Thursday, 6 March 2008

Can PR agencies produce good copy?

This excellent piece from Sally Whittle (Do PR execs really use social media?) on the social release, highlights a real worry for the PR industry: that most releases are “just not terribly well written”. How hard is it to hire someone who can write?

Or is there a greater obstacle to overcome? The best clients are those who recognise that a well-written story will work better than pages of jargon. But, admit it, there are some who insist on cramming every marketing message they can into what may have started life as a decent bit of copy. With predictable results: journalist cans release; client berates agency for not getting coverage. Worst case, the relationship between all three is damaged.

The trouble is, everyone thinks they can write a good news story. Particularly people who can’t. Part of an agency’s job is to a) write good copy and b) to tell a client when to back off on the marketing messages.

There are two ways to get round this. 1. An in-house copywriter is probably an agency’s best investment – someone who has just enough detachment from the day-to-day account handling for a client to listen to their advice. 2. Don’t expect coverage from so-called news releases that are written like corporate brochures. Mostly they’re written for legal reasons and the website, and I can’t see that there’s much advantage to a journalist in receiving a standard “company XX works with company YY” release at the same time as the rest of the world, and if they do, then an RSS feed is probably the best way of providing it.

Instead, how about short, pithy news ‘bites’ - and maybe a link to a release if you have to? Focus instead on high-quality feature content and quotes (no “I’m delighted to announce…”, obviously), written specifically and exclusively for one medium at a time.

It may be too much for some clients. But it will help the reputation of PR teams with media; which will have a positive impact on coverage, which will build the reputation of PR with clients. Which just might pay your copywriter’s salary.

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