Or so goes the premise of an article in PR Week, “Why PR majors no longer need advanced writing courses.” This piece would be easily dismissed if were not written by a professor of public relations at the University of South Carolina that takes it from laughable to scary.
As a senior executive and veteran of numerous hiring endeavors, I assure you that writing skills are critical in the hiring process. The first thing that happens when a group gathers around a conference table with piles of resumes in front them is a cursory review of the cover letters. Not tight and polished? In the trash it goes. Is there a single typo or grammatical error? Trash. Formatting issues? Trash.
If a candidate makes it to through the interview process, they’re given a timed writing test. Said candidate is provided basic information and tasked with producing a media release in 20 or 30 minutes. If the final product is not spot-on, it’s the end of the line for them. Not only are there are too many talented candidates vying for every opening in this job market, my account directors do not have time to teach writing skills. And contrary to the “executive” quoted in this article, you CANNOT teach someone how to a write media release in ten minutes!
But, don’t take my word for it, let me allow Patricia Staino, managing editor of a weekly digital technical publication who also spent 10+ years as a PR professional, to weigh in:
“Nowadays, PR is too often lumped in with social marketing, and it’s not. Social marketing is just a tool in a public relations program, and you’d better believe that writing an effective 140-character plug for Twitter takes writing skill and experience, even more so than writing a 1200-word article. The idea that just anyone can knock off a 300-word blog post is, in my opinion, bullshit.
“If a blog post is filled with grammar and punctuation mistakes, as a reader, I stop reading, since it is clearly the work of a muddled brain and possibly an uneducated person. Why would I want to take that so-called writer’s word on whatever they are spouting off about? If you can’t put together a logical sentence and know how to use a comma, I’m going to assume you’re not an expert on marketing, education, nutrition, or whatever other topic you are illiterately typing about. A blogger is not necessarily a writer. A social media expert is not necessarily a writer. PR professionals need to be able to communicate with the written word if they want their messages to be taken seriously.”
I expect that a junior PR pro will need guidance on the particulars of the profession; they’ll need to gain confidence in dealing with clients, they’ll need to learn strategy, and they’ll need to hone their critical thinking aptitudes. But, they’d better know how to write, and write well. Contrary to the evidence in too many error- filled articles and blogs, excellent communication skills are not irrelevant. How well you communicate is indeed evidence of how well you think and your level of expertise.