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There is no easy way

A practical guide for effective PR in the 21st century

Sending the same generic email to thousands of recipients requires a lot less time and effort than writing effective and personalised emails. The result, however, is a broad and unfocused message that doesn’t appeal to anyone. 

If you were expecting a generation of people who grew up with written words to know how to use them, you’d be mistaken. Finding the right words for the right message takes skill and talent. But instead of outsourcing to a professional, people feel like they should be able to write themselves.

The age of sloppy writing

The introduction to a classic on writing, Writing That Works (3rd edition), says it all: the overflow of written forms of communication is an open invitation to sloppy writing. Which makes the internet age the time in which the virus of bad copy will spread like never before. After all, every company now needs a website, social media management, news releases and – let’s not forget – emails.

The main problem is that it’s too easy to forget how hard it is to write good copy, especially about your business. Instead of going through the laborious process of figuring out which piece of text should go where in order to maximise on your communication and PR strategy, people fall into the patterns that kill copy. It may seem like the easy way out, but if you really want to leave an impression you need to communicate to engage.

Don’t believe us? Just read on for some examples.

Are you talking to me?

Communicating directly to your peers is easy.

You: “Hey Jack!

Jack: “Yo! Wassup?

You: “I’ve got this really cool idea about unicorns I wanted to tell you about.

Jack: “Sure dude, shoot!

…and the conversation continues.

For some reason though, it seems like a normal thing to start talking in third person as soon as you start addressing larger groups of people. Which goes a little something like this:

You: “XX is an amazingly sparkly unicorn management firm that was founded last week by undersigned. The sole purpose of the firm is to enhance people’s enjoyment of the unicorn (the magical creature that also happens to be Scotland’s official animal)” etc.

Jack: “…”

What could have been a normal, compelling piece of text has turned into a monologue directed at no-one. Instead of talking to Jack, you’re talking at Jack.

Nobody trusts a know-it-all

You want to show the world you know your stuff, so opening up a can of orator-jargon speech seems to be the way to go. Buzzwords and niche-specific language will show the world that you have the appropriate knowledge and can therefore be trusted.

That doesn’t mean that you should fill every bit of blank space with important sounding stuff.

Using wrong or overly complex words will make you sound like a wise-ass. Either people will simply not understand what you’re saying, or they’ll be offended because you’re so obviously presenting yourself as smarter than them. You need to think through what you want to say, who you want to say it to and how you want to say it. The words you use can either propel your message into vitality – or they can cause your newsletters to remain unopened and your press releases unused.

The problem with big fish

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There’s one thing that cannot be denied: the media game has changed in the information age. Millennials have been the most sought-after demographic by many brands, and now that they’ve come of age we can finally truly see traditional patterns and structures changing. Traditional media on the one hand are struggling with newspaper sales at an all-time low. At the same time, whole new media empires like Buzzfeed and Huffpost are built in just a few years. And not just that: much of what traditional media did (i.e. telling the world about stuff), has been taken over by social media.

And that’s exactly where most companies go wrong. Rather than taking the entire media landscape into account, for some reason they seem to think only the big fish (read: traditional media) are worth targeting.

Where people get their news

Morning cups of coffee are no longer consumed while flipping the pages of a freshly delivered paper, but while scrolling through Twitter or getting a head start on the emails of the day. And it shows: newspaper readership has been declining steadily over the past decade.

The number of people getting their news via Facebook and Twitter continues to grow every year, cutting across all markers like age, gender, race and level of education. Only targeting old media means skipping an increasingly large part of your audience.

Going for traditional media means targeting only journalists.

When you’re targeting traditional media only, it’s too easy to lose sight of your actual target audience. It’s so difficult to get your press release read, let alone published, that all your brainpower goes into spinning your subject line, email and release to cater to the journalist. Which can be a bit of a waste, especially when you considering that you want to reach your audience, not just the person addressing them.

Most journalists will read through bullshit and quickly decide if a story is interesting to their audience. If your story is solid and ties into a bigger narrative, they will be the first to notice and more than happy to pick it up. So focus on the story rather than the media outlet.

Look beyond prestige

People turning to social media for their news doesn’t mean that getting published by an old-media behemoth is a bad thing - on the contrary. A big publication will give you reach, as well as something to tweet about. Getting that feature in one of the big publications still takes skill, a great press release and a little bit of luck. But you need to be aware that you’re reaching an ageing and shrinking demographic.

The point is that publications in traditional media are no longer the only way to reach your audience. Today, you can start with your customer. So look beyond the prestige of a big publication, but do make sure you’re heard.