Without question, the practice of public relations has been changed significantly by technology. Stakeholder targeting has become more specific, new channels have emerged, and conversations have replaced simple news delivery.
It has been transformative.
But maybe not entirely.
What is interesting is the fact that the keys to being an effective communicator remain the same. Analytical, writing and counseling success have remained the same irrespective of whether a writer is pecking away at a typewriter and pulling copy paper and carbons from the carriage, or devising a digital strategy in a remote site thousands of miles away from the client.
1. Be curious.
Successful PR professionals want to know why – and all the other Ws. And when they do, they consider and apply the PR skills they learned in school and on the job. In the process, they are curious once again – wondering about outcomes and scenarios.
Insist upon it – in your thinking, in your writing, in understanding your role.
3. Active voice.
S-V-O: subject-verb-object. The subject is acting vs. the subject is the object of the action. Remember? It conveys thoughts, recommendations and ideas better than alternatives. It works.
4. Messages, messages, messages.
Messages are not boilerplate. They are not slogans. They are not bumper stickers. Instead, they are the key themes that enable you to touch your audiences in a way that resonates personally with them. Develop them carefully. And employ them consistently.
5. Learn what words actually mean.
While/although. Above/more than. Lists of common mistakes are available. Get one and learn from it.
6. You own it.
Every document you write – including early drafts – has your name on it. Your professional brand is being created or altered. An artist doesn’t sign a painting until it is as good as he or she believes it can be. You need to apply the same standards to any piece of work that has your name on it.
Shape your communications for your intended audiences. You are attempting to achieve a desired interpretation or action – not to show off your ability to construct grandiose sentences. Manage your instincts.
Understand the business/commercial objective. And then develop a communications strategy that aligns with it. Communication for communication sake doesn’t deliver any value. And, therefore, it doesn’t work.
9. Bullet points.
Think in bullet points. Talk in bullet points. Write your bullet points first – even though they may belong in the middle of the document. And you can listen in bullet points, too. Teach yourself to translate the talk around the room into bullet points before your process it.
10. Timeline and sequencing.
Statement, truths, assertions, denials – they all can have a very short shelf life. So, consider carefully what you are saying today. Best practice? Stick with “real-time truths” that aren’t dependent upon gimmicks. Stay away from “snapshot true,” “de facto true” or “prospectively true.
11. Tell, explain, tell.
Readers, listeners – and especially clients – are not patient. A linear writing structure makes them wait. Don’t make them wait. Tell. Explain. And then tell again.
12. See it before you write it.
Fact is, at some point in your career you should be able to visualize in your mind’s eye sentences, paragraphs – and even document structure. Work at it. When you get there, your job will be easier – and you will be a lot better at it. Don’t write it to see it. See it first.
13. Learn and unlearn.
Essays? Creative writing? From time to time – yes. For the most part, however, strategic communications writing is different. It requires some new learning.
14. Windows, not mirrors.
An effective public relations program communicates “through a window” – that’s where there audiences are. “Mirror communications,” which is practiced far too frequently, means you are speaking to yourself. You may get off on it, but it doesn’t work.
15. Start over, if necessary.
Your supervisor or your client won’t remember if you are late, but they will remember if it is bad. If you need more time, alert them, let them know you believe you can make it as good as possible with a little more time, and then deliver the best possible document.
The business has changed in a multitude of ways, and the successful practitioner needs to embrace the new environment. But it is important not to lose the essential keys to success.