As PR professionals, we all know (or should) that content in any medium is king. It’s what entices the reader and keeps them coming back. But I believe we have failed to ensure our recent college graduates have the necessary writing skills to enter the workforce. Many college programs now heavily focus on Social Media without reinforcing the need to be concise, factual and strong writers. The best Social Media platforms will always fail without extremely well-written content that engages and intrigues the reader.
What’s the profession think?
Richard Cole, professor and chairperson of the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing at Michigan State University, wrote about a survey he conducted with Andy Corner, APR, and Larry Hembroff in the October 2009 edition of PRSA Tactics regarding the writing skills of entry-level PR practitioners.
In September 2008, they surveyed more than 800 PRSA members across the U.S. to determine their perceptions of the writing skills of entry-level practitioners. They used a Likert-type scale (1-5 point) to determine perceptions and converted the findings into a grade-point-average. Cole stated in his article:
…Entry-level practitioners have trouble writing press releases, client memos and persuasive letters…struggle with spelling and punctuation, grammar, organization of ideas and usage rules. An average entry-level PR staffer failed to make a 2-point grade…
Cole discusses another related study in 2006 by the Commission on Public Relations Education, mentioning that PR educators and practitioners representing 12 PR-related societies have recognized writing as a critical skills for entry-level practitioners.
Public relations is a lot about appearances and first impressions. This can (and often does) involve your writing. With public relations relying more and more on media, writing skills are needed to convey a message properly. It can easily deter a reader, potential customer, or employer if your writing skills are poor.
How to combat this issue
Even though I believe that a majority of college students and recent graduates fail to make writing an integral part of their arsenal, they’re not completely accountable. Tenured PR pros and professors need to elevate the importance of writing among young PR practitioners.
If we don’t drill in the importance of writing, we will only perpetuate mediocrity – and this will be to the detriment of our entire profession. If we think many citizen journalists fail to write well, imagine if the professionals in charge of Social Media (supposedly PR people) also lack the penmanship needed to effectively communicate with target audiences. I’ve seen enough student writing to know that there is a need to mitigate this growing problem before it spirals out of control.
I remember how tough it was as an undergrad PR student at Kent State University to make it through courses like newswriting and beat journalism. And even though it stressed me out, and made me question my own writing abilities, I acquired the skills and mentality needed to be an effective writer. Mind you, this wasn’t quite a decade ago; so within that time frame, things have drastically changed.
By all means, I am not demeaning every college sequence or student out there, but rather reinforcing the need to constantly remind ourselves that great writing is at the heart of everything we do.