As we hit the gym, pitch the donuts and tackle that dusty David Foster Wallace novel on the nightstand, many of us also consider New Year’s resolutions for our careers. Like many other resolutions, these often stem from goal markers we equate with success—a raise, mastering social media analytics, etc. However, I challenge every communications and PR professional to embrace a deeper change at the core of our work, one that focuses on the method rather than the endgame.
Make 2014 the year you shake up your writing.
Although we are savvy public relations professionals, we often find ourselves stuck behind barriers that leave our writing flat, predictable and dry every time we pen a tweet, blog post or reporter pitch. It’s understandable. Effective writing is difficult. We also have a lot of boxes to check when we write—optimizing our releases with buzz words; using pre-approved language; hitting every data point—and it all needs to be on deadline!
We also face the unique challenge of writing for often-conflicting audiences. Even when we have a deep grasp of the readers we’re trying to reach, we must remain loyal to our client, compete with the masses on social, and/or attract the attention of a reporter or editor. These obstacles remind me of the mindsets that frequently inhibit students’ writing when they can’t see past the classroom walls and believe they are writing solely for the teacher (the “grader”) or the assignment. The air deflates from the balloon.
Fortunately, a few simple tips can go a long way to help every PR professional sweep aside these hindrances and rediscover the fresh, powerful writing abilities we’ve had all along:
- Make it personal: To deliver what your client has hired you to do, be firm in your mission not to write solely for them. Furthermore, today’s analytics tools can tell you more about your target audience than ever before, but it goes to waste if your writing sounds the same for everyone. When you sit down to write, identify the primary target audience and imagine you are speaking to a real person in that group—a parent, a teacher, a tech junkie. Think about that individual’s opinions, needs and interests, and cater your style and content to inform and move that person.
- Say what you mean: When you feel bogged down by too many details in a press release, for instance—the nuances of legislation, the event background, perspectives of key thought leaders—jot down one sentence that states, simply, what you are trying to say. This exercise can help you clarify your focus, and in some cases, provide the straightforward language you were searching for.
- Take a risk: Humor, story-telling and ethical appeals are among the most effective techniques writers and rhetoricians have been using for centuries. It is risky and it may fall flat, but try it out, especially in early drafts—you may find the exercise loosening up your style and getting your rhythm going.
- Find your inner poet: Most people think poets aim to be abstract, but poetry is actually about clarity, drawing unexpected comparisons and experimenting with language—qualities in common with great marketing copy. Vibrant prose and appropriate repetition make your language memorable, while a well-executed metaphor can help your audience draw deep logical and emotional connections to your point.
As we develop innovative strategies for pitching, placing and distributing messages, we must remember to give the same creative attention to the content of the message, itself. Help yourself by keeping this resolution through December, and beyond. (No spandex required!)
What are some of your best writing tips? Tweet your comments to #widto, and you can follow me @AKatzel.