A copywriter writing about copywriting is pretty meta, it has to be said, but while drafting press releases, penning features and crafting captions, I also spend a lot of time thinking about the practice of writing itself. It is a changing art that is evolving to suit a new reader.
The work of a PR copywriter was once found between the sheets of newspapers, on glossy magazine pages or perhaps in pamphlets or brochures, but as print increasingly gives way to screen, the copywriting role is being redefined. We are all well versed with how digital and mobile have ‘disrupted’ PR, but what has it done to PR copywriting?
With the dawn of the digital era, a new reader was born. They are attached to their phone around the clock and have instant access to vast sources of information, making them highly savvy and critical. They also have a voracious appetite for news, consuming it on the go, at the office, while commuting or even just walking down the street. They crave personal, aspirational and inspirational content that connects them with the world, and even play an active role in shaping the news themselves via their multiple social media platforms. This trend is not limited to the online world – it has also permeated traditional print publications and changed the way they are both written and consumed.
What does all of this mean for PR copywriters, and how can we drive our client’s messages home by writing for the new reader?
• Light speed: The pace has picked up dramatically in copywriting departments around the world to keep up with the constant news flow that characterises the digital era. To keep clients ahead of the curve, copywriters must thrive under pressure. Prioritisation and setting strict personal deadlines are essential skills to develop in this context, and I also suggest overestimating how long tasks will take to complete. This will leave you with the time to proofread and edit carefully, allowing you to maintain quality while working at lightning speed.
• Less is more: Time pressure is one thing, but the new reader’s intolerance of waffle is even more important. There is a new focus on concise, brief and shareable content that tells a story in a matter of seconds, and successful copywriters have realised that this new style can also help to alleviate time pressures. The new reader may only glimpse a headline popping up in their feed, so adopting a condensed, fact-packed style of communication is the best way to create maximum impact with minimum fuss. Long sentences, jargon and complicated words are to be avoided.
• The real deal: The new reader demands the genuine article so simply writing well is no longer enough to tell a client’s story – new-age copywriters are required to be empathetic, authentic people with a true understanding of how to communicate key messages in a way that resonates with the target audience. With shortening attention spans, engagement is the aim of the game – think about what makes your readers tick and find the human story in all of your client’s endeavours.
• The all-round expert: Research is absolutely crucial for new-age copywriting because readers are more clued up than ever and can also fact check your writing in the blink of an eye. They have huge amounts of information at their fingertips, but so do you. Be meticulous and thorough, and make sure you understand your subject before attempting to write about it. This involves hunting for the latest research and also drawing your own conclusions from it in light of your client’s news, to ensure that you are bringing something new to your audience rather than adding to the backlog of out of date news that floods the web every day.
• Choose your voice: With the proliferation of online platforms and traditional print media still to consider, the copywriter has never written in so many voices. When I’m drafting copy for a trade publication I almost sit differently to when I’m writing captions for social media, to shift myself into a different way of communicating. At the outset of a copywriting task, remind yourself which channel you are writing for and more importantly who you are speaking to, and adapt your tone appropriately.
The scope of copywriting has broadened immeasurably, which is both a challenge and an opportunity, as the job has never been as exciting as it is now. By writing for the new reader, PR copywriters can connect their clients with audiences the world over in a more meaningful and engaging way than ever before. This is the ultimate in PR storytelling.
Natasha Redcliffe is the English Copywriter of Cicero & Bernay Public Relations. An independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai and offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the GCC. | www.cbpr.me