I Have a Dream…

Martin Luther King Jr

It could be the greatest speech of all time.

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech – truly a perfect oration if there ever was one – delivered on the National Mall as part of the “March for Jobs and Freedom” Rally in 1963.

This was a turbulent time in America. And this was a dangerous speech to have delivered. King does it not only with style, but with a linguistic grace that few have ever been able to replicate.

When I listen to King’s words, I am in awe – not just for what he says – but in the knowledge that he sat down and wrote this out, crafting messages and phrases that would resonate long after his untimely assassination and continue to inspire people whose parents had yet to be born.

I talk a lot about great writing on this blog, and how important it is to be able to coalesce ideas into language that moves people to action and fundamentally changes the way people see an issue.

It’s too easy to just watch the 15 second clip of the end of this speech that every news program is going to play tonight. Watch the whole thing through.


Be The Ball

Be The Ball

Every red-blooded American man’s favorite comedic movie (or darn near close) must be Caddyshack.

Among all the classic scenes is the one where Ty Webb instructs a young Danny Noonan to concentrate and just “be the ball” in an effort to help him become a better golfer.

The results were more comedic than impressive, but the lesson is a good one, no matter how far Danny’s chip shot landed from the pin. (“Right in the lumber yard.”)

And it came to mind as I crashed a project this week: a speech for a client that needed a top-to-bottom rewrite in just hours.

I was able to pull it off, to the client’s great delight, because I allowed myself to “be the ball.” I knew this person, cold: his logic, his voice and his factual information, to the point where I felt as though I was writing for myself. I put myself in the room, at the podium, speaking to the group of people he will address. I turned off all external inputs – save for spellcheck – and just wrote what needed to be said.

He was so happy he even allowed me to take a second pass at it this morning, and the results are.. well.. we’ll see tonight when he’s at the mic reading the words I wrote for him. But I think it’s gonna be just fine.

What are your best ways to write?

Back At It


I’ve taken a couple weeks off from posting.. things have been quite busy.

I have had so much going on at work that I had not one moment to think about creative writing, much less put something down on paper (or computer!), even though it was on my mind.

And although not posting anything new here is a bit of a failure on my part, it also points out an important lesson about priorities and workload.

I could have easily not completed a work project in order to take time to write something. I could have put this blog – a hobby of mine – ahead of something that affects my clients and my company. I could have sat and mused about writing something fun or insightful, worked the copy until I got it just right, found an interesting image and loaded in links for entertainment, posted it, sat back and felt like I had accomplished something.

But that would have meant putting off things that needed greater attention, that were frankly more important.

It illustrates to me the larger lesson of prioritizing and delaying pleasure in order to achieve a goal.

So much of life is about knowing when and how to prioritize, and when to set aside things that don’t matter.

Pardon me, now.. it’s dinner time with my family and I am turning this thing off. (see.. priorities!)

You’re Not As Good As You Think You Are

Great Writing 2

I love to write.

I have loved it since I was a kid. I remember creative writing exercises in fifth grade, letting me stretch my imagination and my vocabulary at the same time. I remember straining (happily) to tell a story through mere words on a page. To keep the details together and make it make sense. To define a beginning, a middle and an end. To have a hero and a villain. To have a happy ending.

As PR people, we get paid to be great writers. More pointedly, we get hired to be story-tellers. We translate the gobbeldy-gook brought to us in various forms, and weave it (don’t say “spin!”) into a narrative that is factually accurate and creatively mesmerizing. Our job is to make people care.

And it all starts with great writing.

We can’t write enough. We can’t practice that story-telling craft enough. We can’t ever stop getting better at doing that thing that makes our audience sit up and say, “Wow. Tell me more.”

What’s your favorite part about writing?

Write! Write! Write! Friday ShareDay


There’s something in the air, people. Can you feel it?

March 1 is off to a glorious start here in New York City – the sunshine and not-so-chilly-anymore breeze makes me imagine Spring like a rookie baseball player in the on-deck circle: chomping at the bit to step into the batter’s box and take a cut at the first fastball that comes his way.

Yes, I am very excited that warmer weather – even if it’s not officially “here” – is very much right around the corner. And that means the First of May can’t be far behind. (Thank you Jonathan Coulton!)

And since it’s Friday ShareDay, it’s time to revel in the glory that is someone else’s well formulated content. (cue drum roll)

So here’s a post on the most formidable skill you can build, no matter what you do for a living: your ability to write well. Thanks Dave Kerpen for penning a post I wish I had written myself.

Happy Weekend!

Getting Their Attention

Getting Their Attention

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Whether you’re doing business or trying to score a date, we all run into times when we need to get someone’s attention. And unless you’re devastatingly attractive or insanely rich or famous, the best way to get someone’s attention – usually – is to be a great storyteller.

I’ve written more than once about the necessity of being a great writer in our business, especially for the purposes of conveying clear and concise messages to the media.

Before you can be that great storyteller, you need to know what great anglers refer to as “setting the hook.”

In other words, what do you say right out of the gate that makes someone go, “Yeah, tell me more?”

1. Relationships and reputation – Before someone reads your snappy subject line in your pitch letter or release, they see your name, either on the printed page or in their email inbox on their screen. Are you a known commodity? Do you have a reputation for sending good info or are you a spammer? Are you reliable and trustworthy? These are all things that will come into play in deciding what to do with your pitch, before they even click “open.”

