Has writing become a lost art, a nice-to-have skill but not a necessary one? I sure hope not. For those of us who cherish the written word and are prone to find typos on cereal boxes or wine bottles, we appreciate a well-constructed sentence that concisely conveys a point. Smart communicators know that good writing is essential, not optional.
PR News hosted a Writing Boot Camp at the National Press Club on May 14, and I was pleased to see hundreds of PR professionals of all levels taking time to hone a skill that can be a game-changer for their career. That is, if you’re a terrible writer, how far can you really go at your company? If you can’t consistently communicate a message creatively and succinctly, how likely is it that your stakeholders will look down on your brand and possibly move on?
If you recognize you have writing deficiencies, do something about it now. Don’t wait. It’s all well and fine to be a social media expert or a great account manager. But sooner or later, you will be found out:
“She’s great with the clients in person, but have you seen her emails? They make no sense.”
“We can’t give him that report to write, because we’ll be up all night rewriting it.”
“Did she miss the punctuation class in grade school?”
To avoid such maligning, I’ve compiled seven tips to help you become a better writer:
Read at least 3 articles a day: Whether online or in print, read about current events and take note of how the writer is articulating a point, how quotes are being used, how the article begins and ends.
Resist the urge to abbreviate: In a short-messaging world, we think what works in a text or tweet is OK in an email, a memo or a press release. It’s not. Spell out words. Make your sixth grade English teacher proud.
Say it out loud: after you’ve written a business piece, read it out loud. Does it make sense? Can it be improved? Is it so long that you tire of hearing your own voice?
Avoid jargon: At the Writing Boot Camp, trainers implored the audience to avoid hyperbole and be real about how “innovative” your company is or whether “best” and “great” are really the right words to make your stakeholders believe in your product. For more tips on avoiding jargon, check out my Boot Camp coverage.
Know your channel: It’s been said that Twitter is the office and Facebook is the dinner table: your messages should reflect the channel you’re writing for. Where it gets sticky is with email communication. Know these things about email: your email can be forwarded, especially if it’s irresistibly incomprehensible; don’t use emoticons in emails to people you’re not close with, and (drumroll…) you can use spell check with your emails.
Break the right rules: let’s face it, the AP Stylebook is a guide not a rule. You can break rules in writing in the interest of creativity and keeping people awake. Every now and then start a sentence with the word “And” or remove a verb from the sentence, for effect.
Think in headlines: As you begin to write a piece, ask yourself what the headline would be. Likely you’ll change that headline several times. If you can’t come up with a headline, then you are unclear about the message you’re conveying. Every story has a headline.
Any other tips you’d like to add? If so, please chime in. And don’t abbreviate.
- Diane Schwartz
On Twitter: @dianeschwartz
In ‘Iron Man 3,’ there’s a scene featuring a reporter shoving his iphone in Tony Stark’s face asking him to make a public statement to his enemies. Stark stares into the iphone, makes his superhero threat, then throws the reporter’s phone into oblivion. The press just can’t catch a break these days. Like many CEOs, Stark could use some media training.
In the spirit of heralding the start of summer blockbusters and because this blog can’t really be a movie review, I give you seven practical communications lessons from ‘Iron Man 3′:
- Keep your sense of humor. If Tony Stark can get kicked, smashed and thrown out of airplanes and still have a sense of humor about it, surely you can handle a disappointment at the office.
- In a press conference, do not give out the home address of your CEO. Repeat, keep executives’ home addresses confidential.
- Look for answers in less obvious places. Clue are everywhere – check the shadows, look around you, ask questions. You’ll eventually find what you’re looking for.
- It’s hard to get close to someone if you’re wearing armor. Shed the pretenses, be yourself.
- Don’t discount the people you meet at parties, on elevators and places in between: they may come back to haunt you, or help you.
- Stay until the end: anyone who has watched a Marvel superhero movie knows to be on the lookout for the Stan Lee cameo and to stay until after the credits, when there’s a short reel featuring another Marvel superhero and a forthcoming movie. It’s the treat you get for surviving all the credits. (By the way, check out the incredible overhead on this movie.)
- Test your piece of work in other markets: Even before hitting U.S. theaters a few days ago, ‘Iron Man’ bagged more than $500 million at the box office overseas. Success begets more success. If you know you’ll get a great reception from other audiences, start there to increase buzz and confirm the epic quality of your work.
- Kids are cute and lighten the mood when you’re trying to beat the competition. Feature them in your next campaign.
- Diane Schwartz
Oscar Wilde once said that the “question often arrives a terribly long time after the answer.” For sure, asking the right questions early and often is the answer to a lot of problems we face as communicators. Inundated with projects, challenges, crises, pitches and meetings, we are easily seduced by the sirens of Completion: get it done, no tough questions asked. Throughout your week, you are inherently set up to ask tough questions. How often do you ask the right ones, however difficult the answers might be?
Below, I’ve started a list of key topics and questions to ask in your PR life. Please add to it – what do you have to lose?
* A PR Campaign: Can it be measured and what will the key performance indicators be?
* Interviewing your Next PR Star: What’s your best mistake and why?
* Choosing a PR Firm: Whom will I be working with day to day and what’s his/her experience?
* Choosing a Client: Are their expectations realistic and will we click on a human level?
* Forging a Nonprofit/Charitable Partnership: Does this organization align with my company’s goals and do we have time for this?
* Your Team: Whom can I recognize today for a job a well done?
* Your Customers: How can I “wow” them this week?
* Pushing a Viewpoint: Is it really worth pursuing?
* Managing a Crisis: Who is affected by this crisis, and what’s the worst that could happen?
* Social Media: Do we really need to be on this platform? If yes, why? If not, let’s not waste precious time.
* The Media: What great story do I have to tell and why should they care?
I look forward to your contributions to this list!
- Diane Schwartz
Major League Baseball’s Spring Training is in full swing. It’s the start of a new baseball season, when ballplayers focus on getting in shape and every team, regardless of its payroll, has visions of playing in the World Series eight months from now.
Watching some of the coverage of spring training on ESPN it’s not too much of a stretch to think that—considering the constant newness in marketing communications—PR pros are forever in spring training, awaiting the next pitch, er, digital channel, technology or social network that they need to game.
With that in mind, here are a few PR lessons to gauge from MLB’s spring training:
> Singular focus: With myriad new media platforms being batted around, not to mention the race for social-media supremacy, it’s easy for PR pros to get wrapped up in what the competition is doing. Sure, rivalries abound in any market but, as with spring training, the overriding goal for PR departments and agencies is to put the together the best possible team. Communications execs need to assemble a squad with players who complement one another; are leery of injuring the brand and know how to pace themselves for what truly is a never-ending season.
> Strength and conditioning: In an increasingly social-media world, PR departments need to make sure that their social channels stay loose and flexible, but don’t suffer from any flab, or extraneous and/or unnecessary information that can drive eyeballs away from the channel as fast as screaming base hit down the third-base line.
> Deploying utility players: You see it all the time in baseball: A player is called in to pinch-hit or pinch-run or the outfield is reconfigured to adjust to a power hitter. In a similar vein PR departments now must have their eyes peeled for specialized talent—videographers, analytics gurus, Web designers or media buyers—to bring into the fold and improve the overall prospects for the team.
What do you think? Are the other analogies between PR and baseball that I’m missing?
— Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjouro1