This is one that no PR will ever admit to doing. Ever PR knows they shouldn’t do it, and every PR, if asked, will vociferously deny falling into this trap. And yet so many do, because it’s really, really hard to avoid.
It is “Writing like a PR, not a real person”.
What do I mean by this? Partly I mean the effusive descriptions of products, clients and events – “a fantastic new product”, “a client you’ll absolutely love”, or “a once in a lifetime event”. But I also mean the vague description of topics that the PR doesn’t really understand – this is where empty phrases creep in, phrases like “user-centred design”, “self-service online application”, “market leading service provider” and so on and on and on.
But that’s not all. I also mean press releases, pitches, even incidental e-mails that are written in an overly formal style. They’re intended to sound professional and capable, but can very easily end up sounding stuffy, cold and convoluted.
Now, I think journalists can be a bit hard on PRs with all this. They forget that most PRs are working hard to remove all this hyperbole from press releases, but are fighting against marketing departments who have no idea what it takes to get media coverage. They forget that most PRs operate under terrific time pressure, and cannot ever hope to be experts on everything they need to be. They also forget that to many more junior PRs a journalist is a genuninely intimidating figure, and so it’s no surprise that those twenty-somethings fall back on stiff formality for fear of appearing unprofessional.
Most of all though those journalists forget that PRs aren’t professioanl writers. Journalists can be terrible writing snobs and, when they sneer at the poorly written communications from PRs, they’re forgetting that PRs are paid as much for their interpersonal skills, their media planning abilities, and their creative spark as they are for their ability to express themselves fluently in writing.
Of course the very best PRs do learn how to write brilliantly. They learn all the rules, all the tricks and tips, and they ensure that their ideas and expertise comes across as well on page or screen as they do in person. Sadly though most PRs never admit that they’re not experts in this area, and so they never do anything about it……