7 tips for better PR writing

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In the back of our office, there’s an unfinished conference room where no one ever goes.

Table tops lie on their sides with no legs. Deconstructed cubicles stand against the walls, with shelves and desktops assorted like giant puzzle pieces. A dry erase marker lies on the ground, never used.

It’s there in the dark that I write.

As public relations professionals, content generation is becoming an ever more important part of our job. Clients need a continuous stream of blog posts, opinion articles, news releases, feature articles, and social media posts to connect with their audiences.

I’ve been writing a lot of PR-related content recently. For me, writing good content taps a different part of the brain from that required for the conference calls, quick-response emails, and meetings that dominate most days. Here are seven things that help me when writing content for PR:

1. Cut the coffee. On writing days, I skip the coffee. When under-caffeinated and relaxed, my writing is smoother and more conversational. Back in my reporter days, I tried the whiskey in the bottom drawer trick, but that made me a little too relaxed. Save that ’til after the writing’s done.

2. Ditch your desk. I associate my desk with the flurry of activity that fills most days—the constant emails, phone calls, and Twitter checks. By moving to a different location, such as an armchair in the lobby, I remove myself from that frenetic mindset and can think more clearly. Ideas flow, and words arrive.

3. Lean back. An NBC News article featuring InkHouse’s own Beth Monaghan pointed out that posture makes a huge difference in how you feel and think. I couldn’t agree more. I write far more clearly and quickly when I’m leaning back—while seated on the floor of a dark conference room in the back of the office, say—instead of perched forward on the edge of my seat at a desk. Sure, colleagues will ask about the sketchy character writing in the dark, but they’ll get used to it after a while.

4. Peek at photos. I know this sounds weird, but looking at photos of beautiful art, the ocean, or wildlife just before writing helps me think and write more creatively. The same goes for reading long, thoughtful articles in The New Yorker, say, or Grantland. Stay away from breaking news, which will make you tense and less able to write well.

5. Get out of email. You’ve heard this 1,000 times, so I won’t dwell on it. Constant email checks are the bane of good writing.

6. Clear a chunk of time. For me, blocking off a couple of hours or even a full morning to write blog posts or a contributed article is the most efficient way to lose myself in the story and write it well. If I try to squeeze it in between client calls and emails, it always takes three times as long—if it gets done at all.

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7. Make it a conversation. I try and think of every article, release, or post I write as a conversation with the person who’s reading it. I write as I would say it. I use short sentences as if I were talking. Thinking of it as a conversation makes what you’re writing—you guessed it—more conversational and easier to read. You’d never say “functionality” and “value proposition,” so why would you write them?

Those are things that help me write well. What works for you?

John McElhenny is a vice president at InkHouse Media + Marketing. You can follow him on Twitter at @JMcElhenny. A version of this story originally appeared on the agency’s Inklings blog.

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