THE Most Important Skill for a Publicist

Writing. Period. The End.

Just kidding… I have a bit more to say on the topic. Over the years I have counseled dozens of young people interested in pursuing a career in public relations or some form of marketing communications. The number one question I get asked is: “What is the most important skill I need to have in order to get a job?” My answer is always the same: “Can you write?”

Believe it or not, writing does not come naturally to most people. In fact, some people hate writing so much, they would rather do their neighbors’ tax returns than write an article even on an interesting topic. For me, I have always loved writing. I wrote my first “book” when I was nine years old. It was called “Albert the Blue Alligator” and I still have it– and it’s still pretty good.

I chose to attend Emerson College in Boston, MA because it is a communications school that puts great emphasis on one’s ability to communicate effectively. In fact, the school motto is ” Expression Necessary to Evolution.” So true.

So why does a PR person need to know how to write? Don’t they spend most of their time networking, hooking up with journalists, building their contacts lists, going to events and making phone calls? No. That’s some of what a publicist does, but that’s not the whole enchilada.

A lot of what happens includes developing messages, working with clients on how to communicate what it is they want to say, and writing a variety of written documents for both internal and external use. There are press releases, Q&As, talking points, media advisories, pitch letters, e-mail communications, etc. All of these activities require a person to be an outstanding writer.

Spending time honing your writing skills lets a potential employer or client know that you can get up to speed on new topics quickly; assimilate complex information and relate that to a general audience; understand a variety of audiences; and can create messages that speak authentically and accurately about your product or business. Being a good writer means you are a good strategist, researcher, and overall great communicator.

PR people have to understand and apply basic journalistic principles in writing press releases. This tells a journalist that she’s working with a pro– someone who understands the meat of a good story, not just someone interested in hawking a product, service or initiative.

Some great writers’ resources for PR people include:

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.

The Associated Press Stylebook

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1 Comment

Filed under integrated communications, journalism, marcom, marketing, marketing communications, media, media relations, Media Training, PR, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Press Releases, Public Relations, publicity

One response to “THE Most Important Skill for a Publicist

  1. I’d add just one item to your list of necessary writing skills: the ability to write from a perspective you may not share.

    When I teach writing classes, students are shocked to learn I don’t want to hear about their “honest feelings.”

    Much real-life writing requires people to put aside their opinions and feelings and write the opinion of their boss or their company.

    An inclination toward schizophrenia can be an asset for a writer.

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