When you book a painter, you don’t insist on adding your own strokes to their work. When you hire an accountant, you don’t recalculate depreciation in your own way, even if you excel at math. When you retain a lawyer, you don’t even expect to re-write sections of their work, even if you believe “everyone can write.”
Why then do many people feel compelled to make sweeping changes to the copy they approved an experienced business communicator or PR practitioner to write?
Here is what may be a well-kept secret: A skilled communicator delivers more than clear, concise and error-free writing. They tailor precise prose to resonate with their audience and achieve one step in a strategic series to meet specific objectives.
So when their copy is radically altered, consequences range from disjointed quality to a new meaning that undermines the reason for communicating in the first place. It’s like amputating a runner midway in the race.
If you’re a communicator, PR practitioner or similar, you know this firsthand but maybe we need to convey this message further. So here’s a partial list of the added value a communicator brings to writing. They…
- Sequence each point to tell a compelling and memorable story (ideally with their audience as a key character), versus a plethora of forgettable facts.
- Lead and end communications with positive messages or positioning, even if they must cover negative points within.
- Take a “devil’s advocate” approach to avoid any words our nuances that might confuse the reader or have a negative angle. For example, describing the “killer app” as such to a physician will not foster confidence. Similarly, it’s better to describe fertilizer as “granules” and save terms like “grains” for something edible.
- Aim for consistent terms, editorial conventions and metrics in all communications across the organization, target audience or strategy. Also avoid using the same word or phrase for multiple meanings in the same document/presentation.
- Weed out phrases and terms that may conflict with the organization’s decision-makers, protocol or culture, even those with a subliminal impact.
- Apply affirmative words to convey a positive point, such as “safe,” versus relying on “not” to flip the meaning, as in “not dangerous.” This avoids giving the reader a negative cue or running the risk of the text being quoted with the “not” inadvertently dropped.
- Write like the audience speaks but avoid acronym clutter and define the few used, while keeping word count down.
- Identify any factual challenges, definitive or other statements that could pose issues down the line.
- Take steps to persuade the audience to respond as intended. This means focusing on benefits to the audience. It can also mean framing a complaint by: objectively describing the issue, defining impact on the reader and tactfully proposing a mutually palatable solution.
- Write for the current purpose but proactively consider how the text might be reused and build-in short-cuts. This includes constructing a speech with tweetable soundbites to writing punchy headings that transition smoothly from a white paper to a presentation.
If you’re a communicator and nodding in agreement, here’s a “Communicator’s Manifesto” with these points simplified and directed at your client/boss. So feel free to append/edit, as desired and ‘copy and paste’ next time you submit fresh or edited text to someone oblivious to your value-add. And tell me any pivotal points missed from this list.
For the rest, please safeguard your investment in a skilled communicator by revising for accuracy but avoiding amputation.