Impact Insights Blog

Striking a Balance: Professional and Creative Writing in Public Relations

August 22, 2022

This month, we’re hearing from Senior Account Executive, Alli Long, on how to incorporate both professional and creative writing into a successful PR campaign. Alli graduated from Marist College with a bachelor’s degree in English and writing before enrolling at Monmouth University to obtain her master’s degree in English and creative writing. She’s currently on track to complete her Master of Fine Arts, the terminal degree in the creative writing field, this coming December.

Q: What are the differences between creative and professional writing?

A: I think for most people, creative writing means poetry, fiction, memoirs—the kinds of books and stories you’d find in a Barnes and Noble. On the other hand, I’d wager that many think of emails, white papers, proposals and academic articles when they hear the term professional writing. In other words, any writing that takes place in a professional setting. Yet in public relations, there are quite a few written assets that blur the line between the two: blogs, newsletters, social media copy, op-eds—these all ask for, and sometimes require, a dose of creativity to be successful. A large factor of in the effectiveness of written PR materials is the ability to be attention-grabbing, and while the hallmarks of professional writing—clarity and conciseness—are also important, it’s often the creative twists that grab the eyes, and ears, of the audience you’re hoping to attract.

Q: How does creative writing inform the more traditional, professional style of writing that takes place in a day-to-day PR role?

A: While a poem might look very different from a press release, there are several aspects that overlap between the two and ultimately unify the goals of writing across all genres and styles. Perhaps the most important in the PR field is the concept of voice. Voice is the stylistic mix of vocabulary, tone and syntax that makes one speaker or writer distinct from another. Think of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet versus Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8. The voices of those stories are vastly different—one is serious and lyrical, while the other is conversational and comical.

Brand voices work the same way—take Pfizer, a pharmaceutical giant, versus Vans sneakers. The way Pfizer speaks to the public is professional, scientific and intellectual, which enhances public trust in them as a leader in healthcare. Vans is more relaxed, casual and youthful, as their audience is concerned with style and comfort rather than groundbreaking medical advancements. Understanding voice and how to replicate it is a critical part of writing effectively for a wide range of clients, as a brand’s public voice should be consistent and representative of the brand’s offerings to build trust with its audiences.

Q: What are your tips for being creative in writing PR materials?

A: When I’m drafting written communications for clients, my first thought is always this: What would make me want to read about or engage with this topic? Of course, I am not a perfect litmus test for what the public might find engaging, but in asking myself what I find most interesting about a topic, I’m better able to see what others might also find intriguing. At the very least, it’s a good place to begin and often leads to a solid brainstorm.

Another helpful tip that I’ve borrowed from creative writing is to develop a compelling hook. Creative writers tend to agonize over the first sentence of their stories and essays, or the first chapter of their novels. That’s because in that first line or first page the reader is as uncommitted to your work as they can be. They’ve not yet met your characters, envisioned your world or become invested in the stakes you’ve set—and so the only thing that is keeping them on your “hook” is the promise of these things and more. It works similarly in public relations—the first line of a pitch to a reporter, or the first sentence of a well-written op-ed, is your proverbial foot-in-the-door with your audience’s attention. A good hook will drastically increase your chances of engaging your audience, and that’s ultimately the goal of all PR materials.