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A big part of what we do as a PR people is write, whether a simple quote for a news release, an op-ed for a major newspaper, a speech designed to make news or a simple piece of personal correspondence, you’ve likely written all – or at least one – of these, explicitly for someone else to take credit as their own.
It’s a core function of serving our clients: we help the people we work for say the things they need at critical moments, to move the needle, create impact or simply acknowledge someone’s kindness.
I have had some great writing mentors over the years, both in my days as a radio reporter and as a PR person. No one teaches themselves to write; they learn the craft from someone and apply their own polish.
And writing for someone else is a tricky art, with little room for missing the mark. Most times, you either create something for someone that they love, or it dies an anonymous death.
Here are some ways I approach writing for someone else:
1. Be a Student of History: When I first write for someone, I get my hands on everything that they’ve said or written themselves in the last six months, to understand their core messages and their tone of voice. It’s the research phase of the project, and cannot be skipped under any circumstances.
2. Know the Room: When writing a speech, you have to know who’s sitting there listening, whether to acknowledge or thank them, or to make sure they’re not going to sit there with their arms folded as they hate every word that comes out of your mouth. Similarly, you wouldn’t try to place a conservative op-ed in a liberal newspaper; the audience is all wrong. When you write, know who you’re speaking to and try to hit their sweet spots. Despite what popular culture may lead us to believe about public speaking, great speeches (and great opinion pieces) are about NOT taking risks, and rather knowing when to deliver what message to whom.
3. Live in the Real World: Unless you’re preaching some doctrine of insanity, there are probably lots of people who share your core ideals and opinions. Call out others who are playing on the same stage, to demonstrate the import of your idea and demonstrate that there are others who share your goals.
4. Let it sit: With rare exception, I take at least two days to write even the most basic communication, whether an op-ed, speech or correspondence letter. Things look and sound different with 8 hours of sleep sandwiched between them.
5. Multiply the Eyeballs: I always – ALWAYS – have a trusted friend or colleague read something I have written before I give it back to the person who asked me to write it. Their feedback can add perspective, keep you from making silly mistakes, and a human is far more reliable than spellcheck.
What’s your best advice for great writing?