Don Bates

Use the PR Writer’s Code of Conduct to Improve Your Writing

By: Don Bates | July 26, 2021 | 
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Use the PR Writer’s Code of Conduct to Improve Your WritingEvery profession needs codes of conduct to help ensure the credible performance of its members.

The PR profession has several codes of conduct to help ensure the credible performance of its members, but none of them directly addresses how practitioners must write for PR and related business purposes—until now.

The “Public Relations Writer’s Code of Conduct” was created to fill this gap.

It reflects and builds on several of my critical professional experiences:

  • 50-year-plus career as a writer-practitioner in corporate, government, nonprofit, and agency public relations. 
  • Use and analysis of major PR writing books as well as chapters on PR writing in textbooks and publications.
  • Scores of my and other practitioners’ essays, advisories, and blogs on writing and editing.
  • My writing workshops with thousands of PR professionals, beginner to advanced, in the U.S., Asia, South America, and Europe.
  • 40-plus accumulated years of adjunct graduate-school PR teaching at The New School University, Columbia University, New York University, The George Washington University, and other schools.
  • Personal and collegial friendships with writers and writing experts, both within and outside professional PR, with whom I shared the final drafts, and from whom I received numerous insightful suggestions for improvements. 

The code’s overriding purpose? To help improve PR writing’s quality, content, and value for all concerned. Its advice is evergreen. Its time has come. 

This version includes important edits in Rules #2 and #3 and elsewhere in the original version, which was published in O’Dwyer’s.

Writing is too important to the conduct of professional PR not to have these rules republished and disseminated at least annually throughout the field. 

I invite you to follow the code’s advice and to share it with practitioners you know at all levels of public relations. 

No one is immune to the challenges writing presents, regardless of their competence and experience.

Speak up for better PR writing. Take a stand. 

Improve Your Writing

Other actions you can take to encourage better PR writing:

  • Use the code to train employees on how to write better for PR purposes.
  • Refer to the code as context for helping to measure individual and group performance and to assign corrective actions.
  • Give the code to new and prospective PR employees, so they understand the critical importance of writing simply, clearly, and ethically on the job.
  • Display the code on your PR office and cubicle walls as a reminder to all employees of their obligation to write well. 
  • Link the code from your PR agency or department website so that those you serve understand the implications of what and how you write.

This code also amplifies the codes and standards of PRSA, IABC, the PR Council, and the Arthur Page Society. 

PR writing must be perfected, measured, and evaluated for the benefit of all concerned—employers, clients, other stakeholders, journalists, and, of course, those who do the actual writing.

If that’s you, this code is guaranteed to improve your writing if it’s frequently consulted and persistently applied.

U.S. Codes of PR Conduct

PR Writer’s Code of Conduct

As professional public relations writers, we commit to applying the accompanying common-sense rules of PR writing to everything we write, regardless of form or purpose.

These rules affect the credibility of all PR documents from corporate, government, nonprofit, and consulting organizations.

The rules also ensure that PR writing remains a powerful tool for informing, educating, and activating stakeholders and other important audiences. 

  1. Educate employers on PR writing’s importance, and your role in using it ethically, legally, and responsibly to further their goals. 
  2. Teach employers that you’re not a scribe; you’re a strategic thinker, word-worker, wordsmith, communicator.
  3. Understand what employers want from what you write on their behalf, but don’t write what they want without considering the larger PR implications.
  4. Establish concrete goals and objectives for all writing assignments.
  5. Build two-way communication between your employer and its key audiences.
  6. Research topics in trustworthy sources and substantiate accordingly.
  7. Develop PR messages that strengthen understanding of employer mission, vision, goals, objectives, reputation, brand, actions.
  8. Write simply, clearly, directly, accurately, logically, transparently.
  9. Emphasize “big news” (the big story) of interest to employer audiences; deemphasize self-referential posturing.
  10. Avoid jargon, hyperbole, euphemism, gobbledygook.
  11. Concentrate on essential, not peripheral, content.
  12. Focus on dynamic FYA (for your action), less on static FYI.
  13. Never intentionally lie or mislead in what you write despite the circumstances.
  14. Stress benefits in describing employer products, services, issues, ideas, outreach, activities. 
  15. Measure the effectiveness of your writing and adjust accordingly.
  16. Invite and appropriately apply criticism of your writing, no matter the source.
  17. Improve writing through self-study, guidelines, workshops, books, practice.
  18. Adhere to preferred writing style and usage summarized in the annual Associated Press (AP) Stylebook or the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).