Writers Workshop: Top 10 Content Formats Every PR Pro Must Know

By Emily Quirk

This is the first blog in a new series called Writers Workshop, where we will share writing tips and strategies to help PR and communications professionals sharpen their skills and become faster, smarter and more effective.

Spending 14 years in the newsroom as a reporter and editor, I was quite familiar with various journalistic writing formats, from the straight news story to the op-ed and human interest/feature. But when I crossed over to “the dark side,” there were so many different types of content this Jedi simply didn’t understand. For one, what the hell is a whitepaper?

What I didn’t learn from research and by asking the right questions of my mentors, I learned by doing. Practice, practice, practice. To be a successful PR professional, we must employ a wide range of skills. Writing – in my opinion – being the most important. We’re expected to write engaging content for clients, whether that’s a bylined article, a case study or a press release. And we better know when and how to expertly execute on each one.

Here’s a short rundown on the Top 10 writing formats you’ll need know:

#1: The Pitch

Simply put, it’s the message you send to a reporter – most of the time via email – in hopes he or she will cover your client’s product, story idea, press release, etc.  A well-written pitch must be genuine, tailored to each reporter and include a reason for the journalist to take your pitch seriously over the hundreds of others he or she may receive each day.

#2: Thought leadership byline

This is the closest PR pros are going to get to writing like a true journalist. It’s written from the perspective of a thought leader within or associated with your client’s organization. It’s an opportunity to push the boundaries and present new ideas. Outside research and interviews are key to credibility.

#3: Blog post

This one is self-explanatory because you’re reading this, aren’t you? We write blog posts for clients on a variety of topics; everything from window film to equipment financing to snack food. The hallmark of a good writer is the ability to write well about any topic, no matter how dry it may be. Have fun with the content and find ways to make it approachable and digestible.

#4: Press release

A press release is a content tool used to pique the interest of a reporter or editor in hopes they’ll write about your client’s piece of news. News could be anything from a new hire or new product, to a successful funding round or acquisition. Just like any news story, a press release should state the facts, but more importantly, tell a story.

#5: Whitepaper

A whitepaper is half journalism and half marketing material. A white paper should provide unbiased information and analysis, present a problem and solution, and argue in favor of that solution to the problem, based on research. White papers can be long (upwards of 7-10 pages), or even longer for highly technical topics. They’re often used as sales and marketing collateral.

#6: E-book

Like a whitepaper, e-books are used as sales and marketing tools for lead generation and are available for download online, often as a PDF. E-books are much shorter, however, at only a few pages long. An e-book is less journalism and more content marketing; you’re pushing a concept, solution or product.

#7: Case study

A well-written case study suggests to prospective customers that your client’s product or service will improve their life or business in real, practical ways. A typical format presents the problem, solution, and result. Plus: leverage case studies with the media; they’re desperate for end-users.

#8: Social media content

Often in 140 characters or less, it’s short, conversational posts with a call to action written for clients’ social channels to drive engagement with the brand.

#9: Messaging hierarchy

Messaging hierarchy summarizes the unique position and story of the brand. Messaging is the blueprint from which all communications flow, from website to collateral to press materials and social media.

#10: Contributed quote

Latching onto breaking news or industry trends can catapult a client to the forefront of trending conversations. To make both client and media’s lives easier, we quickly pen a draft quote for our go-to thought leader responding to the news. This requires packing a lot of context-specific information into only a few sentences, while also offering a new perspective on the topic. If you aren’t saying anything new, journalists are going to pass.