Strategic Public Relations Writing
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Strategic Public Relations Writing

Proven Tactics and Techniques

Jim Eggensperger, Jeanne Salvatore

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eBook - ePub

Strategic Public Relations Writing

Proven Tactics and Techniques

Jim Eggensperger, Jeanne Salvatore

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About This Book

Putting strategy front and center, this public relations writing textbook coaches students to readiness for a career as an effective strategic communicator.

The book focuses on the strategic aspect of public relations writing that distinguishes it from other writing, such as journalistic or academic. It highlights the essential types of writing necessary for effective public relations in multiple media channels, demonstrated by contemporary cases direct from practitioners working today. Overviews of the various tactical formats that must be mastered for powerful, strategic public relations—ranging from social media posts and website updates to podcasts, speeches and infographics—prepare students to be effective and up-to-date professionals. Full of examples and exercises, the book's strength is in its practical utility for career preparation and success.

This text is suited to public relations writing courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate level, particularly those with a focus on strategy or that combine strategy and writing into one course.

Online resources include chapter outlines; a testbank; sample homework, paper and portfolio-building assignments; and lecture slides. They can be accessed at 9781032163871.

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1INTRODUCTIONThe Strategic PR Professional

DOI: 10.4324/9781003248330-1
Learning Goals for This Chapter
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
  • Describe strategic communications for organizations.
  • Discuss the role of PR professionals in defining and describing strategy.
  • Explain how strategy can be communicated to multiple audiences.
  • Show knowledge of changes in speed, writing formats and audiences and how the changes have affected strategic public relations.
What does that word mean in the world of public relations? Or in the world at large?
In the worlds of business and other organizations, strategic thinking and strategy development are vital and highly valued. They are the focus of MBA courses, of academic journal articles and of yearly meetings in organizations of all types.
The Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness says it this way: “Strategic thinking is simply an intentional and rational thought process that focuses on the analysis of critical factors and variables that will influence the long-term success of a business, a team, or an individual.” Go to to read more.
Being strategic – in thinking, acting and writing – is important for people making big decisions that may involve taking big risks. By the same token, thinking and acting strategically is critically important to public relations professionals who need to think much as executives – and at times even more. How does PR fit into that? PR has the job of turning high-level planning and occasionally very esoteric actions and concepts into stories that can be understood and appreciated by many different audiences or stakeholders – defined as people important to an organization’s success.
Cision and PRWeek surveyed 560 senior-level PR or communications professionals in mid-2021. The respondents came from both agencies and in-house departments. The study revealed that the senior PR executives have concluded
that PR’s end goal has to be far more strategic than simply getting blanket coverage. It has to be a means to a bigger business end. Almost eight in ten pros (79%) say their PR campaigns focus on engaging the end user/target audience. Only 21% said it is about getting as many stories placed as possible.
To quote the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness again: “Strategic thinking is the ability to anticipate, prepare and get positioned for the future. Strategic people think and act before they have to – before they are forced to take up a defensive or reactive position.”
That almost sounds like the approach of a grandmaster of chess – anticipating moves and thinking steps ahead of the opponent.
Those big decisions vary widely. They can involve such actions as launching a revolutionary product or planning a hostile takeover of another company or moving corporate headquarters to another state. Strategy calls for people who think beyond the horizon, beyond the next quarter or even the next year – people who are comfortable with the future and with taking into consideration the many forces that face modern organizations.
The role of public relations has never been more vital for organizations than it is today, in the third decade of the 21st century. PR can influence events around the world, help organizations be effective and successful, and guide decision-makers to the best outcomes.
Supriya Anand, senior digital marketing strategist at Amazon Web Services, said this about the changing nature of PR and communications strategies:
In the last five years of my career, the companies I’ve worked for are looking for PR to build thought leadership, change perceptions or become market leaders in a particular category. Most of this is driven by competitive landscape, media coverage or consumer demands.
Therefore, there are new demands placed on marketing and PR professionals to continuously monitor what is being said about their company across the media landscape to assess opportunities and risks.
This textbook was written to guide higher-level students in public relations and related fields to understand some of the challenges of strategic thinking in organizations and how writing can support the development and implementation of strategies for organizations of all sizes and types.
Thinking strategically includes a broad range of activities and skills. It’s recognizing major trends – seeing, for example, some of the impact that the transition to digital information can have on everything from movie watching to reminders from your home control device to bring home bread and milk. It’s thinking far and wide, from across the street to over the horizon. It’s understanding the inner workings of an organization and how they can be explained to audiences inside and outside.
Comprehending the actions of an organization can be difficult until you learn to think about being the boss. Then you have to balance competing demands for time, resources and people. You have to learn how to handle competing factions like sales versus manufacturing. And you have to understand how to sell or convince others that your ideas will work and are the best.
Larry Bossidy (Bossidy and Charan, 2009), the former chief executive officer of GE Credit Corp. and CEO of Allied Signal Corp., writes about running a business this way: “The leader must be in charge of getting things done by running the three core processes – picking other leaders, setting the strategic direction and conducting operations.” That quote really gives you some insight as to what is important to the people at the top of an organization where you might work – whether a company that makes things for sale or a nonprofit that helps hundreds or thousands of people or a PR agency working for a variety of organizations.
Jack Welch, an almost legendary American businessman and Bossidy’s boss at GE, wrote about strategy in his book Jack: Straight from the Gut, saying: “Business success is less a function of grandiose predictions than it is a result of being able to respond rapidly to real changes as they occur. That’s why strategy has to be dynamic and anticipatory” (p. 390).
In short, PR people need to empathize with multiple audiences – some call them stakeholders – and to explain positions that may be very attractive or may be very unappealing.
Strategic PR pros have the job of turning high-level planning and at times very esoteric actions and concepts into stories and responding quickly in changing situations. It’s writing on a deadline and creating word pictures that virtually anyone can understand.
This textbook resulted from years of thinking strategically and advising senior management about the best strategic options for the good of companies, nonprofits, associations and a wide variety of organizations.
It demonstrates strategic thinking by PR professionals in the fray today, some of whom work for major corporations and nonprofits. Others guide the communications fortunes of clients who range from hospitals to giant multinational consumer-products firms. You will find PR cases that range from travel promotion to fighting deadly diseases. And you will get to peek behind the curtain and see how these seasoned professionals managed situations strategically.
And you will be supported by checklists and detailed explanations of how to find and use strategic information. How to write for various situations. And get tips about what not to do.
For example, if you were working for a large pharmaceutical company which was developing a life-saving drug that showed some good promise, but had a couple of unexpected setbacks in the last phase of testing, how would you approach the explanation?
  • Be defensive and say the company was doing its best?
  • Be optimistic but empathetic and display human emotions and concern for any people hurt during the testing?
  • Be remote from the personal issues and discuss the science of testing and the potential great things that could come out of the discoveries and mention that the company has spent billions of dollars on getting the new product to this stage and should be commended for its vision and courage?
Authors’ note: The following description of a contemporary strategic PR strategy was written by an executive in a New York PR firm. It highlights the changing nature of PR, driven by digital technology and reduced media presence. The name of the author and the client identity have been removed at the request of the client.

