Lately I’ve seen a lot of debate over whether or not PR majors should be required to take advanced writing courses, sparked by Shannon Bowen, a professor of PR ethics at the University of South Carolina, in a recent column on PR Week.
I have to respectfully disagree, Ms. Bowen. Knowing how to write well is a core competency for PR. While I agree with her on the fact that PR has evolved and that if you can’t write, PR is not the career for you, I disagree with the claim that everything that needs to be taught about writing for PR can be taught in 10 minutes.
As a PR professional, I spend a good part of my day writing. Writing press releases, writing pitches, writing editorial pieces, writing social media content, writing emails. And sure, over time I’m sure I could have been taught to properly write each of those things by my boss, but already knowing how to write and being able to prove that gives me an edge.
Why? Because there are likely to be fewer errors in the things that I write. Because I am able to think outside the box a bit while writing since I don’t have to focus on the nuances of style – they’re already second nature. Because editors and writers know they don’t need to spend hours editing a client piece I sent them for placement. Because I don’t write the same thing over and over again by following a template my boss taught me on Day One, in those 10 minutes used to teach me everything I need to know about PR writing.
Before tackling the big, bad world of PR, I ran my university’s student newspaper – a job that I believe prepared me better for PR than many of the classes I took as a student. I wrote literally all the time and learned a number of valuable lessons in the process. Studies show that writing teaches critical thinking skills, those same skills Ms. Bowen says universities should spend more time teaching. Beyond critical thinking, writing has taught me to analyze information quickly and effectively, to work on tight deadlines, to come up with out-of-the-ordinary ideas, to think on my feet, to be aware of the world around me, to clearly and concisely present and explain ideas, and writing has expanded my vocabulary.
AP Style, the one used by the media & in PR, is not the same writing that’s taught in English classes and we shouldn’t be leaving it up to English professors to teach our PR pros how to write. It is so much easier to learn how to write more, to fill up extra space. What most aspiring PR pros can’t do is write concisely, which is a major asset in the industry.
Knowing how to write is a cornerstone of a good PR skill set. What I do agree with Ms. Bowen on is that maybe PR majors don’t need advanced writing courses that require them to just sit in class and write. PR majors need advanced writing classes that are tailored to PR, social media and marketing, and that give them real experience in doing the writing. A class that lets students work with a client and do actual work that the client can and will use.