As communicators, it is imperative that we practice perspicuity in all types of language use. There should never be an absence of clarity in any style of writing because the ultimate goal is to deliver a clear and effective message. Often in writing, a lack of ornamentation is regarded as the only corridor to assuring perspicuity. As a PR major, I see this frequently in how students are taught to compose a press release—the one thing I absolutely loathe about Public Relations.
Exceptional writing skills are an absolute necessity if one desires to progress in the field of Communications. It becomes very clear within the first few years of undergrad that those who aspire to be crowned PR enthusiasts will be challenged to display an expertise in shifting content and style per audience. Considering the various publics and media outlets, there are several areas of PR that “demand” a different approach—says every Communication Professor I’ve ever taken. Nonetheless, I find it rather frustrating to constantly play dress-up with who I am as a writer, especially when being asked to remove my personality from the text in an effort to achieve some type of writing style that has been traditionally rendered more professional.
I’ve taken numerous courses at UH. One in particular is Public Relations Writing, which is self-explanatory. Students are constantly being asked to compose press releases that are straight to the point and heavily inundated with AP style suggestions. We’re told that the best media reaches in the form of a New Release or Press Release is one that delivers facts—who, what, when, where and why. Any other add-ons are needless. For instance, if a student were to paint the details of an event very colorfully or even hint towards an approach that made their distinctive voice present in the text, they would be mandated to purge any remnants of their personal sentiments. If one were to discuss the location of an engagement in a press release, an ideal sentence would state, “Bloomers Cake celebration will be located at Sip Stir Café.” An example of a sentence that would be forbidden would state, “Bloomers Cake will commemorate their unforgettable memories at everyone’s favorite coffee shop, Sip Stir Café”. Given the history of substantial revisions that my work has suffered, I’ve learned how to properly compose a press statement—by simply depleting a distinctive expression.
As the author of the Press Release, I often wonder why students are being groomed on how to unwed themselves from their words. It makes no sense to me. This communication convention allocates no room for colloquialisms or personable tones that welcome a distinctive voice. Each time I’ve attempted to write in a style that reflected my personal awareness of the audience, I was quickly schooled on how to write more professionally, which implied portraying an anonymous writer.
I’m forced to sympathize with Annie Allen, a young woman who attended college in the late 1800s—during a time when chauvinism was highly prevalent. In Radcliffe Responses to Harvard Rhetoric’: “An Absurdly Stiff Way of Thinking”, Author Sue Carter Simmons captures the juxtaposition of the writing pedagogy that Annie was forced to adhere to in the classroom and the writing freedom she was offered outside of the classroom. Allen functioned as two different writers during her years at Radcliffe—which is how I feel when writing a press release verses any other media reach. In her attempt to comply with the standards of her male professors, she would “write in a voice from nowhere” (Simmons 274). Annie’s distinctive thoughts and commentary weren’t suitable for the classroom or her writing entries. It was considered too informal for her to integrate her personal knowledge or personality into the work she submitted. Her writings began to echo a masculine approach by simply writing from an objective standpoint. Allen was compelled to write as if she had no connection to her own words, much like students are taught today when writing a formal piece such as a Press Release. All throughout my writing courses, I’ve been told that no one should be able to recognize my writing voice in a professional setting—but, why?
The issue that is absolutely mind-boggling is the juxtaposition of the two formalities present in executing PR-related tasks. On one hand, we’re asked to be culturally relevant with our tone, style and content when composing social media posts and/or blog submissions; while on the other hand, we’re deprived of an opportunity to show face—or a distinctive voice when composing a piece that is considered “professional.”
Often times, when asked to write a News Release, I’m reluctant to accept the offer because I feel that I’m too colorful in my expression. Still today, I find myself second-guessing the work I submit for approval. During one of my Ad campaign classes, I operated as the Public Relations Director and as expected, I was the head honcho over all social media posts and media outlets. Before one of our events, we had to submit a press release to The Daily Cougar about our guerilla marketing tactics, and as requested, I wrote a release and gave it to our supervisor. I felt that I did a pretty good job of composing a media release that was informative and interesting to read. However, my professor wasn’t moved by my style of writing. He quickly revised my work by shortening the length of my sentences and omitting the adjectives that were used to spruce up the information. For example, as an intro, I wrote: “The Valenti Group is a student run ad-agency that partners with a real-life client in an effort to develop an integrated Marketing Campaign. Each semester, Advertising and PR aspirants join forces to create a dynamic campaign that will result in an increased awareness for the client they’re assigned.” My professor employed his red pen like never before and proudly handed me the revised version of my work. The new intro stated, “The Valenti Group is a student run ad agency that develops an integrated marketing campaign each semester for a real-life client.” I couldn’t help but to give a blank stare. The monotonous phrases that have found a home in these news releases bore me because they are so impersonal and uninteresting. All that comes to mind is an anonymous figure—more like those annoying automated systems that announce information opposed to feeding the information to an individual. The voice from nowhere has found it’s way into the various style of writing we use for the media.
