Monday, March 13, 2017

When an ex-journo writes for PR

On my first day at India's largest independent public relations consultancy, I got an unusual piece of advice from a colleague: “Now that you're working for a PR firm, make sure you leave your soul at home.”

I knew what he meant. I wasn't a journalist anymore. I could no longer wear my heart on my sleeve and write stories as I pleased and annoy people. I was a PR man now.

No, technically, that's not correct. I’m not a public relations specialist, just as a teller is not a banker or a compounder doesn't make a doctor. I don't do client-servicing. I write content for people who are into client-servicing. Actually, I ghostwrite.

The transition hasn’t been easy. For several months, I thought and wrote like a journo. I had to change my writer’s perspective on the other side of the print media-public relations divide. And the divide is not a thin line; it’s as thick as a fence.

After nearly thirty years in the penitentiary of newspapers and magazines, you get used to writing in a certain way, you think you have writing privileges, like you own your writing and to hell with everything else.

You own nothing. It’s the PR clients who own everything you write, even the byline that was once your crowning glory. You write in the garb of an invisibility cloak, unseen and unknown to the outside world.

One of the demands of the job is to make the client come out looking good through editorial and influencer based content marketing. This can include a variety of content—pitch notes and press releases, newsletters and authored articles, case studies and white papers, blog and social media posts, internal and corporate communication, events and graphics, audio and video, and so on.

Whichever type you choose, you can’t let negative publicity creep into client content. If you do, it can be construed as a breach of trust, an act of betrayal. That line of writing defeats the purpose of client-servicing, which is protecting and enhancing corporate reputations through brand and image building media campaigns.

So what has been my experience in PR writing so far?

Well, it has been both challenging and satisfying. I realised at the outset that no two clients want the same thing. While the basics of writing are the same, there are many variations in how content is thought out and structured. It teaches you to think and write creatively and imaginatively. For instance, you can adopt a storytelling style for authored articles in the same way as Sunday papers do or you can start a mundane press release with a bang and grab the editor’s attention. PR writing also offers a broad perspective on contemporary issues. The growth of digital payment systems in the wake of demonetisation, last November, is a case in point.

It seems rather odd that I now write for an audience that I once worked closely with—editors and journalists. Without appealing to their news sense first, there’s not a lot you can do to ensure media mileage for a client.

These are early days and I’m still learning. And, I suspect, I’ll be learning for much longer. But this much I can say with a degree of accuracy: If you want to retain your PR client and raise your PR retainer, become the client. That holds as true of content marketing as it does of client-servicing.

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