Three classic pitfalls of PR writing – and how to avoid them

Fiona Lewis is one of the Henshall Centre's trainers

By Fiona Lewis, PR and communications consultant
@fionalewis | LinkedIn

Good PR writing requires a unique set of skills and is one of the most challenging and interesting bits of the job.

Unfortunately, this means less experienced PRs can struggle to get to grips with writing and can be at the mercy of the demands of external and internal clients who just don’t get PR.

PR has always been about providing the media with the written content they need for their stories. Now many PRs are producing online content themselves, being able to tell a great story in writing is more important than ever before.

Here are three classic PR writing pitfalls – and how to avoid them.

1. Don’t write a sales pitch

PR or editorial writing is subtler (and more effective) than a straightforward sales pitch. It’s more focused on the issue than the brand or product.

When you’re writing a press release you need to be objective because a journalist needs to be objective. You can’t say the world agrees that a new diet cola offers the best diet taste ever, but you can say a new diet cola is creating a storm on social media and has attracted many celebrity fans. Provide evidence, not opinion, to back up your argument and you’ll be more likely to be taken seriously – statistics, case studies, endorsements from third parties and so on.

Provide evidence, not opinion, to back up your argument and you’ll be more likely to be taken seriously – statistics, case studies, endorsements from third parties and so on.

When you’re writing a press release you need to be objective because a journalist needs to be objective.

It’s the same if you’re writing a social media post or a blog – no-one wants to be sold to, but you might attract their attention with the issue. It’s less “buy our paraben-free makeup” and more “research reveals how parabens in products can damage your skin”.

2. Don’t write an essay

Early on in your PR career, you are likely to draw on your greatest experience of writing, which for most people is academic writing. This type of writing uses more formal language, tends to build up to a conclusion and includes comprehensive details on a subject.

By contrast, PR or editorial writing uses simple, punchy language to get across the basic facts, starting with the most interesting first. Look at how newspaper articles are written – you should be able to get the gist of the story in the headline or first paragraph. Journalists write this way so sub-editors can cut stories easily if necessary. Including the most important information first also helps you to fight the writer’s greatest enemy – a waning attention span.

3. Don’t write in dull corporate speak

When you’re getting lots of input from clients and colleagues and trying to cover every key message, it can be easy to slip into the dull corporate language that an organisation has always used.

Perhaps the worst example of this is the corporate quote – I’m sure most PRs have started a quote with the words “We are really delighted to launch…” or similar. Aside from being dull, unnatural quotes like these are difficult for journalists to use as they don’t sound like they’ve interviewed the person in question.

Perhaps the worst example of this is the corporate quote – I’m sure most PRs have started a quote with the words “We are really delighted to launch…”

So how can you avoid boring corporate writing? One tip to get your creative flow going is just to have a bash at writing the blog, press release or whatever in one take – without referring to any notes or other documents. (It’s best to do this by hand as writing on screen makes it more tempting to edit sentences as you go.) Writing it quickly without

Writing it quickly without overthinking means you can keep the whole of the story clear in your head. You might be surprised at the great phrases or sentences you can generate. Once you have got something rough drafted you can review and refine it, referring to key messages and input from colleagues or clients.


Fiona Lewis is a PR and communications consultant specialising in the not-for-profit and education and training sectors. She also teaches our PR Content Writing course.

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