When I was a college student at N.C. State University in the early 1990s, communication professor after communication professor emphasized that writing was the most important skill for an aspiring public relations professional to develop. I was fortunate that writing had always been one of my strong suits, and I’ve worked to develop that skill throughout my career. On a side note, I’ve even authored two fiction novels, which is an entirely different type of writing than what we do in the world of public relations and marketing communication.
Unfortunately, effective writing is becoming a lost art. I’ve received some flat-out cringeworthy work from people who purport to be professional freelance writers. Far too many businesses’ websites and marketing materials are written at a level that is far beneath their desired brand reputation. Students graduate from our colleges and universities with the ability to write a research paper, but no understanding of how to capture a message or idea with prose that resonates with the average reader.
If you’re a business owner, the verbiage on your website and marketing materials helps shape the first impression others form of your business. If you’re a professional, your writing skills and online presentation impact your personal brand. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so it’s important to get it right the first time.
The following are a few tips that may help you strengthen the effectiveness of your written product:
- Plan your work. Think it through before you start writing.
- Understand your purpose. What should this written piece accomplish?
- Know what you want to say. What are your primary messages? Don’t try to communicate 50 different points – emphasize the most important two or three.
- Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Why does your message matter to them? Why should they care?
- Get their attention at the outset. Show the reader why they should keep reading.
- Write for emotion, not just logic. What emotional response do you want to elicit?
- If writing a marketing piece, emphasize benefits, not features. Focus on how your product or service delivers value to the consumer, not the technical aspects of what it does.
- Speak your audience’s language.
- Understand the medium. A social media post, a blog post, an email newsletter and a white paper are extremely different tools and require different forms of writing. Understand how to write for each communication tool you are using.
- Every word should have a purpose.
- Never use two words when one will do.
- Re-read the document several times. Examine how it flows. Is it coherent, or does it ramble all over the place? Does it flow well, or is it painful to read?
- Always have someone else review your work before making it public.
- Don’t become so attached to your own writing that you ignore solid advice and edits from others (this one was especially challenging for me when my editor offered feedback on my books).
Effective writing is becoming a lost art – but it is a skill that each and every one of us can develop. Strengthening your writing skills will help you improve your professional credibility, strengthen your personal brand, and boost your business’ reputation and first impression.
Frank Williams is president of Pioneer Strategies, a public relations and strategic communication firm based in Leland.