Are Advanced Writing Skills Crucial for Modern PR Professionals?

A PR Week op-ed says no.

This morning, an op-ed in PR Week got our attention for making a somewhat controversial claim: PR students no longer need to take anything but basic writing courses.

Shannon Bowen, Ph.D. is an industry veteran, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and a member of The Arthur W. Page Society and the International Public Relations Research Conference, so hers is a voice worth hearing.

That said, we have to offer a contradictory opinion: writing skills and classes designed to develop them have never been more important for PR.

Bowen doesn’t claim that the ability to write is not essential — simply that the larger PR practice has “evolved into a management discipline” and that, since most who choose to enter the field already know how to write, they don’t need to spend time on advanced coursework in college.

From the piece:

“The credit hours freed by not have an additional two writing courses could be used toward topics more relevant in modern PR: management, leadership, social media strategy, ethics, change management, issues management, internal relations, investor relations, integrated marketing, and so on.”

This argument works if we assume that formal instruction is not essential for one to develop as a writer. It’s true that real-world practice is more important than time spent in class or writing essays, but PR professionals are crafting more material — and more varied material — today than in the past.

Case in point: in last week’s interview on working with startups, Mark Nardone of PAN Communications named “content” as the most important part of the PR equation for early-stage companies — and the production/promotion of said content requires more than rudimentary writing skills. Tweets are very different than press releases or white papers, but any aspiring PR professional should be adept at writing all three…in addition to adapting to whatever format comes next.

Peter Himler, founder of Flatiron Communications, writes:

In the op-ed, Ms. Bowen quotes a CCO:

“…I can teach them to write a news release in 10 minutes, but I can’t teach them to not make bad decisions.”

She makes some good points, but I can’t agree with her implication that the art of turning a phrase is somehow less important than “the need for critical thinking, ethics, and strategic management acumen.”

They are equally important. For her to de-emphasize the value of developing the skill to craft a cogent and convincing argument — once the strategy is in place — is simply misguided. It is through words and images that our clients’ points-of-view come to life and exert influence. Yes, those words need to be based on sound strategy and ethics, but the latter without the former is useless.

What do we think? Are advanced writing classes no longer important for PR students?