PR Copywriting – A Beginner’s Guide to Writing for Public Relations

The art of crafting great copy requires the writer to draw on many skill sets and have the ability to connect with the reader. PR Copywriting requires the same skills, but there are differences in strategy, approach and content.

PR requires holistic thought, carefully crafting communication strategies that work for the business as a whole. In PR you need to consider not only how communications will affect and influence a company’s customers, but all other stakeholders, key influencers and employees.

How PR copy is written, positioned and distributed is also different, with each communication crafted to target each audience with specific key messages depending on the objective.

The other key distinguishing factor in writing for PR is the ability to create newsworthy content that achieves your objectives.

Here’s my beginner’s guide to writing for public relations.

What is PR?

The primary function of PR (Public Relations) is reputation management. Regardless of the size of the business or brand, building a respected reputation is vital to its long-term success.

We all have opinions about certain brands and even with smaller local businesses, we know what we like about them, what we don’t, and which ones we trust.

The views of not only a company’s customers, but those of their employees, stakeholders, suppliers, regulators, journalists and key influencers all matter and it’s the role of public relations to shape and influence opinion, creating a favourable environment for the business to thrive.

In a competitive market, building a good reputation is key to success – giving companies a vital competitive edge.

PR Copywriting – The Role of Copywriting in PR

The role of a copywriter can cover a great many disciplines, depending on your niche, and often requires knowledge of marketing practices when writing for promotional copy, direct marketing and advertising, to achieve direct sales and leads.

Although marketing and PR often work hand in hand, they are very different. When writing for public relations the goal is to inform, promote and influence with the focus on:

  • PR planning and strategy
  • Delivering clear, on-brand internal and external communications
  • Gaining a deeper insight into not only what motivates your customers, but all internal and external stakeholders and influencers
  • Building strong relationships with journalists and understanding what they need
  • Identifying and crafting newsworthy stories that support the objectives of the business.

Developing a PR Strategy

The process starts by developing a PR strategy that is based on the wider business objectives. You need to analyse the macro and microenvironment and conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis, which is a great tool for gaining a clear understanding of your position and will help you to review and define your goals.

The next step is to decide on the optimum tools and tactics to ensure your desired message reaches the required target audience(s). You can then develop a PR plan which breaks down your activity, ideas and opportunities, giving you an actionable roadmap for your communications output.

What are Journalists Looking for in a Good Story?

Writing for effective PR content requires more than just a catchy headline. You need to deliver quality newsworthy copy that engages the reader and the journalist.

Journalists are essentially looking for the following things from a good story:

The TRUTH formula

T – Trouble

Let’s start with trouble – this is what you’ll end up with if you don’t deliver on all the other elements. There is nothing more irritating for a busy journalist than receiving weak, poorly written or badly researched press releases. The PR/Journalist relationship is built on trust, so don’t blow it.

Trouble is also what a good journalist can pick up on if issues are not managed appropriately, which is a recipe for negative coverage.

R – Relevant

You need to ensure the stories you produce are a good fit for their readership, interests and location. Do your homework. The internet and social media are great sources of information about journalists, publications, broadcast media, bloggers and influencers.

Check out their interests, audience, and reach and make notes with any other useful information including deadlines, names and contact information etc. By researching and building a detailed database you will soon be on the right road to success.

U – Unique

Keep the copy fresh and interesting. What’s new, what’s happening, why now and how does that affect their readers? Read their previous work to give you a good feel for their style and favoured content.

T – Topical

Think about how your release/copy fits with the news agenda. Is there a topical hook on which you can hang your story? Timing is everything. What is driving the change, why now? Is there new legislation, funding or a new trend/product/development behind it.

H – Human

This is where you need to connect on a human level. What does your story mean to the readership? who is affected and how. Who are the people behind the story? Use emotion to connect with the audience and give it a human angle. Use quotes where possible and engaging, relevant spokespeople/case studies.

TRUTH is at the heart of this approach and your reputation in PR and your relationships with journalists and key influencers depend on trust. Your releases need to be accurate, well researched and any statistics or polls supplied need to be based on fact and a good-sized sample.

How do I Write a Press Release?

So, you now know what your objectives are and what the journalists are looking for – the next step is to decide on an angle or topical hook for your story and define your key messages.

Think about whether your story is for immediate release or if it needs to be embargoed. Only use an embargo where necessary (if the information can’t be published until a certain date or time). Embargos are commonly used by businesses when making product or results announcements.

