There’s a ‘New Writing Formulary’ in PR and Marketing. You need to adhere to it without delay.

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By Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA

During almost three weeks this summer, I taught PR and marketing writing to groups of Asian practitioners as a consultant instructor for Singapore-based Clariden Global.

My workshops were in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. In two full days at each site, we covered the essentials of writing more productively in today’s increasingly social-media-dominated communication landscape. We also looked at traditional media, which is still a great source of high-profile media news, feature and editorial coverage that reaches high-level influencers in business, government and not-for-profit endeavors.

However, we focused mostly on what I refer to as the “New Writing Formulary” for PR and marketing scribes – a formulary that also works as well for business writing. I encouraged participants to become “new era” writers, to throw off the constraints of self-absorbed content and long-form misdirection. In brief, I introduced the participants to a set of “New Rules” for writing more effectively in today’s global marketplace.

The rules begin with a clear understanding of key concepts. For example: form follows function; out of sight, out of mind; write from the outside in; take headlines more seriously than ever; and take charge of the writing function for your own survival.

The “New Rules” build on traditional writing practice, but go further by isolating what counts most these days and drilling down to essentials, e.g., compressed text (as in squeezed to life), live quotes (as opposed to dead, the prevailing norm), and story enhancement (adding people to the picture). We also addressed the most prevalent grammar challenges such as adjectivitis, adverbialism, jargon, hyperbole, verbosity, pronoun confusion, and prepositional paralysis.

Following is a summary of the new rules that all PR and marketing writers should follow when communicating with today’s audiences in both new and old media. The rules are intended to make writers think differently, more intently and more strategically about what and how they write. The rules borrow heavily from content marketing style and purposes. Meaningful brevity is the soul of what they entail.

  • Write “snackable” content (i.e., shorter and sweeter than in the past, and easier to read, understand and act upon).
  • Focus on the “big picture” meaning (what’s the all-important news for the audience, not for your employer or client?).
  • Create social-media style headlines (intriguing, enticing, engaging language). Take a look at and for examples.
  • Use super-condensed leads (incisive, sharply defined, credibly expressed).
  • Integrate outside content that enhances credibility (e.g., facts from a trusted third party that amplifies your message and mission).
  • Link to other content (e.g., advisories, commentaries and guidelines, but judiciously).
  • Aim for concrete action, FYA (for your action) not FYI alone.
  • Enhance with images (photos, logos, charts, illustrations, which have several times the draw of imageless text).
  • Disseminate via multiple media (both online and off and the many touch points in social media).
  • Develop templates to reflect and make the new rules easier to apply.

In essence, the “New Formulary” mirrors what social media pundits like Guy Kawasaki have been saying for a long while, but that I have defined more tangibly. During a New York Times interview, Kawasaki was asked, “What should business schools teach more of, or less of?” He replied, “They should teach students how to communicate in five-sentence e-mails and with 10-slide PowerPoint presentations. If they just taught every student that, American business would be much better off.”

Bob Dylan famously sang, “The times they are a changing.” They always are, of course, but never so much as now for PR and marketing writing. For one thing, since the Internet began to capture a huge chunk of our collective time and attention, short and sweet has never been as sweet as a rule for PR and marketing writers.

PR and marketing word-workers worldwide understand this. Most important, they are eager to put new approaches into action for their employers and clients, starting with the idea of making writing more powerful as a tool for informing, persuading and influencing target audiences. They know that “snackable” content, big picture meaning, and headline acuity are driving a more efficient and effective writing style.

Don Bates  Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a writing instructor at New York University, and founding director of the Master’s degree program in strategic public relations at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Don also conducts writing workshops and works in PR agency management and M&A for Gould+Partners. Email:

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