The Shifting Landscape of PR Writing

Strategic writing has shifted tremendously in the world of public relations.
Driven mostly by the shrinking media landscape, we’ve moved from drafting twoor three-page press releases to drafting one-page blogs or announcements packed with visuals and content. All in an effort to better serve journalists who have limited time and attention spans.
What’s more, the perspective and voice captured in writing has become more important than ever. Similar to the style of pitches and social posts, long-form writing (blogs and press releases) needs to be condensed and presented in the simplest way possible.
The new rules:
  • Use fewer words than before.
  • Be bold in the perspective.
  • Use weekend language (no jargon).
Even when supporting some of the most complex ideas or concepts, using simple language can often make or break your ability to secure coverage and tell impactful stories. This becomes especially important when trying to break through or create white spaces for clients that enable them to articulate the value of new products or establish thought leadership perspectives.
For example, my client, a leader in the technology/PC sector, attends a high-profile trade show every year but recently was desperately looking for new ways to approach up-leveling their written content.
In years past, the client – as well as their competitors – would list speeds and feeds in their press releases with little to no focus on the customer benefit or value. We advised our client to rethink their storytelling approach by leading with the customer experience/value of their new products and back that up by only messaging their most differentiated features and specs.
For those journalists who wanted every last detail, we provided media with a link to a virtual press kit, giving them access to documents, materials and visuals that would go deep on each product. Separately, we also created a series of blog posts around big industry bets to further establish their thought leadership and provide media with enriched narratives that would layer additional context and color around our stories. In the end, the approach paid off, resulting in a YoY (authors’ note: year over year) increase of tier one media coverage and message pull through.
The authors fervently hope that by the end of your course and with the aid of this text, you will have a deep understanding of the power and challenge of writing strategically for public relations and related communications disciplines.
Robert Dilenschneider, a revered thinker about public relations and former chairman of the communications firm Hill and Knowlton, wrote about this in 2010: “The public relations sector spills over into many specialized areas that require very specific and sophisticated communications skills.”
The Arthur Page Society, an organization of top communications officers at major businesses, said this in its 2017 report titled “CEO View: Communications at the Center of the Enterprise”:
Total business knowledge is table stakes. In years past, CEOs have expressed hope that their CCO (chief communications officer) would know all about their enterprise’s business in order to more strategically apply communications to advance its goals. Now, many CEOs require their CCO to be knowledgeable about the business – from strategy to operations – so they are able to provide strategic input on issues that span business functions. This is especially true at enterprises with communications departments that are well established and have a broad mandate. At these enterprises, CCOs are expected to have enough business background and insight to weigh in intelligently on areas well outside of their core communications competency, such as supply chain, finance, sales and beyond. You can read the Page Society report here: https://knowle...

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