Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You….

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    It’s appropriate penning this blog on the Day After the Day of The Dead election date. The votes are in, the surprises are in. The Republicans are back — in most places! Seems like only yesterday they were here (shall we call them Zombies?!). Is this the change we can believe in? For many Democrats who served for decades and are suddenly today looking for a new line of work, it probably is.

    Let’s go back to a seemingly simpler time when an elected politician stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Great words that echo through time and transcend partisan political lines. Of course it was John. F Kennedy who uttered them near the close of his inaugural address in 1961.

    But this blog is not about politics, or great American rhetoric (or zombies), it’s about PR issues, so let’s look at this sentence. It’s as powerful a piece of American patriotism, summoning fellow country men and women to serve their nation’s ideals in whatever capacity that has ever been written. But Kennedy didn’t write it. His speechwriter, Theodore Sorenson, did. Sorenson died the day before the election. But his gifted use of language in this one line of a speech, simple but poetic, clever but not self-serving, brief but powerful and enduring, will live on.

    Strong writers breathe life into words. If your public relations m.o. doesn’t start and end with a proven writer crafting your headlines, making the content in subsequent paragraphs stand out and leaving a memorable impression on those who read your news releases, Tweets or other communiqués, you are already at a disadvantage.

    We’re not talking about having the commas in all the right places (that’s what good copy editors are for). But we are talking about what one longtime business journalist in the Twin Cities always insists on, whether it’s his own copy, that of a fellow journalist or a PR person that just bombarded him again with a pitch and press release: “Make it sing!”

    Despite the preponderance of words in all the communication channels of the 21st century — and the corrosive effect text messaging is having on language and attention spans — good writing is still a highly valued skill, and a talent that can’t always be taught. Treat your written PR pieces for the gems that they should be. And if you have a truly gifted writer on staff, bump that scribe a raise, before he or she runs off for another profession.


    For more resources, see the Library topic Public and Media Relations.


    Martin Keller runs Media Savant Communications Co., a Public Relations and Media Communications consulting company based in the Twin Cities. Keller has helped move client stories to media that includes The New York Times, Larry King, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, plus many other magazines, newspapers, trade journals and other media outlets. Contact him at, or 612-729-8585