In defence of the written word: Why the PR industry needs to relearn how to write

In our video-centric industry, copywriting often gets shoehorned in as a last minute afterthought. In this defence of the written word, Weber Shandwick's Kelly Lane argues the PR industry needs to learn how to tell stories again.

With the rise of visual influence, some might think written content has taken a back seat to other more exciting forms of storytelling.

There’s no doubt that some of the most powerful stories today are being told through a single compelling image or captivating video, and are shared more quickly and more widely than ever before.

A keyboard may have replaced the pen, but the written word still rules

But when you think about it, the written word still infiltrates almost every piece of content we create.

Take that branded video you just watched. It probably began with a well-crafted script that allowed both the marketing and production team to imagine the visual content that would follow.

Or that news article you perused on your commute this morning? It may have been the result of a compelling media release and equally well articulated pitch email that brought the story to life.

The written word is far from dead. The very fact that you are reading this article right now is a case in point.

Kelly Lane is editorial services director at Weber Shandwick Australia.

There’s been much talk about the PR industry being in the midst of an identity crisis. We are no longer simply writing a media release and pitching it to journalists.

We’re partnering with influencers, managing communities online, launching products using virtual reality, producing video content and running large-scale consumer activations.

It’s exciting stuff. But while we are chasing the shiny new toys of integrated communications – video, social, experiential – and all the fun that comes with it, we mustn’t forget that our core role as storytellers will always require us to be able to create a narrative. And I challenge anyone to do that without putting pen to paper, or finger to keypad.

Engaging, persuasive and compelling writing is and always will be central to everything we do. Here are just a few reasons why:

The proof is in the eyeballs

Yes, we all know video consumption has exploded. The Digital News Report 2017 notes that TV is still the main way people get their news. But it also looks at online news consumption, and found the proportion of people consuming news via video drops dramatically.

When consuming news online, most respondents either read news in text (33.4%) or mostly read text based news with occasional video viewing (34.3%). Only 2.8% said they watch video news only and 5.9% said they watched ‘mostly video with some text’. The online news landscape is still very much a realm for the written word and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Why? For one, written content is far easier to produce and augment in real time.

Articles as a storytelling method are very much alive and well

As cited in this Los Angeles Times article, written content is just more ‘malleable’. The benefit is not just that it’s easier to edit, but that consumers also have the ability to pick from the smorgasbord of information and find the bits that are most relevant and interesting to them.

In a piece of video content, they not only can’t predict what’s coming next – but also have no way of finding the information they’re looking for.

Not every story can be told in three minutes

Video has an unparalleled ability to capture attention and tell a story in a way that is entertaining, accessible and time-friendly. I’m not trying to argue with that. But while a fairly simple message may have most impact in this short form narrative, more complex issues require a level of explanation that just can’t be reduced to a sound-bite.

Being able to shape detailed and often data rich information into a compelling format that engages an audience will always be a required skill in our industry. And with changing reader behaviours, it becomes important that we have the skills to adapt long-form writing to break it down into easily digestible sections and visualise information to focus on key findings.

You’ll have better luck with a well written pitch than a phone call

Journalists are inundated with PRs in the form of phone calls, pitches and products. Not just every day of the week, but I’m willing to bet every hour and every minute too.

There is research to show that less than 1% of journalists prefer being contacted by phone over an email in the first instance. So making sure that your brand’s story stands out in their very crowded inbox is incredibly important.

A catchy headline, succinct story and clear messages are a make or break when it comes to pitching, and securing, a story with a journalist. And even if you manage to get a journalist on the phone to first pitch your story to, very few – if any – stories are the result of a phone call alone.

A brand’s voice is first defined on paper

There are many different formats for telling a brand’s story, but each requires a single brand voice. That’s where tone and style comes into play and the best place to start in establishing what your brand sounds like is by putting its voice down on paper. Writing a tone and style guide ensures all members of an organisation are clear on how the brand articulates itself across different channels – whether that is in writing, through video or on social media.



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