I occasionally get emails from recent or soon-to-be college graduates asking if they can speak with me about working in PR. On the rare day I have time to do such a call, I’m usually asked the same questions: How did I get started? Which do I prefer, agency or corporate PR? What type of clients do I work on? What advice do I have for someone who’s just starting out?
I don’t think anyone really cares about how or why I got into PR or what my work preferences are, so I tend to breeze through these questions. When it comes to questions about advice, however, I almost always offer the same piece: up your writing game.
Recently, the Partnership for 21 Century Skills released a study which noted that a large percentage of college students had deficient writing skills. The same study also showed that college graduates were not only poor writers, but also lacked proper communication skills across the board.
Contrary to what pop-culture would have you believe, working in PR is not about throwing parties or hanging with celebrities. While there can be job perks and opportunities to work with exciting people or clients, PR is ultimately about developing solutions that help companies and clients achieve communication and business objectives. Conservatively speaking, about 85 percent of this work – especially in the B2B world – is done through writing.
PR practitioners are called on to write a multitude of things, all of which are vital to any PR program: Strategies, message maps, news releases, pitches, bylined articles, Tweets and other social media updates, blog posts, speeches, presentations, reports, Q&As, product briefs, the list goes on. In addition to these formats, PR professionals are expected to know how to take complicated or bland information and write about it in ways that make it easily understood or interesting to a specific audience. Also, working at a PR firm usually requires the ability to write intelligently about several different types of industries, often on a daily basis.
Becoming an effective writer takes time and practice. To those starting out in PR, I recommend using every writing opportunity – text messages, social media posts, emails to friends – as a chance to sharpen your writing skills. Ditch the shorthand and emoticons and construct your communications properly. Also, build your chops through freelancing or blogging. I was fortunate to have an internship after college where I spent one day a week working with the editor of a local newspaper. There, I was able to learn about news writing and build a portfolio of clips. Almost all of the writing you do in PR will follow the Associated Press stylebook, so be sure to study and reference it regularly.
Writers are considered trusted members of most company teams and are often asked to review and edit important documents or memos. The ability to write well is generally viewed as a necessary skill for C-level executives. Regardless of what professional path you choose, writing is a skill that will serve you well throughout your career.
If you choose a career in PR, be ready and willing to write a lot. The day isn’t half over, and I’ve already written a news release, a byline draft, several social media updates, and this blog post.