Making PR writing authentic

The 6th September copy of PR Week has been languishing on my desk since I returned from holiday. However, it includes a great article which looks at the lack of authenticity in public relations messaging.

The article has a ‘top ten’ taxonomy of bullshit:

1. Use of adjectives and adverbs

This is bullshit 101. If your release contains either, prepare for instant loss of credibility.

2. The absurd false premise

And now the product the world has been waiting for …? A revolution in hairdressing? Get real.

3. Inappropriate jargon

Sometimes technical language is OK. It can even be useful in a technical setting. But often jargon is a verbal code developed to exclude outsiders.

4. Weasel words and sentences

‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman,’ said Bill Clinton. According to his limited definition of ‘sexual relations’ he may have been right. But we knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth, didn’t we?

5. Withholding or partial information

You may be pitching for the global X account. But that is only because its rivals Y Corp sacked you.

6. Allowing smaller truths to obscure larger ones

Your new product might be an ethical wonder. But if you had to bulldoze an entire Chinese village for the new factory, it is not so ethical, is it?

7. Poor targeting

In itself this is not bullshit. It is just that if you send a beauty release to the gardening correspondent, it is so irrelevant they will consider you to be a bullshitter. Strangely, this is the journalist’s greatest lament.

8. Fake intimacy

Pretending you are old mates. No you aren’t. You met once at a press conference.

9. Self-obsession

You are not the centre of the universe and some minor improvements in your product formulation have hardly changed your product, let alone the whole world.

10. The so-called ‘exclusive’

Sell in an exclusive ‘making of the film’ when every other outlet has the film itself and you will incur the undying hatred of the journalists you courted. Ditto ‘industry exclusives’ when the story has been in the nationals or other press.

I agree with them all, particularly the point about adjectives and adverbs. It’s important to remember that writing for sales and marketing purposes is very different from informing and trying to excite journalists. A press release is not selling to clients or consumers, journalists are generally more cynical (quite rightly so) and will see straight through the fluff!

Leaving adjectives out makes copy shorter and straightforward, so journalists can understand it faster. If the meaning of your sentence doesn’t change when leaving out an adjective, take it out. Use a stronger noun if it means you can leave out an adjective.

I am sure that we are all guilty of over egging the pudding in press releases, but my 24 hour proofing rule is a great way to identify and exterminate too may adjectives and adverbs from your copy. Life would be very dull without any in your writing, but in this instance it’s definitely a case of having too much of a ‘good’ thing.

Apologies if I used too many adjectives and adverbs in this blog!

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