Let’s Take the “Corporate” out of Communications Writing

Today I attended an awesome Ragan Communications workshop on advanced writing and editing for corporate communicators with Mark Ragan (@MarkRaganCEO) and Jim Ylisela (@jpyjr). The day was jam-packed with advice, interaction, examples and materials. Here a just a few takeaways from a must-attend event for anyone that is writing comms materials.

(1) People don’t necessarily care about our stuff. There is so much competition and audiences are suffering from information overload. Your target’s attention span is shorter than ever, which is why your writing must distinguish itself from the “rest”.

(2) It’s time to get past all the corporate “boilerplate” stuff. You can tell when a piece has been written by committee. There are often too many approvers and too much meddling and negotiation. “We’re fighting all the wrong battles – the only battle we should be fighting is the battle for readership.”

(3) Out with the boring, in with the authentic. Your writing should be conversational, user-focused, visual and stripped of corporate speak. Inject personality into your writing to make something that is unreadable, readable.

(4) Our job has extended far beyond what it was. With organizations taking on a publishing role, we have a chance to really have an influence. Corporate communicators are brand journalists, advisors and teachers. On the other hand, “we have to stand up and make some noise” and go up against “the way we’ve always done it.”

(5) Simplicity and clarity is key. We need to be more human in our writing and stop listening to internal clients with misguided agendas. Good writing is the way you talk with your family and friends. Your writing should be stripped of jargon and corporate speak.

(6) Write awesome headlines, leads and quotes. These should entice and pull in your readers. They should answer the question: “what’s in it for me?”. Headlines should be specific and sexy. There is no reason why they can’t look like the ones we see on newstands.

(7) If you don’t ask questions, you won’t get info. Sometimes we have trouble writing because we just don’t have good enough materials. So much of what we are writing comes from the top. We need to find out what it actually means to those that are coming to work everyday and inject life into what we are writing.

(8) Be a reporter in your organization. First, ask key questions: What’s the urgency? Is it worth our audience’s time? Who are the key players? What are the big issues? How do I get plugged in? Follow the paper trail and get info on the history and context to produce a richer story.

(9) Show me, don’t tell me. Use examples and people in your stories. Take something abstract and show readers what it actually looks like. Find a human in your organization that we can care about and root for.

(10) Packaging matters. Think about the best way to convey your material. Photos, infographics, videos, quotes and different formats can add value to your writing and make it more interesting. Make sure to look at all the different ways you can use to get people’s attention.

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