After two-and-a-half years of contributing a column for this newspaper’s media section, I recently reached what self-proclaimed wordsmiths like me call “a writer’s block”, the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing. I quickly turned to the ‘Gulf News’ online archive of previous articles in search of some inspiration only to discover that there is hardly any marketing industry topic, theme, trend or issue that I still haven’t had the audacity to pen about.
From Big Data to programmatic, from content marketing to SEO (search engine optimisation) and from traditional advertising, PR, research, journalism, publishing and media buying to CSR, the death of print and the agencies of the future, I have covered enough themes, many of which more than once, to fill the pages of my second book (which one day I may decide to author).
At that point I realised that one aspect of marketing I haven’t actually written about is writing itself. And that’s despite the fact that writing has shaped my 25-year career path from a London-located rookie reporter to a Dubai-domiciled PR and corporate communications pro.
Writing is a misunderstood art form; at PR agencies, the skill of writing features prominently in job descriptions of entry-level employees, as though it is something that can be studied and perfected in during the short three years of a university term. At the other end of the scale, there are senior PR agency directors and managing directors who haven’t written a press release in their entire career.
So, is writing a must-have quality in order to ascend the ladder of the PR agency hierarchy or to navigate the meandering maze to corporate communications’ elite? I have heard senior marketers and communicators claiming that “everyone can write”. Yes indeed.
Everyone can cook also, right? But it takes certain qualities and an innate talent to write quality, compelling content the same way it takes an accomplished chef to create culinary excellence.
But why, a sceptic would ponder, is writing important, or even relevant, in an age when video and photographs seem to be doing the talking for brands on social media platforms and other digital media channels? How strong do your writing skills need to be in order to add a 20-word caption describing the content of the video or the essence of a still image?
Well, perhaps the most unbiased opinion as to the significance and relevance of writing skills in today’s digital era can be offered by content marketing experts of one of the most popular social media platforms, LinkedIn. In its presentation educating corporate clients on how to master engagement in their feeds, Linkedin’s content evangelists describe a three-step process that starts with the headline “Think like a journalist”.
Because only well versed writers who can think like journalists can create concise and succinct narratives that are either inspirational or go straight to the point, two attributes which according to LinkedIn’s research is what motivate members to engage with your content.
Not to mention the artistry associated with concocting engaging marketing content out of thin air for a consumer-facing channel or the ability required to absorb complicated corporate talk, and decipher, distill and deliver it to company employees in direct and digestible ways tailored to speech, email or Intranet page formats.
However, it is also true that Artificial Intelligence and machines are making significant progress in the writing of business or sports news stories and, already, telling the difference between copy produced by a human and that produced by a machine for the same story is not even possible. But that is mostly the case for writing repetitive texts, including those generated from big data.
More refined writing will always require the human touch and that’s why talented writers immune to writer’s block will always be in demand.
The writer is Head of PR and Social Media at Al-Futtaim and author of ‘Back to the Future of Marketing — PRovolve or Perish’. Follow him on Twitter @georgekotsolios.