July 2013

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-latin-writing-image20423572I was fortunate; not only was I a voracious reader growing up with a natural ability with words, I also worked with some incredibly gifted writers and editors at Maclean’s. Working with some of the best in the country (I would say the world) makes you up your game. There is a much higher bar when the talent level of your colleagues is through the roof.

At AHA, we work with clients to write, review, revise and edit a wide range of documents. At some point, each project we work on involves the craft of writing – speeches, e-newsletters, web content, messaging and positioning, presentations, communications plans, video scripts, news releases, media pitches, media kits, briefing documents… the list goes on and on. And then there is the process of editing. Which is a very important piece of the puzzle. A solid edit can make a good piece great.

We are always interested in improving our craft. We take courses, participate in workshops and webinars, and read articles and books that give us tips and techniques to improve our writing skills. It is a never-ending quest for improvement.

Active voice vs. passive voice is something we look for in every document. While passive voice isn’t necessarily wrong, active voice is always right. Passive voice can be vague and it is an inefficient use of words. Active voice communicates a different energy and is more effective – it just works better. Grammar Girl has an informative blog post on it here. There is also a piece on Ragan.com that talks about cutting the fat from your writing which highlights the same approach. They are definitely worth reading.

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I have been a fan of Newark Mayor Cory Booker since a story broke last winter about Mayor Booker hearing about a dog left out in a snowstorm on a very cold night. He went to the house and took the dog. You can read more about that story and several others, where Mayor Booker went what can easily be considered above and beyond the call of duty here.

Mayor Booker is a hands-on kind of guy. He gets out and does what it takes to show his constituents that their issues matter to him. And his communications team does a good job of making sure we see and hear, through traditional media, about the things he does. However, the mayor is active (and quite funny) on Twitter, he is on Instagram and he has a Facebook account where he posts regularly.

He is currently running for the U.S. Senate and he is doing an excellent job of not crossing over and campaigning. He uses his mayor “shares” on social media for that job, and he uses his campaign social media accounts for the upcoming August Senate election.

Cory Booker is authentic and genuine. He connects with his constituents, rather than talk at them. He updates regularly. He responds – especially on Twitter, which seems to be his platform of choice. And he is human about it all. He also takes on the tough questions and the people who are clearly not fans of his. He doesn’t shy away from them. I think that earns him respect, even from those who will never vote for him.

There are very few politicians that I have seen who do such a good job of connecting with people, using social media. Cory Booker uses social media as an important tool, and it works because he sees it as a tool. He is who he is – he doesn’t pretend to be anyone else – and he is an active communicator using many avenues, including social media. He doesn’t hide behind his accounts. He uses them to showcase the work he is doing, to raise issues and concerns, to start dialogue, and to bring his citizens together when tragedy or a crisis strikes.

I realize that I am not the only one who thinks Cory Booker is an example of good social media use – PR News Online has a short piece on What PR pros can learn from Cory Booker.

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http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-feather-ink-bottle-image19427719Here at AHA, we do a lot of writing. And I do mean a lot. Speeches, newsletters, articles, briefing notes, annual reports, op-ed pieces, video scripts, news releases… the list goes on and on.

If you write, that means you need an editor and a proofreader. Both of these are of great value and are two very different roles. And don’t let me forget, you also need a fact checker. I am fortunate in that I spent much of my early professional life learning how to write and about the value of the roles of editors, proofreaders (we called them copy editors) and fact checkers at a national news magazine.

We act very much like a magazine does when it comes to creating written communication. It’s a process and we take the time to do it right. And because we do it right, we have achieved great success on behalf of our clients. Our speeches have received standing ovations, the articles we submit to media get picked up on a regular basis, news releases generate media attention… you get the picture. It’s not because we are these incredibly talented writers who write one draft and then magic happens. We work at our craft. And it is work. It takes time, effort and focus – on both the information you want to communicate out and on how you tell a story.

I came across a great piece on Ragan.com that offers some tips and insight for writing, editing, proofing and fact checking. For anyone who communicates as a part of their job or in their personal life, this is worth a read.

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http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-antique-typewriter-2-image7470898At our PR agency, we have been doing quite a bit of work with clients on the development of compelling content for their blogs, websites, e-newsletters and social media networking outreach. Developing content that informs, engages and creates a conversation between an organization and its stakeholders is crucial, especially in the connected world that we all live in.

Creating great content should be a priority for every organization; but quite often when I speak at conferences, present to groups or even speak with potential clients, what I hear is that content creation is frequently left to interns, junior staffers or others who don’t understand its importance. These people don’t have any content production experience (written, video, photos or images) or know how to link the content back to the organizational objectives. And, if things go sideways and there is a backlash to the content, they don’t know how to effectively respond.

When we work with clients, we make sure that we understand the organizational objectives, we work with the client to develop an editorial schedule that includes key points that need to be reflected in the content, and we set up a process not unlike the ones that are used in newsrooms and editorial offices throughout North America. It is important to take content creation seriously.

I can’t tell you how often I have had someone ask me why no one is reading their blog post or e-newsletter, or why they get people yawning (or worse) during their speeches or presentations. When I ask them what their content creation process is, they look at me blankly and say – “I sit at my computer and write down what I want to say.” While that’s a good start, there is so much more to it than that. What are your objectives with this piece? How do they relate back to the project or organizational goals? What does your audience or community want to hear? How are you going to grab their attention – through an image or a shocking, surprising or clever headline? How will you tell a story, rather than push out information? How will you engage the reader, viewer or listener’s heart, as well as their mind? How will you create a connection with that person who is on the other side of the computer screen or sitting in the audience at a conference? If your content is on your website or blog, how will the people who are interested in what you have to say find you? Do you have search engine optimized keywords threaded throughout your headlines and copy – and is it done in a way that doesn’t take away from the integrity of the content?

Great content takes time and effort to produce and it is well worth it.

Do you have a process for creating compelling, engaging content?

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