If you are in PR, a key objective is to build long-lasting, honest relationships between your company and its audiences. In order to achieve this, copywriting is one of the most important tools in your arsenal. Comments, by-lined articles, case studies, and Q&As in magazines, news sites, and blogs are a powerful way to increase brand awareness. However, copywriting is not always as straightforward as you may think at first, and there are a number of issues that can put a spanner in the works. So, how can you create that piece of copywriting magic that attracts the attention of relevant editors, and that has the potential to help make your sales figures skyrocket?
One might think that practically anyone who can string a sentence together could write a press release, or even a feature article. They can, can’t they? Well, yes. But also, no! The tricky part is not scribbling down a few sentences. The perfect piece of copywriting resonates with its readers and this does not happen by accident, or thanks to a stroke of luck. It is the result of a proven, optimised process that, as a trained journalist, I am a big fan of.
It goes without saying that all copy should go through a few rounds of edits to weed out potential grammar issues, typos, flow issues, etc, but also contradictions, missed localisations, etc. Copy should be well written and well structured. However, beyond this, there are several potential pitfalls, which can make or break your copy. Here are my top ten:
1. Skipping the research:
Before writing even the first word, make sure you understand the subject, your audience, the context, and the goal. Copywriting starts with gathering the right arguments to educate your readers. If you do not want to carry out this research or cannot spare the time, don’t write anything in the first place. It is immediately obvious when an article or blog post was written on the fly, without thorough preparation. Even if you are one of the leading experts in a given subject, preparation is still critical (it will just take less time!).
2. Writing what you want to write:
Don’t write what you want to write, write what your readers want to read! Gone are the days when readers would dive into a copy longer than a thousand words – unless it is a book, or study material, etc. Today, people simply skim read. News sites, online magazines, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are constantly being updated. We are always surrounded by new content. And there is too much of it out there to get through it all. So, avoid rambling on. Don’t use 15 words when five will suffice. Make your copy engaging and easy to read.
3. Imbalance between product features and benefits:
For instance, a key feature of a given technology could be speed, and increased productivity could be the resulting benefit. All too often, IT copy focuses on features and forgets the benefits. Don’t get me wrong: highlighting features in a press release or case study for example, has its value. However, you also need to answer the ‘so what?’ question: why is this feature important? Strike the right balance between features and benefits, especially if your audience has limited technical knowledge or interest.
For our top tips on writing a press release, check out this blog.
4. Dead hyperlinks:
Links are powerful tools when writing copy. They point the reader towards additional information without adding length that not everyone may appreciate. Unfortunately, links are rarely used properly. For example, including too many and over-egging the pudding, or pointing the reader to a report behind a paywall, will not go down well. The most common issue, however, is the inclusion of broken links. Not only do they not take the reader anywhere useful, it also shows that the writer did not bother checking the link.
5. Ignoring or forgetting localisation:
No matter how ground-breaking the announcement, how insightful the article, or how smart the messaging, copy will fall flat if you fail to tailor it to the region you are targeting. All copy must be localised in terms of language, culture, and audience. This allows content to resonate with readers in different territories. Given that copywriting is rarely a quick affair, it would be a waste to not take a little longer to ensure the message will resonate with your readers in every corner of the globe in which it is shared.
Have a read of this blog for recommendations on expanding your PR programme to Europe?
6. Choosing the wrong outlets:
This is probably the most common mistake when it comes to copy. Is your copy actually reaching your target audiences? Is it being published in the most relevant outlets? The only way to ensure the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, is to do your research and get to know the media landscape in the relevant regions.
7. Ignoring editorial guidelines:
They may seem unnecessary or irrelevant to you, but they’re critical if you want your copy to make it in print. Ensure you have the latest guidelines (tone, level of technical detail, word count, image requirements, permitted links, etc.) and stick to them. Not only will you minimise your chances of having to tweak the copy, copy you thought was finalised, but it will also strengthen your relationship with the editor!
8. Submitting poor images:
Why show your product/spokesperson/office building in a bad light? Good visuals draw your audience in, entice them to read on, make your company look professional, modern and exciting, and could even help your sales figures. Prepare a selection of high-resolution images to share alongside the copy. Provide a variety of images: different orientations, products by themselves and in situ, official headshots, and photos of spokespeople in action, etc. It should go without saying that you should avoid stock images, but if you must, ensure you abide by the local copyright rules.
9. Getting timings wrong:
You don’t want to be old news. Share press releases under embargo with trusted targets where possible. If you are writing a contributed article about an industry trend, do so when the trend has just started, or when you have something new to contribute.
10. Missing deadlines:
Just DON’T! If an editor asks you to send them some information by a specific date and time, do so. If you leave an editor with empty pages to fill, you are unlikely to be asked to contribute again. As simple as that. Deadlines are crucial in PR.
Copywriting is an excellent tool in the PR professional’s toolbox. Avoid these 10 pitfalls and you will be on your way to success. Remember: if you make an editor’s life easier, then your material will be more likely to be used, and it will be easier for you to secure more opportunities in the future. Every piece of copy has potential; as the writer, it’s your job to realise it.