Kristina Markos, M.L.S., Simmons University
Public Relations educators regularly look for books that stick to PR basics, acknowledge the evolving PR practice, and provide actionable advice for how to appeal to ever-decreasing attention spans. However, it is rare to find a book that meets all expectations and does so in a way that translates to the pre-professional’s level of understanding. Public relations, at its core, values dynamic storytelling and the art of persuasion. Marketing also values those components, and with the digital space causing all forms of marketing and PR to collide, it is critical PR educators use a book that can acknowledge marketing principles and apply them to the PR world.
With the PR practice relying less on media relations, and more on content generation and brand journalism, it is critical students are taught how to recognize—and adapt to—an environment which requires thoughtful content strategy and creation. Teaching content strategy and creation best-practices will set the next generation of PR practitioners up for success.
With that in mind, most college-aged students are bombarded with online messages and have been since their adolescence. As such, how they communicate has been altered. As educators look for resources that meet the needs of today’s modern student, it’s important to find texts that combine fundamentals with new approaches. Everybody Writes. does not stray away from teaching solid writing fundamentals, and acknowledges how to write factually, clearly, persuasively and in a digestible way for online audiences to accept.
In the book, the author, Ann Handley, prioritizes the importance of proper writing because brands’ customers are telling stories for them. Long gone are the days where communications professionals are solely in charge of a brand’s public perception. Online customers can tell their version of a company’s story
Through each chapter, Handley provides students and educators tips for improving their writing skills, producing short and long-form content, and leveraging online tools to deliver the most reader-centered content.
As public relations educators look for a book that stays true to teaching writing fundamentals but acknowledges the current communications- dynamics shift, Handley’s book should be considered a first choice.
How the Book Contributes to Public Relations Education
When considering the most essential skills a public relations student has to hone during his/her/their college career, most of us would list writing as the first and foremost skill. Handley points out that the idea writing is an ability or talent that is innately bestowed on us is untrue—yet, many educators assume each public relations student maintains some writing talent. This book helps educators to focus more on effective writing. What’s most valuable for students to learn is how to master a writing style that borrows from both journalism and marketing. It is the most effective in the digital communications landscape, and a style can be taught.
Throughout each book section, Handley continuously expresses the idea that writers should use content as a means to give the audience an experience. Experiences are evoked from reading an insightful, informative, and easy-to-understand piece that provides the audience value. She acknowledges the business world often fails to focus on the art of storytelling and instead, relies on sales language riddled with puffery. Public relations writing often borrows from journalistic principles, as it should, but with the marketplace responding to massive amounts information spread on mobile devices, public relations educators and professionals have adapted their writing approaches with a focus on engagement, less on fact-driven news pieces. When reading the book, public relations educators can approach the lessons almost as a “choose your own adventure” with each section providing unique value.
How the Book is Organized
The book is divided into six sections: 1) Writing Rules to Write Better, 2) Writing Rules for Grammar and Usage, 3) Story Rules, 4) Publishing Rules, 5) Things Marketers Write, and 6) Content Tools.
The book’s organization is thoughtful and allows public relations educators to skip around in areas that they deem necessary. One section does not necessarily impact others, so the book can be read out of order and assignments can be planned for, accordingly.
There are few sections that I found critical to the advancement of public relations education, mostly found in the Publishing Rules section.
Of specific noteworthiness is the section titled “Wait. What’s Brand Journalism?” Brand journalism is an editorial approach to building a brand. In this section, Hadley makes the point that companies, organizations and major brands are now hiring those with journalistic training and talent to tell their stories across their owned and paid media channels. As we know, brand storytelling is essentially delivered by public relations practitioners, but with companies taking control of their brands through distributing high-quality content, the need for brand journalists is increasing. Here, educators have an opportunity to teach students how brand journalism impacts a PR campaign or vice versa.
Handley writes that brand journalism uses a brand’s website as a publishing vehicle to: generate brand awareness, produce industry news, create sponsorship opportunities, and generate leads. PR educators have struggled to communicate how PR impacts a business directly, due to the historically inaccurate methods for reporting PR effectiveness. Handley offers a solution to this, however. The emphasis on lead generation in this section—which is usually reserved for marketers–is incredibly helpful for educators who are trying to teach students how strategic content converts to new business.
Secondly, in the Publishing Rules section, Handley provides helpful information about content moments and how influencers, thought leaders, and mainstream media look for multiple perspectives about a single topic. She explains to readers that content moments can be spurred from news—or more specifically, breaking news—and also from cultural trends and phenomena. In this pandemic and post-pandemic world ahead, where audiences are glued to screens, it is critical public relations professionals understand how to strategically create mobile-friendly content that engages all influential audiences. Through this book, and this section specifically, public relations educators are better equipped to explain how content marketing fits into the PR puzzle.
What Could Be Added to This Book to Improve it
While this book provides many valuable insights about the world of modern content creation, there are messages in the book that detract from fundamental PR practices. For example, in the section titled, “Post News That’s Really News,” Handley insinuates company news—or press releases–are better left in a website’s media section for journalists, researchers, analysts or other interested parties. I would argue that company news worth sharing is part of an overall content strategy and that news and credibility boosting opportunities should be ingrained within any marketing effort. Company news should not be limited to a separate press room on a company page. As websites and other owned media channels fuel PR strategies, it is unproductive to view company news as separate from overall branding efforts. What Handley omits, unfortunately, is commenting on the direct connection between breaking company news and modern public relations practices. It will be up to the Public Relations educator to fill in the gaps when using this part of the text.
Who Will Benefit From This Book?
Handley strikes a balance that is often hard to achieve in most communications textbooks—she is humorous, informative, and provides concrete examples for educators to use as reference. Educators and students who are bombarded by messages and content stemming from PESO campaigns issued from brands, will need this book to identify high-quality messaging from amateur approaches.
Educators who are also looking for advice on which tools are available for promotion of—and distribution of—content will benefit from this book as well. At the end of the book, Handley dedicates a section to listing content tools. In it, she offers multiple websites, Chrome plug-ins and apps that appeal to the modern writer who is distributing content across many channels.
Handley walks the reader through the entire writing process—from ideation, to creation, to editing, to publishing all with audience-centered best practices at the fore.
In summary, Everybody Writes, breaks down challenges every communicator faces in a digital world and transforms the way we view writing. As educators are increasingly teaching technology-savvy Generation Z students, they will need a resource that stays true to the fundamentals of writing but acknowledges that the communications disciplines are merging. Writers will become stronger and more engaging through reading this book and educators will be better suited to teach students how to break out of humdrum content generation and catapult them into the exceptional.
© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division
To cite this article: Markos, K. (2021). Everybody writes: Your go-to guide to creating ridiculously good content. [Review of the book Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content]. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 227-232. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2470