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Effective writing skills for public relations (pr in practice)

 by Daphne Gray-Grant
Writing & Editing Coach

Daphne Gray-GrantAre you selfish? Do you tend to think your problems are more important than those of other people? In conversation, do you often try to turn the topic back to yourself?

I ask not to help you channel your inner Cosmo girl or Esquire guy, but to help you improve your PR writing. That's because if you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you probably also write press releases that don't work. Why?

Because you don't see things from your reader's point of view. Lost in the fog of your own concerns you write from your own perspective. When you pitch a media outlet, you approach it from the view: "I need to get some publicity for this, and it's your job to help me." When you write an article or press release you think: "This is the idea I need to get across."

It's all I-I-I, me-me-me.

But I know you're not really and truly a selfish person. You just need your head turned around (gently!) So let me do that by reminding you of a very simple math concept you probably learned back when you were in short pants or pig tails.

Think back, think waaaaaaaaay back, to grade 5. Do you remember sitting at your desk for arithmetic? Perhaps on a day much like today, your teacher Ms Jones or Miss Francis or Mr. Brown walked to the blackboard and drew two circles on it. You may even have nudged the kid sitting next to you. "Hey," you said. "Teacher made a mistake. Those circles are on top of each other."

Then your teacher turned to the class and said "Children, this is a Venn Diagram. Can you say Venn Diagram??"

In case you've lost Venn Diagrams to the recesses of time, let me remind you that they show the intersection between two groups or ideas. Venn DiagramFor example, 
circle A may represent all the food that human beings eat. And circle B may represent all the food that horses eat. And the part where the two circles come together (called AB) represents all the food that BOTH eat -- you know, stuff like corn, oats and apples.

When I teach people to write, I often ask them to think of a Venn diagram. Part A is what THEY want to write about, part B is what the READER wants to read about, and part AB is where those two interests overlap.

But let's make it simpler with a real-life example or two. Let's say you're a book publicist and you have chef who's just written a cookbook featuring fabulous vegetable recipes. You, of course, want to promote vegetables (circle A).

Trouble is, that's probably snoresville to most media outlets. How can you possibly make vegetables interesting? But wait! What about the recent E coli outbreak relating to spinach? That's a hot story these days. So, there you have circle B.

But how do you find AB? Well, maybe that's where your author-chef provides the newspaper with a group of recipes in which he or she replaces the spinach with other vegetables. (Kale salad anyone?)

Or here's another example. You want to write about a new type of backpack your company has just launched (circle A). What do media outlets want? If it's September, they want back-to-school stories (circle B). So "AB" is how your backpack helps kids keep their schoolbooks better organized. Or maybe it's that your pack has special straps that help prevent back problems.

The main thing to remember is that AB is about satisfying both needs. It's about win-win.

When you write, think Venn Diagram, think AB, and no one will ever call you selfish again. (And media outlets will clamor to return your calls.)

A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and 
editing coach with an international practice. Her website offers a 
free newsletter that will teach you how to write better, faster. 
Sign up at www.publicationcoach.com

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