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August 25, 2008



But Dan, I really challenge you and all PR pros to reconsider reciting this AP capitalize-a-title-only-directly-before-a-name rule and think about why the correct and consistent AP-style capitalization of job titles is one of the single most troublesome style guidelines in public relations. And it surely is. This is one rule that conflicts with the objectives of public relations, and one I argue we should redefine for public relations.

How many of us have followed the basic capitalize-a-title-only-directly-before-a-name rule on a news release only to have a client, boss or other senior person involved in reviewing it return it to us with edits to capitalize their titles? Or, to cut even more directly to the point, how many of us have intentionally capitalized titles when we know we shouldn’t have because we were subconsciously afraid that a client, boss or other senior person reviewing the release or article would return it with this edit?

With one of the objectives of public relations being to manage communications between an organization and its publics to promote a favorable relationship between the two, it’s logical and instinctive that we would capitalize job titles in the same way that we would accord status to people, organizations and events in other ways to position them in the best light. And in fact, section 8.22 of the 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style allows for exactly this capitalization exception for titles in these cases.

For this reason, I say if you’re writing a document for reproduction in the media, follow AP style and only capitalize a formal title used directly before a name, because your objective is to comply with the style of a newspaper or magazine to the fullest extent possible to encourage that publication to run as much of the text in its original full form as possible. But if you’re writing a document for corporate communications and internal communications – including Web sites, brochures, executive bios, and newsletters, which are not primarily designed with the intention to have the content replicated in the media – I argue it is acceptable and even advisable to capitalize these titles both before and after names.

Because public relations evolved from the field of journalism, public relations professionals have reflexively followed AP style in their writing. However, as public relations has expanded from a media relations discipline into one that includes such nonjournalistic areas as brand marketing and corporate communications, some AP style rules have become inadequate to address the unique needs of public relations writing, and there are occasions when we need to consider when to follow, bend and break some of the rules. In the case of the capitalization of titles in public relations and business communications, bending the rule to make a reasonable, consistent choice is more important than adhering to it just because it is stated in the AP Stylebook.


In your opinion, how does this apply to recruitment advertising? I don't think I've ever seen a position advertised where the role title wasn't capitalised. Is this accepted or incorrect capitalisation on a grand scale?

Sherrilynne Starkie

If only we could get the clients to understand this. :-)

Sherrilynne Starkie

If only we could get the clients to understand this. :-)

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Why "Word Wise"?

  • When I started to e-mail out a weekly writing tip to my Chicago colleagues at Edelman in 2002, little did I know how quickly how many people outside my office would start to request it. But word spread, as word is wont to do, and in 2006 the e-mail evolved into this blog. The tips, which are about grammar, usage and style, have a dual purpose – to remind my colleagues in PR of the power of the written word and, more generally, to support and perpetuate clear, concise, creative, honest, lively, stylish, compelling writing everywhere. In 2009 I started to add commentary about and links to stories and other blog posts related to the media, marketing, writing and, sometimes, just interesting stuff. For some reason, I also started Twittering (at SantowDan).