Everyone can write can’t they, well nearly everyone.
Certainly if you had a half decent education, maybe even been to university, you would be expected (and you would expect) to be able to write. You will have produced dissertations, written essays, and so on.
So when someone asks you to write a short press release that should be within your capabilities, no? Or a 700-word article on a subject you know nothing about that will need to impress the editor of a magazine that has specialised in the area for decades?
Sure, just about everyone can write but one of the most common errors made in the world of PR and marketing is to assume that if you can write you can write anything.
I treated myself some time ago to a very expensive camera with some impressive-looking lenses. When I take it out it turns heads (especially when the zoom is fully extended!). I think I have taken some pretty good photos but there is no way on this planet that I would consider myself to be a photographer. Give me a tin of emulsion and I can paint the lounge – but I am no decorator.
There is a talent that people have and using them makes the difference between an okay outcome and a great outcome. Our decorator charges £250 a room and when we were flush we would get him in. When pennies are short we do it ourselves, but we are well aware that the finished item is inferior. We recognise he has a skill that we will never possess.
I saw an advert the other day for someone in “marketing communications, demand generation and sales support”. The person would be expected to have copywriting skills but also measure the results of PR campaigns, advertising and return on investment. Clearly, the main skills required related to marketing and advertising but copywriting was just thrown into the mix. Copywriting is a skill in its own right, one that even the best writers cannot master, and to expect someone good at managing campaigns to be good at copywriting is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.
Being able to write a 20,000-word dissertation is no indication of your ability to knock out some punchy copy that is going to attract customers. The two disciplines couldn’t be further apart. Equally, being able to dream up snappy advertising slogans doesn’t mean you can put together a 250-word press release that editors will want to do something with.
And even when putting press releases together there are substantial differences. Over the years I’ve had a lot of praise for my writing which has been used in trade publications around the world. But ask me to write some copy for a local newspaper and I know that is a certain style that doesn’t come naturally for me. Just as a journalist on a local paper would struggle to write a 1000-word technical article. There are reasons that sports writers are sports writers, why we enjoy reading political sketch writers. And there are completely different ways of writing front page stories for the Guardian or the Sun, even though they are both newspapers.
Writing is a skill, a talent that many have honed over the years and it is at best oversight and at worst a major mistake for organisations to undervalue it. Companies expect great things from graphic designers, photographers, web builders and other specialists and are prepared to recognise and pay for their expertise. So they should expect great things from writers too, and give the discipline the credit it deserves.