An embargo is designed to give the media advanced knowledge of the story, so copy can be prepared in advance to coincide with the announcement date and meet media deadlines.

Craft a headline that sums up the story. Keep it short and make it impactful but informative. Journalists rarely use your headline, preferring to put their stamp on the story. Subheadings can also be used to highlight additional key points.

Your first paragraph should sum up the story, then expand on the story in the second paragraph. Then introduce your supporting information and any key facts to add weight and credibility, followed by a strong, relevant quote that adds to the story. Here you need to give the spokesperson’s name, title and company name.

For example, Gemma Wright, Co-owner of Pro Copy Tips, said: “Effective quotes allow you to explain the detail, highlight your key messages and put a human face to your story.”

You can then introduce a further quote from an industry expert or another spokesperson that adds to the story or makes a supporting point.

Wrap up the story and build in your CTA (Call To Action). Remember your CTA can’t be written as a hard sell (check out our article on Hard vs Soft Cell for details) as you would in direct marketing. It’s the reader’s final take away – a reminder of the key message or where you wish to direct the reader to obtain more information.

Always remember to put -ENDS- at the bottom of your copy so the journalist knows where your story ends and your other notes/email text finishes.

Then close with NOTES TO EDITORS here you can include any further relevant stats, complementary information and company details. If you have any photographs, video, tables etc you can mention them here and advise the journalist where they can be downloaded if required.

Don’t embed them into the copy as this jams up their inbox!

How Should I Send a Press Release to the Media?

This is where good relationships and contacts pay off. Once a journalist knows you and the quality of your work it makes the sell-in far easier. Where it’s a big story or you have a significant spokesperson or celebrity for them to interview, then you can invite them for a briefing. This can be done in many ways but is generally a chat over a coffee or bite to eat.

Make sure the location is suitable (easy for the journalist to get to and offers a degree of privacy) and that the proposition is of interest and accompanied by a strong story for them to run with. Remember they are busy people working to tight deadlines and won’t leave their desk if it’s not worth their time and effort.

In most instances, you would send an email to the appropriate journalist with the headline in the subject line. Then, put the key points of the story in the first paragraph, so when they’re scanning their emails, they can quickly see the synopsis of the story.

Put the release into the email (not as an attachment) as sadly, the high risk of viruses mean most simply won’t open attachments from unknown sources.

You can follow up by email if needed. Remember, most journalists receive hundreds of emails every day. Where you have a good relationship with a journalist and understand the best time to catch them, then you can contact them directly. Just make sure you make it worth their while!

How to Measure PR Results – PR Metrics

With businesses and clients all wanting to see results and be able to put a figure on that success – so, how do you effectively measure PR?

It’s vital to set out clear, agreed objectives with the client from the start, which should feedback into the overall business objectives, and put in place effective, robust methods to measure your results.

Traditional measurements for PR success focus on coverage levels, where broadcast, print and online media coverage is monitored and evaluated against objectives, for example, did it gain coverage with the target media and were the key messages covered.

Opportunities to see (which is based on readership/listeners/viewer figures by demographic breakdown) and the dreaded AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent) which has long been a bone of contention in the PR industry and fortunately is now largely a thing of the past.

Google Analytics is a great source of stats and useful information. Given campaigns often link to a company website or blog, you can use this to measure visitor numbers over a given period and monitor any upturn in traffic.

Understanding SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and online visibility is essential in the digital age and can make a real difference to the success and measurement of PR communications.

Vast amounts of data can also be gleaned about your engagement rates with your target audience(s) and the success of a given campaign through social media channels.

There’s a wealth of software and media monitoring companies out there to ensure you capture all your hard-earned coverage and offer a range of evaluation methods to give you a meaningful picture of your impact and the overall success of PR campaigns.

Summary

PR is not a vanity project. It’s there to protect and build a successful, trustworthy brand and create a favourable environment in which a business can prosper. It needs to be led by strategy and objectives.

To achieve success writing for PR, you need to build strong relationships with key media and craft newsworthy content that performs against your business objectives.

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About Gemma Wright

I'm Gemma Wright, co-owner of ProCopyTips and a freelance PR consultant and copywriter. Having worked as a PR Manager for large financial services companies in the UK, I now focus on helping small and growing businesses to thrive through the power of effective communications.

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