If we were to examine the history of writing styles from scholars—specifically, Miriam Brody, the author of Manly Writing, we’d see how certain styles have been used as a metaphor for gender based on how heavily inundated they are with ornamentation. Brody dives into the science of writing and illustrates how influential educators perceived simplicity and brevity during the late nineteenth century as the only corridor to professionalism and efficiency. Her research exposed the pedagogy of professional writing, which is essentially the masculine method—short, straight to the point and absent of ornamentation. I’m left to presume that Press Releases are written with a masculine undertone because they are regarded as a statement to be valued. But, shouldn’t all compositions be of value considering the numerous publics that employ different language use. The Standard writing style isn’t inclusive because it fails to cater to those who subscribe to non-traditional types of language. Professional writing is undoubtedly unwelcoming of one’s personal touch and employing this style on a consistent basis can be ineffective at times. By regarding one style of writing as the only effective way of communicating, educators are demoting others styles of writing that could potentially be even more effective depending on the audience and/or content. The masculine approach of being uniformed and generic relegates individualism. Sometimes, I feel stupid for promoting defiance and unconformity because I’ve been programmed to believe the narrow view of achieving clarity in my writing. There are so many communication conventions that have never been used because the masculine method is constantly reinforced as the only tactic for assuring effectiveness.
When analyzing other aspects of PR—for instance, social media, it is undoubtedly an entrance into a whole new dominion with different expectations. Social Media is a realm that necessitates culturally relevant vernacular and a distinctive voice that connects with the audience. If one were to compare the structure of a news release and a blog or social media reach, one would easily recognize the huge disparity in formalities. If we were to examine Gender & Writing in Rhetorical Spaces by scholar Nan Johnson, we’d see the major difference in masculine writing compared to feminine writing. Johnson makes note of the rhetorical spaces tailored for each gender.
During the post-bellum era, women weren’t allowed to participate in public affairs and were limited to participating in social affairs that are akin to a lot of what we see today. Often, the description of a female writer alluded someone who wrote herself into the text by incorporating her emotions and words that stimulated imagery. Feminine writing was generally associated with words like wordy, fluffy, colorful, too descriptive or even social. Women were often depicted in the typical domestic role “such as the preparations for a party or the care of children as well as the other enactment of idealized emotions associated with the female sensibility” (Johnson 44). Those types of writing elements have been designated for the social realm, which has been traditionally perceived as the place where women are allocated the most freedom. Masculine writing was very serious and business oriented and as a result women writers were not taken seriously and their work wasn’t considered business professional. Johnson affirms this by noting different illustrations that were used during the post bellum era such as “the separate-desks motifs and how they showed a man writing at an office desk and a woman writing at a parlor desk “(Johnson 84). Women writers were known and even forced to accept their position as communicators of social matters that allow them to infuse their natural gift of being chatty or concerned with the latest fashion tips and so on. Social media is a rhetorical sphere that embraces those characteristics, unlike Press Releases.
Traditionally, it has always been suitable for writers to detach themselves from their words in a professional setting. It’s the masculine method of writing. It’s straight to the point and unconcerned with the multiple publics that are exposed to that particular writing style. But, what if our approach was different and we became more personable in the way we addressed a Press Release? What if we mimicked those same tactics we use for social media? Of course, facts are important and perspicuity is the mission, but what if communicators could unveil their personality in every media reach while successfully achieving the mission of delivering a clear message? What if we gave the feminine writing style a shot at conveying facts in a more ornamented fashion? Alternatives for addressing a Press Release would vary per audience, as every written composition should. Instead of the same convention of formality, one could become personable and approach the statement in the form of a letter or an invitation. An example press statement could undergo a new approach and sound like this:
Sundays are the perfect days to gather friends and family for the celebration of unforgettable moments throughout the year. Bloomers Cake is a community-oriented company that welcomes the neighborhood to come out and enjoy their delicious cupcakes free of charge on Sunday evening, Dec 12th at 7:30 p.m. Art is love will be the live band that will entertain the guests for the night. They will play 5 of their biggest hits of the year. It’s going to be amazing. There are so many great things to be anticipated at this year’s celebration.
Due to our constant exposure of one style of writing for press releases, it would be crazy of me to think that PR writers would be instantly receptive to the idea of defiance. The example that was given challenges all norms but is undeniably just as informative as the standard template. The same organization that unveils a unique voice in the media could still attain that connection by staying true to the essence of their company’s mission— via a different method. Communication conventions are also metaphors for gender because of how we’ve learned to judge professionalism based on how the author chooses to involve his/herself in the text. I think for most people, professionalism is synonymous with efficiency. I also think that because professionalism requires writers to “man-up” and leave their personal references or personal knowledge at the door, we’ve declared masculine writing as the correct way to be an effective writer.
The irony is that Public Relations is a field that demands versatility and a skill of properly gauging an audience. Based on what we observe from our publics, we adjust and tailor our message to appeal to those groups of people. Press Releases are generic and boring. Every media contact that receives a press statement from an organization knows what to expect. Perhaps a more informal tactic could be more beneficial and helpful for building and sustaining relationships with the Press. By acquiring facts via a message that is composed of a writer’s personal touch, members of the PR clan could break barriers and began to make that personal connection with the media and develop an even better relationship with those organizations. Writers could feel like their opinions are important and valued just as they are in social media posts and blog sites. PR writers would no longer have to subscribe to a template that doesn’t promise efficiency, but they could use their creativity and carefully tailor their press statement to the media organization of their choice. By not conforming to an objective standpoint, one could grab even more coverage because of their informal approach to discussing an upcoming event. It is important for writers to feel connected to their work. It’s an art form. It causes for critical thinking and creativity. Depriving a writer of the right to recognize him/herself in his/her own text is insulting. What’s the risk in taking the alternative route and approaching a news statement as a personal statement rather than keeping it objective?
author: Deun Ivory