6 Principles of Great Copywriting
“A word after a word after a word is power.” — Margaret Atwood
Being a PR copywriter is about as behind-the-scenes as you can get. When most people come across an interesting article or social media post about the launch of a new product or service, they likely don’t consider where the reporter got the story idea in the first place. In a lot of cases, it originated from a press release, press kit or pitch written by a PR copywriter.
While copywriting for a public relations agency can feel like a lonely and sometimes thankless gig, make no mistake: Great copywriting has the power to turn an idea into a story people talk about.
Here are six principles of great PR copywriting the team at Trust Relations keeps in mind every time their fingers hit the keyboard.
Principle 1: Draw the reader in with a strong lead that makes them want to continue reading.
Similar to journalists, PR copywriters need to craft a memorable, concise first sentence in a press release. This is key to showing the reader (most likely a reporter) why the news matters, why they should keep reading — and why they should write or air a story about it. As noted, press releases are typically evaluated for coverage by journalists, and this can be a discerning audience. The first line of every release must inspire even the busiest reporter or editor to read the second line, the third line and so forth. The longer a journalist keeps reading, the less likely they are to hit the delete button. That alone is a win, as it increases the chance for media coverage now or down the road.
Principle 2: Tell a story.
Along with the major goals of a PR campaign, it’s crucial for copywriters to practice storytelling in every release, pitch, media kit and other promotional material they write. Effective storytelling connects a company to its audience in a meaningful and lasting way. It also makes their news more interesting, relatable and shareable. As a PR practitioner and effective copywriter, it’s your job to tell their story.
Principle 3: Get to the point.
Strong copy cuts out excess words that muck up the flow and make your readers’ eyeballs glaze over. Shorter sentences are easier to read and typically pack a stronger punch than longer ones. Tip: Once you finish your first draft, review and put worthless words and phrases on the chopping block. Eliminate unnecessary words, such as “that.” Also, reduce verb phrases, avoid wordiness and get rid of vague, too-general nouns that create clutter.
Principle 4: Avoid jargon and hyperbole.
You’ve seen overused words like “innovative,” “groundbreaking,” “proactive,” “outside-the-box”and blah blah blah. For a lot of copywriters, it can be tough to convey why their client’s company, product or service matters. So they default to jargon and hyperbole. Instead, think about what YOU want to know; put yourself in a journalist’s or consumer’s shoes. After all, haven’t we all seen enough “paradigm shifts” in our lifetime already?
Principle 5: Stick to AP style.
Journalists use AP style. Period. PR copywriters typing to woo them for coverage should, too. Stay up-to-date on AP Stylebook changes. Also, let your client know you don’t use the Oxford comma. It’s polarizing, so beware, but stick to your guns. In time, NOT using AP style — even in personal writing, texts and emails — will feel weird and incorrect. Really.
Principle 6: Ensure your copy is free of errors.
If you’ve been working on something for a while, you will probably read it the way you THINK you wrote it. That means you could miss a tiny typo that will make you look bigtime careless. An easy solution? Proof your work. This is a no-duh, but it needs constant reminding for most of us, especially when we’re slammed and up against a deadline. Read your copy backwards. Read it aloud to yourself. Ask fellow writers and colleagues to review. The thing is — we’re all human. Most copywriters have made a silly grammatical mistake once or twice that they still shudder at. Clean copy is effective copy, and it saves you and your agency colleagues a lot of angst.
Media outlets and other folks will only read your work for a few seconds before they decide if it’s worth their time. Tell your client’s story, don’t ramble, and provide polished, professional, consistent work. It’s the key to ensuring results and a happy client.