The art of writing: Staying abreast of change

January 28, 2013

As I meet with members across the country, I often hear questions about the role and importance of social media in today’s profession. Now, to be clear, this isn’t a discussion about whether or not social media is important — that debate is over.

Rather, it is a question of how career-minded professionals and educators should prioritize social media against other skills like strategic planning, measurement and writing well. 

While that debate continues among members, we’re doing our best to cover all of the bases — because today’s PR professional must be able to demonstrate many skills. Perhaps that’s why the February Tactics, focused on writing essentials, is always a member favorite. 

In fact, this issue is my favorite as well. I’ve always been an avid reader, which grew over time to become an interest in writing. When I was in college, I wrote a somewhat notorious piece for my school paper: I had pledged a fraternity, one of those “Animal House”-type groups — but came to my senses before the final night of the two-week hazing period and decided not to complete the process (despite the attraction of unlimited beer on tap in the frat house and other dubious member benefits best left unmentioned). If nothing else, the frat had great word-of-mouth public relations on campus!

Sometime in the weeks that followed, I thought that my experience as a pledge might make an interesting story, despite the school’s official “no hazing” policy, and would be a nice change from the usual columns about football games and cafeteria updates. So, I sat down at my trusty typewriter and clattered away, revealing secret handshakes, frat brother nicknames, and the proper response (“thank you sir, may I have another!?”) that was part of the discipline process.

The story created a bit of a sensation, and shortly afterward, I decided that it would be a good time to spend a semester abroad — since there wasn’t a Federal Witness Protection Program available to reporters for college newspapers!

Challenges and evolution

I remembered this episode as I reflected on the challenges facing professionals as they move through their career, and how those challenges relate to the art of writing. Early on, we are likely to perform highly structured tasks that we’ve been assigned — tasks that are repetitive and require a certain level of discipline and technical accuracy.  As we gain more experience, we are likely to have responsibility for matters that are less structured — or, as it is sometimes phrased in job descriptions, we “must deal well with ambiguity.”

So we’ll not only see the art of writing in a different way as we progress through our careers, but we’ll also realize that the way people are writing is evolving. Studies show that people read websites differently than they read books — they scan websites quickly. Writing effectively for the 140-character world of Twitter is also a skill of its own, and it remains to be seen if we will change how we read and write in the rapidly emerging world of e-readers, tablets and phablets.

That’s why we do an annual issue of Tactics on writing. Go to our website and search “writing.”  You’ll find articles and resources to help you craft better press releases, boilerplates, cover letters, tweets and more.

Our changing world not only represents challenges, but also opportunities. In our increasingly competitive marketplace, we can remain a step ahead by demonstrating that we understand and embrace these changes, and that we can help the organizations we represent navigate through the new landscape successfully.

With the resources available to you as a PRSA member — which are yours for the taking — we’ve made it easy for you.

William (Bill) M. Murray, CAE, is the chief executive officer of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
Email: william.murray at


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