Are writing skills still so important in the digital age?

Are writing skills still so important in the digital age?

The communications world has changed dramatically since my first agency job at Public Affairs International (eventually to merge with Hill and Knowlton) back in 1988. All those years ago the ability to think clearly, write well, and work and play well with others, could carry you a great distance. That was then. While those assets are still important, there’s a lot more expected of agency professionals in 2016.

Today, making your way in the agency world demands firsthand expertise in all things digital, from analytics to video, paid promotion to apps. It’s a very different landscape. We now compete not only with other PR firms, but also with ad agencies, design companies, digital houses, marketing shops, branding consultancies, and countless freelancers who claim to do it all. Former colleagues of mine who retired just as I was getting started simply wouldn’t recognize a successful comms agency today.

Against this backdrop, does good writing really matter anymore? You probably have guessed my response, but it is certainly a fair question.

To me, solid writing skills still represent the core, the foundation, the central pillar in a communications consultant’s offering. Excellent writing should remain the price of entry to the agency world, and I can’t imagine feeling any differently in the future. Why? Well, it’s quite simple really. Don’t think of good writing as just another product. Consider what it means, what it represents, and what it reveals.

If your agency gives you good writing, in everything from comms plans to emails, it means, among other things, they pay attention to detail, they’re strategic, they are clear thinkers, they understand your needs and goals and so much more. This may sound like a stretch, but in my 28 years of agency experience, I’ve met very few good writers who were also not endowed with these other strengths. Conversely, most of the less-than-stellar writers I’ve come across also seem to fall short in other important areas. This is not a coincidence. Good writing is part of a broader pattern of expertise that serves agency professionals, and their clients, particularly well.

In the end, by all means hire consultants who know Google Analytics and paid promotion inside out. But make sure they write well, too. Not just because their client memos will sing, but because it likely means they’re smart and have many more important assets to offer.

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