2. Accuracy and brevity – The people to whom you are sending your opus are busy. They’re getting dozens of these pitches every day. Whatever you write needs to stand out, and being brief and accurate are absolute necessities. They also help you weed out the unnecessary details that will get in the way of a person making a positive decision on how to act on your pitch.

3. Ask directly and provoke action – Make a clear petition for a person to do something that you want. Give them a reason to act quickly (the word “exclusive” often has a narcotic quality with savvy and reporters). Give them an easy way to come back to you and request more info. And respond when they ask.

4. Promise and deliver – Tell people what you’re going to do for them when they respond and follow up immediately. The more time you let lag between these two, the greater your chance of failure grows.

5. Titillate and Anticipate – Making someone curious is your goal. But provoking that killer comeback is useless if you don’t have a good followup. Since we’re all human with the same basic needs, we’re pretty predictable. And you can typically guess what someone is going to ask for next in life. So do your homework and be ready.

What are your secrets for getting someone’s attention?

[Disclaimer: This post was prematurely emailed before it was finished. For those loyal enough to have subscribed, you may have received an earlier draft of this, and I apologize. So much for “scheduling posts.” Thanks for your understanding.)

Voices in My Head Friday ShareDay

Exhausted Smiley

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I woke this morning knowing I had failed.

It’s been a great couple weeks on the work front – major successes that I am quite proud of.

But this space has suffered as a result. So the voices in my head were screaming at me to get something new posted here.

I’ve jotted innumerable notes over the last two weeks, and will take some time this weekend (hopefully) to organize them into something coherent.

So for now, we will mark Friday ShareDay (where we share something cool from someone else and give them a proper shout out), with this serendipitous piece from Seth Godin.

Happy Weekend!

Spreading the Good Word

Rather Be Writing

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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?

Language is Everything

Lets Eat Grandma

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I love those memes running around the Internet about grammar and how its misuse can accomplish all kinds of mischief, from sending the wrong signals to “killing grandma.”

Joking aside, our language (either spoken and written) can reveal critical clues about the people with whom we are working and give us insight into their priorities. This is especially true when you encounter those folks who make you scratch your head and ask whether you are both talking about the same topic, or clients or co-workers to whom you have to answer.

So the next time you read or hear something from them that sounds a little off, see if one of these issues is the culprit:

1. Texture and tone. More than what someone is saying, listen to how they say it. Are they seemingly irritable or paranoid about a certain topic? Try to figure out why and propose an answer to their problems. Better yet, try to lead them to it and let them answer the question themselves.

2. Hitting the wrong “sy-LAH-ble.” Do they emphasize details of something that perhaps don’t seem critically important? Are they fixated on that issue? Then ask yourself, “why?” and try to provide a solution.

3. Upside down syndrome. Do they see the reverse angle of an issue? Do they say you’re going to a meeting with a person who didn’t call the meeting, but will be a strong presence in the room? Perhaps they’re worried about that person. Help them get comfortable with the idea by collecting and presenting all the knowledge you can before the perceived confrontation goes down.

4. Lack of clarity – or too much. Do they use meaningful or meaningless language in communications? Catch phrases or jargon? Do they get right to the point when talking about something or do they over-wordsmith emails and memos? Try to help them see that clear and concise is better – even if that means taking a stab at doing more of the work yourself and handing them a finished product.

Peeling back the layers of a person’s priorities and thinking process can sometimes be as easy as listening and paying attention to their words. Sometimes you just run up against crazy – but most time it’s just fear and self doubt. Help them get through it and you’ll be helping yourself in the process.

How’s Your Tweetability?

Great Writing, Twitter

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In this crazy mixed-up world of social media, we’re constantly looking for new ways to reach our core audience, find new customers and create new evangelists.

At the center of this quest is my one, favorite constant: great writing.

As PR people, we get paid to be the best writer on the team. Clients look to the writer to crystallize the story and tell it effectively. We have to engage the audience, create a hero with whom to identify, create action and convey the importance of what the audience is reading.

Bust that down to 140 characters, and you’ve got quite a job on your hands.

So what do you do? Whether on twitter or any other social media platform, I adhere to some basic guidelines:

1. Tweet the headline. You don’t have to get the whole story in; that’s what the link is for. You do need to put enough information in to intrigue the reader. What’s the one thing you want your audience to know? Write that, and save the rest for later.

2. Use keywords. Whether preceded by a hashtag (#), ampersand (@) or just on its own, any word can be searched in twitter. So use words that people are looking for, and make your messages not only more interesting, but better search fodder. You’ll be identified and categorized by the words you use most (like the word cloud at right) so choose wisely.

3. Be entertaining. Why do you remember song lyrics written from before you were born but can’t remember what you had for lunch? That’s because there’s an entertainment factor to the recall, and it’s fun. (A million repetitions of a song doesn’t hurt, either) Same rules when you use social media: make your messages fun and they will attract more eyeballs and more clicks.

4. Always link. With rare exception, my tweets always connect the reader to additional information. Telling your whole story on a webpage is easier and more complete. And by directing people to interesting content, you expand and grow your credibility and become someone people come to for your stated expertise.

5. Involve others. Whether retweeting or proactively calling out other users’ handles in your tweets, get people who you admire and play with online in on your act. It instantly engages their network, and expands your circle of influence. Works in the opposite direction too, so everyone wins.

There are plenty other ways to effectively use twitter. What are some of your ways? Would love to hear.