A truth well told…PR professionals should keep the art of writing alive

November 18, 2015

By: Rachel Catanach

Content marketing specialists seem to be the new “job du jour”. Every creative and communication firm wants one and those that have them claim that their person can create gold from straw.

For PR professionals, now is the time to reclaim what used to be our bread and butter – our ability to create engaging content. We need to reassert ourselves as story tellers.

While a good picture does tell 1000 words (still) and moving pictures (video or movies) are even better (witness the dominance of video in the winning Cannes campaigns), as an industry working in a multi-channel age, we should not lose sight of our role as lead scribes nor of the power of the written word.

We need to continue to train people to write well in whatever language is their mother tongue. In fact, now it’s even more important for PR professionals to be excellent writers – able to provide critical analysis of other’s work, synthesise, make sense of the complex, persuade through our ability to build emotional bonds and articulate rational arguments. Scripted storytelling is the progenitor of all multi-channel content development. This will be where our future value lies as people try to reduce the complexity and increasing anxiety from information overload.

And it’s a space that others will find hard to claim unless we surrender this skill to them. Here are three story-telling tips PR professionals should remember to keep on top of their game.

  • The universal truths of story-telling remain: Stories have characters – both heroes and villains – an inciting moment, and are written in language that is real and evocative.
  • Great story-telling is a craft: It takes practice and structure is important. Great stories are organized around core themes and have milestones along the way to give readers a sense of the journey.
  • A story’s power lies in the retelling: In this multi-channel age, the way we recast and retell the same story for different audiences and channels has become all important. PR professionals need to develop that visual eye and recognize we live in an And/And world. Those who can successfully marry words and pictures will find themselves in high demand.

I would like to finish by quoting a short story reportedly written by Ernest Hemingway as a bet that he couldn’t write a story in six words or less. Hemingway was an acknowledged master of the short form and would have been very comfortable in today’s world, writing in 140 characters or less.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

It’s poignant and leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination. The sparse language underscores the power of a few well-chosen words. It’s a reminder of the need to keep this craft alive and ensure it remains central to the requisite skills of every PR professional.

Rachel Catanach is the Senior Partner, Senior Vice President, Managing Director at FleishmanHillard Hong Kong and board member and former Chair of the Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong. You can reach her at Rachel.Catanach@fleishman.com.