For more than 10 years I have been talking to communications professionals, executives and small business owners about strategy and the role identity plays in the communication process. Everyone has slightly different takes on terminology—words such as identity, brand, values and beliefs mean different things to different people. But almost all agree on one thing: identity is not only the core of who you are as an organization, but also what you must be very clear on before you make any major strategic decisions.
Successful companies make sure both what they do – action – and what they say – communication – aligns with identity. It is the PR writer’s job, then, to develop and craft relevant and potent messaging that reinforces identity. Here are some tips to help you write with identity in mind:
- Explore your client or organization’s true purpose. Did you know that Coca-Cola Bottling Company Co. Consolidated – the nation’s largest independent Coca-Cola bottler – states that its purpose is to “honor God in all we do”? Identity is not a color scheme or a good tagline or logo. It’s the deeper understanding and expression of who you are or want to become as a business. Purpose becomes the guidepost for everything you write. Ask yourself: Do you truly understand your client or the organization you represent?
- Create a list of core values. Core values break identity down into smaller, more relatable parts. Zappos, for example, offers a great list of core values that emphasizes its interests in values such as service, creativity and humility. Does your client or organization value integrity? Compassion? Humor? If these principles have not been spelled out for you or you are stumped, jot down just three adjectives that you would use to describe your client or organization. As you start to write content, refer to the list you created. How can your writing reflect one or more of these values so that your identity is reinforced and not lost?
- Read your writing out loud. It may sound trivial, but reading both the shortest tweet and longest press release out loud not only helps you catch confusing statements or overly complicated words, but it allows you to actually hear what you’ve said. As you read your content, imagine your words coming from the mouth of someone in a leadership position for your client or organization. Does what you say actually sound like it would come from this person? If you feel like you wrote something in the wrong language, go back to the drawing board.
- Test your message. Share drafted content with someone who isn’t necessarily affiliated with your client or organization. Ask this person to read your content and then jot down 3-5 words that would be used to describe the sender of the message you wrote. What are the results? Did your test reader reflect any of those core values you identified earlier?
- Pay attention to details. You don’t need a lot of words to say something effectively. And you don’t need big words to accurately reflect who you are. But the smaller details such as word choice, punctuation and sentence structure can sometimes dramatically change the overall tone of your writing. If your client or organization does not value being playful or lighthearted, for example, remove those exclamation points and emojis.
Understanding your client or organization’s identity makes you a well-informed communicator, which increases both the efficiency and effectiveness of your writing. When you write with identity in mind, you’re more likely to nail not only what to say but also how to say it.