Clear, powerful writing is part of any successful corporate communications program.
If you are a corporate communications professional, how do you find the time and energy to write effectively day after day? Every writing project needs to be done in a rush, it seems.
Clear, concise writing is essential for your corporate communications program to be successful, despite the time crunch. Your team’s writing needs to have impact, whether it’s helping to convince a potential client to hire you, showing that you are an employer of choice, or establishing your organization as a thought leader in your industry.
It may be time to shake things up by getting your team to talk about the components of impactful writing. In turn, you can raise your corporate communications program’s profile, helping other departments understand the power of direct, compelling content.
We are here to help, with tips that can help you direct your team and offer guidance to others in your organization.
Embrace brevity in corporate communications
As Politico’s founders and authors of the helpful book Smart Brevity say, “Write short, not shallow.”
In our time-crunched society, you have to get to the point right away. But that doesn’t mean you should gloss over details or leave out helpful context.
Instead, state the purpose of your piece right away, then offer interesting details and quotes. Be judicious with every word, and practice tough self-editing.
And write it like you would say it. This will make your writing more direct and will help you make sure you’re using active verbs, a key to bringing the reader along in a conversational style.
Among our other tips for writing short: Embrace the “nut graph,” which tells the “nut” of the story to the audience. Make a pact with yourself to avoid introductory clauses, which make your writing passive and unclear. And stick to one idea per sentence: A series of short sentences will keep the reader more engaged.
It takes time to write in a concise way. But it’s worth taking the time to think through a piece and to do the editing required to get it tight.
Good writing requires good reporting
It’s up to you to engage your readers. They’re looking for useful information or a fresh take.
As you work on a piece, first understand your audience, then put yourself in their place and ask smart questions of subject matter experts. This approach will work every time.
You don’t have to be an expert in your industry or on the topic, but you should have a baseline understanding. You’ll need this understanding to tell your readers something they don’t already know.
Take the time to review questions with your team members before they interview a subject matter expert. Teach them about the value of open-ended questions that invite the interviewee to expand on an answer. And show them how to ask follow-up questions if you hit on a potentially interesting fact or topic in the interview.
Of course, this requires time and planning. Use a project management tool (we like Hive), and build in time in the process for discussing the topic, writing a story outline (critical for less experienced writers) and several rounds of edits.
Learning the skills to take this approach isn’t simple or easy. But there are several ways you can accelerate your or your team’s abilities.
One, consider setting up a mentorship program where less experienced team members can learn from seasoned pros. Second, encourage your team to read well-written content, whether that’s short- and long-form stories from news outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, the Atlantic or The New Yorker, or quality content generated by your organization or others.
Define your audience
It’s hard to get readers’ attention. Knowing your audience (or audiences) is critical for success in getting their attention.
As an example, many companies only think about the news media and a general announcement on the news wire when they announce significant news like a merger or acquisition. Instead, consider how every audience will see the news differently, whether it’s employees, business partners, vendors, or leaders of a company being acquired.
After you determine the audiences, you may need to gather different information to create content that resonates with each audience. Think about what questions an employee may have, for instance, and develop a line of questions to match.
This exercise will pay off. First, you will be able to tailor your writing to a particular audience, whether it’s addressing their pain points or giving them key information.
Effective writing is direct and tailored to the person you hope will be reading the piece. And when you can narrow your audiences, you will deliver information that is extremely compelling to that audience, which in turn will increase engagement.
Consider different communications channels
Certainly, social media is one communications channel that can be effective. But think about more than just social media to create a mix of channels to communicate with your key audiences.
Consider using an e-newsletter. A tightly written collection of content that directs readers to longer-form stories on the organization’s website can be incredibly effective. It’s worth investing time into compiling a distribution list of employees, clients, former clients, prospects, industry colleagues, and friends of the company.
Our tips for a quality e-newsletter include writing “news you can use” that’s helpful for the reader. If you are announcing a deal, for instance, tell readers the context and why it matters to them.
This approach works. A retail real estate company worked with us to create e-newsletters that had best-in-class engagement, just as one example. The tip-based newsletter shared advice on everything from finding quality tenants to effectively managing shopping centers from a distance.
Bring in professional editors
Professional editors can run writing workshops and show the concepts in action by working with internal writers and editors to up their game.
This coaching and training should include more than back-end editing or after-the-fact reviews of copy. It’s important that the outside coach work with the team to talk through story ideas, and to make sure interviewers are asking relevant questions. Then, the coach can participate in the editing process, with the confidence that your writers have gotten the goods for quality stories.