What Does It Mean When PR Firms Can’t Write?

A high school friend – and one of the smartest guys I know – is reinventing his business. He started out in IT, became a reporter, then became a writer-for-hire, penning press kits for movie studios, among other things. That business is drying up, though, for all the obvious reasons.

So what’s he doing now? Teaching PR people to write.

The ugly not-so-secret here is that many, many people are bad at writing. And some of them (many of them?) work for PR firms. So my old friend is now dropping in at some of the most vaunted firms in the business, teaching people how to write compelling copy. And, presumably, what matters to reporters.

I love his moxie. But I’m wondering about the underlying assumptions: Can you really teach someone to write in a morning?

We only hire people who are good at writing. We test them, probe them, look at their social profiles, and parse their emails. And then we teach them: how to write emails. How to write for executives. How to write for busy people (everyone), so what you have to say gets read, and, hopefully, acted upon.

This year, teaching better writing became one of my personal responsibilities, here at Corporate Ink – to help our budding stars become even better writers. We do it in official training sessions, and many more ad hoc projects.

I agree, learning to write starts in one session. But it takes dozens. We figure we see improvement after a few months, and a major change after a year. Or two. Because writing, like thinking, is a habit. And it takes time to shift your perspective from the me-me-me of the social posts we love to scorn, or the blah-blah-blah of what a company might want to say, to something readers, and customers, actually care about.