the client will no doubt approve or fiddle with them.

How many of your releases and editorial contributions could benefit from the same re-ordering?

Guy Clapperton teaches writing and media interview training sessions for Henshall Centre. To join one of his open classes, see details:

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