When core skills go bad

Simon Wakeman makes the very valid point that writing should be a core competency for any PR practitioner. And, for this reason, he’s taken up blogging. Hurrah. It’s an excellent way to learn how to write impactful, direct, relevant, compelling copy, plus you start to learn about what goes on in bloggers’ minds. Not much, generally, but enough to titillate.

When I was first employed as a copywriter in PR I was a bit dismayed to find, in the company biogs, that just about everyone had studied English, or journalism, or had been a journalist, or said they had ‘excellent writing skills.’ So if everyone was so good, why was I needed?

Just over a year later, I’m starting to find out why. It’s because there is a difference between being ‘good at writing’ and ‘a writer.’ Some of the English graduates miss out the real hook to a piece and write as if putting together an essay; their conclusions come at the end in a flourish by which time most readers will have given up. Those with ‘excellent writing skills’ like to use baroque filigree curlicues, showing off their mastery of the Queen’s English and using ten long words when three good ones will do. The journos don’t seem able to spell or use grammar. Everyone else seems unable to put together a press release which, given that writing is a core competency, makes them at core incompetent.

It’s the synthesis of all this that makes a good copywriter. Being able to find the hook, adopt a tone of voice, produce something quickly and efficiently that is fit for porpoise. Then having the nous to follow up, chase down, get reviews and deadlines agreed. While all the time smiling, even if through gritted teeth, and encouraging people to have a go themselves and be approachable when needed and evangelical when not. It’s not just being able to execute the ‘writing bit’, it’s everything else that goes before and after that.

Which makes me wonder: if I’m a core competent, what’s everyone going to do while I’m off ill?

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