If you haven’t met me yet, then I haven’t had the chance to tell you how much I love the Associated Press Stylebook. More important, I’m a fervent believer that all marketers and public relations professionals should know AP style.
Born out of the Mexican-American War, the Associated Press was founded in 1846 as a nonprofit news agency so major papers could split the cost of sharing articles. Over time, writing guidelines standardized mass communications for journalists in all newsrooms (except some newspapers, like The New York Times, that have added their own rules).
Admittedly, some rules are strange, like movie titles are in quotation marks but not newspapers or sparkling wine is only called Champagne if it’s from the Champagne region of France. Also, let’s address the other elephant—AP ruled a few years ago an Oxford comma is ok (but not okay or OK). Despite some oddball rules, I think it’s a wonderful guidebook. Here’s why.
Journalists Are Friends, Not Food
Earned media is an essential component of any successful external communications campaign. Because the relationship with a reporter is symbiotic, it’s important for marketing and PR team members to have an AP Stylebook at their side and work to memorize basic rules. We’re colleagues—no reason to make it a feeding frenzy out there.
Start your relationship with reporters on the right foot and write your piece the way they would write. In my personal experience, they appreciate this, and press releases written in AP style usually get more attention.
One of the principle tenants of AP style is to write in an inverted pyramid. Your most newsworthy information that answers those famous five Ws goes at the top of your piece—they should answer the question, “Why do I care about this?” After that, you can add more details, quotes from spokespeople, and other background information the reader should know.
In general, following AP style cuts down editing time for the recipient. If you’ve organized the piece like an article, included the right amount of information, and had it proofed in-house before distribution, then editors could theoretically copy-paste your piece without incident. That frees them up to read the 10 pitches you sent them last week.
It’s Not Personal; It’s Strictly Business
More than likely, your company or clients’ copy guidelines are in AP style or at least inspired by it. Because the book lays out many rules for punctuation, grammar, and word usage, it helps a company establish its own system for internal and external communication documents. A letter to shareholders will follow the same rules as website copy, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. So will your audiences.
Having a basic understanding of AP style will help you adapt to an organization’s way of writing pretty quickly. Since they already have an established style, you don’t have to start from scratch or use something else. Your team will be able to easily turn out copy that matches everything else the organization is producing.
You Had Me at “Framework”
In addition to the inverted pyramid framework, journalists work within the characteristics of AP style: consistency, accuracy, brevity, and clarity. In other words, get to the point in a clear way and make sure it’s right.
The book also contains helpful rules on how to share survey results and data in a clear, correct, concise way. Plus, the grammar and punctuation rules are really robust and a fantastic tool for any writer.
While advertising writing has a little more leniency, PR writers have adopted the rule to avoid figurative language or stereotypes. There truly is no good reason to use metaphors, euphemisms, or flowery language when introducing your company’s new CEO or sharing breaking news.
This is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
Overall, these guidelines can help shape or improve your writing. They also provide a great starting point if your company or client is looking to establish a dedicated writing style as well.
Give AP style a try and remember to stay informed on the latest updates. Buy a physical copy, subscribe to the online version, follow @APStyle on your favorite social platform, and look out for articles or webinars in the summer for yearly updates. Note that updates will be codified every other year in a new print edition.
My inbox is always open for questions or to chat (not shoot the breeze) about the wonderful world of AP style. I’d love to hear from you—send me a note at Rachel@welldonemarketing.com.