Chris Martin is vice president of public relations at the David James Group (DJG). Prior to joining DJG last spring, he was a consultant who operated his own PR firm for 10 years. His recent clients are health care organizations such as BlueCross and BlueShield of Illinois, Cancer Treatment Centers of America and the Illinois Nurses Association. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Illinois State University and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Importance of Writing Well
DJG’s Chris Martin believes good writing, more than any other form of communication, is an essential skill for an effective PR professional today. With more than 30 years of experience, he has done a variety of writing for his clients: news releases, white papers, consensus documents, speeches, proposals, presentations, emails and social media posts.
“A lot of my career has been spent writing to other writers. A news release, for instance, is a document intended to be sent to journalists. There’s always been a lot of pressure on a news release to be written well and that hasn’t changed much,” he explains.
Writing for Your Audience
Martin stresses that knowing your audience is key to writing for PR today. His writing is always geared toward his primary audience: health care journalists. Throughout his career, he has written news releases for journalists who cover the health care industry. He considers what journalists will find newsworthy when writing a news release, and he tries to include only information they will find useful.
“I will see news releases that have the news buried in the second or third paragraph. Knowing your audience and knowing how to write for them is what our business is about. That requires that you actually think about what other people go through,” he says.
Martin is well aware that journalists today receive an overwhelming number of new releases. To make his stand out, he strives to put himself in the journalist’s position.
“The effective PR person can write for that context and for that person rather than just for their own client. When I’m writing something, I’m writing it for the journalist who I want to cover the client,” he explains.
Martin believes writing in a concise way is imperative for PR professionals today. When pitching a story to a reporter, he tries to write only one or two paragraphs. He knows others may write documents that are several pages long and contain research, bullet points and quotes. Martin prefers to craft his words carefully and limit the word count at first. If the reporter expresses interest, he follows up with detailed information. This strategy has proved successful.
“It still comes down to just words. It’s hard to convince people that have been raised on a multimedia diet that it’s still about words. The pictures help. The video definitely helps, but with no words, no idea, no story, it doesn’t matter,” Martin states emphatically.
Writing for Social Media
Martin says writing for social media has forced him to write more concisely. When composing a tweet, he starts with about 300 characters. He pastes them into the field on Twitter, and then edits his words down to the required 140 characters. At times, he finds editing his own writing to be a difficult task, but he believes the process makes him a better writer.
According to Martin, Americans write a lot more today than they used to write in the past. He says the trends of posting on social media and texting have turned our country into a nation of writers who communicate informally.
“Writing is less professional and less precise than it used it be. It used to be that people who did most of the writing had writing ability such as journalists, teachers and authors, but now everybody is a writer. Everyone has a Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile and they text,” he adds. “While we are writing more, I’m not sure we are necessarily writing better.”
Martin describes his writing as formal at the beginning of a client relationship, and then it becomes less formal as the relationship develops. He communicates with his clients in the way they feel most comfortable whether that’s in person, on the phone, by email, text or even a Facebook message.