Over the last several months, notwithstanding going solo recently, I’ve spoken with a number of agency higher-level folks and internal recruiters about the job market and the candidates they’re seeing and seeking.
Regardless of the position (Entry, SVP or Director) or company (from various agency-types all the way to in-house) or type of work (media relations to a social media specific position) the one thing I keep on hearing, in various forms, is “we’re not seeing a lot of candidates with really good writing skills.” In case it’s gotten lost somewhere along the way, this job is about effective communications. Most of those communications will take place, or initiate, with the written word. Even speechwriters write (look at the last half of the word). Yes they’re writing something which will later be spoken – that makes it more difficult – cross-platform writing isn’t easy. Wanna try something real tough – write a pastiche’ – something in the style of another writer or specific book. Then give it to someone who knows that writer’s work and see if they buy it. (I had to do it for a class project as a HS senior (I selected The Stranger as my model text, of course and wrote the final chapter – the original final chapter ends a bit in medias res) — hardest and longest 1K words I’ve ever written, but well worth it when I saw my teacher’s face upon her initial, and final (as in she had no suggestions), review).
Consider this – we still get most of our information through the written word. Even if you’re the type who only gets their news through TV or radio, only use audio books, podcasts, radio, etc. — for the most part all those readers are reciting something someone else wrote. Unless the only thing you pay attention to is improv comedy or the weather-people who stand on the beach doing broadcasts during hurricanes, then it all comes down to the written word.
Show me a candidate with good writing chops and I’ll show you a hiring manager or department head who’s very happy to be considering the candidate in front of them. By no means do I claim any special skills or information when it comes to writing. I manage, sometimes I write something pretty good. Sometimes it comes out as drek and needs to be rewritten. This isn’t about how to write, it’s about realizing that effective and platform- and audience- appropriate writing is important (and will be different than the same project taken on for a different audience or different platform), and will always be.
Still in doubt? Consider this – one day you’ll be taken off the PR frontlines. Pitching, monitoring and clipbooking won’t be your primary timekillers. You’ll be responsible for supervising the work of others and communicating what’s going on to those above you and to clients. Yes, one day you will be my age, and for those of you just coming out of college that means you’ll be about 10-12 years along in your careers – SVP or VP level at a large agency. It all comes down to the writing.
The client paying you between 3-15K dollars per month — do you think they want weak sentences, improper grammar, ambiguous sentences, fragments, run-ons, etc. (unless of course it’s really done for effect)? No — they want to see your best all the time.
Let me guess – you can write well when you want to but for your blog or Twitter it’s just for fun so you don’t take the time?
Why wouldn’t you want to take every single chance to improve your skills and/or show off your mad skillz? Writing gets better one way – do it more often and then honestly evaluate it or ask someone else to evaluate it for things like tone, not spelling. Spelling can be fixed and taught – effective writing is an art – how are you going to sway or sell your reader?
Saying you “Can write well when you want to” is just like saying you “Can practice proper hygiene when you want to” or “Behave like a respectable person online when you want to.”
Why wouldn’t you want to all of the time? I’ll answer — there is no reason not to want to.