Monday, August 01, 2011

Can PR people write like Journalists?

Over the last few weeks I have been making the case for PR beyond the mass media.

Astonishingly, I have been berated for my lack of understanding of the skills of journalists which empowers them to be able to express themselves in a clear and approachable way.

Worse, I have been told that PR graduates lack the skill and capability of journalists, as if this was a prime component of being a PR person.

Now, I do not in any way want to denigrate the capabilities of the vast majority of journalists to use their language in the best interests of their specific media and many others beside. Who could not but hold in awe the literary exemplars of the medium.

Recently we have considered the capabilities of investigative journalist like Nick Davies of The Guardian newspaper. Imagine not having Neil Harman, the long-standing and widely respected tennis correspondent of The Times on tap almost every day. More of the best in the UK's journalism would be invidious. The best are the best and the rest are not bad either.

Equally one should not dismiss the capability of non news journalists to be creative as is evident in 'The Journalistic Imagination: Literary Journalists from Defoe to Capote' and Carter' by Richard Keeble and Sharon Wheeler.

But what of PR writers?

There are some who are just brilliant. Most are pretty good and most practitioners have to be able to write in styles. Most of us from time to time have been advertising copy writers (I was never good at it) or bloggers, Tweeters, and in-house newspaper editors.

So now, it seemed to me that we need to know how good final year students are at writing.

As PR people they have not only to write, they have to write to an agenda, and because final year PR students are not at university to be taught (this is not school) but to learn, it seemed to me that there is a need for an appropriate challenge.

If one were an employer, for example what would one expect a practitioner to be able to do (recent graduate or not)?

Here are some challenges that I would expect the average practitioner (but not necessarily a journalists) to be able to do:

In the style of Kingsmill-Abbot write a critical essay providing a description of Kant's view of the significance of ethics for democracy. It seems to me that if we do not understand the nature of ethics influence over views of democracy there is no future for a 'free press' or an investigative journalist. Equally, where corporate governance does not understand the nature of ethics and democracy, it has a short term future.

To succeed in this task, the student will need to read Abbot to see what his writing style looks like and will then discover the relationship between Abbot and Kant. The student will also need to be able to take a view of ethics and will need to examine a post modern view of ethics and democracy because of the difference of post modernism and modern views.

My next challenge would be for the undergraduate to write instructions to a newly promoted sales director, in the style of the still hugely popular Jane Austin, on how to formally introduce a member of the Baronetcy to a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. This will require a knowledge of a form literature and the significance of etiquette. Here we can see an acceptance of popular period drama and skills a PR needs to be good at events organisation. It will be a lesson never forgotten.

In the style of David Ogilvy, (Ogilvy On Advertising) describe the importance of Twitter hash tag monitoring to the reputation of FTSE250 companies would be my next task. One of the great copywriters and strategic considerations in social media management in a single assay would be great.

Finally, I would ask my students' to show me how good they would be in explaining the benefits of the PR practice of the media phone round but this has to be done in a script for Simon Cowell during a showing on Britain's Got Talent. Imagining the audience reaction in writing this script and taking it into consideration as part of the exercise will be important.

To be sure that I do not bring my prejudices to the table, perhaps it should be students who award the marks and provide for public scrutiny the critical reasons for the marks given in the style of the Prime Minister.

This would mean they will have to consider the diplomatic elements of criticism without compromising their own future standing among their peers.

My point being that the PR practitioner has to master many skills and to be able to write, as a matter of course, in the language an audience finds acceptable in a place, at a time and in style to meet and match the mood of the moment.

Here is the challenge - an inter-university competition adjudicated by practitioners drawn from organisations that know they have to recruit a PR graduate or journalist in a PR role within a year.

But can we also get this competition broadcast on TV?