Each week, we will strive to post content from a guest blogger with an expertise in an area of the field. This week, we are fortunate to have Rick Fox, the president and founder of Riverside Strategic Communications, LLC. He has two decades of experience in communications for some of the world’s leading brands, and he is an award-winning journalist and PR professional. His post is about the most crucial aspect of marketing nad PR: How do you get your audiences to believe you? Interested in being our next guest blogger? Contact us here.
It’s often said in marketing and PR that the truth isn’t written or spoken, it’s believed. So, how do you get your audiences to believe you?
The success of public relations, whether using the traditional press release or media pitch, or social media channels such as Facebook or Twitter, relies on effectively connecting with your audience. Whether your goal is to sell a product, get more clicks on your website, or inform consumers about the bad behaviors of a corporation, your success depends on your ability to get their attention and keep it long enough to make your point.
This requires strategic thinking, organization, research, and the ability to communicate. But does that require good writing?
It All Comes Down to Words
We live in a time of skepticism. The terms authentic and transparent are thrown around quite a bit. But in PR, transparency and authenticity really do matter. Your success in convincing others to buy what you’re selling depends on the words you type on your keyboard.
Overused superlatives no longer cut it. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Rather than claiming perfection, strong messaging requires plausibility. Your audiences, reporters and customers alike, prefer to hear pros and cons versus a self-congratulatory message claiming how good your product is.
Don’t get caught up in the buzzwords of the day. Avoid words such as guarantee, financial freedom, and best of breed. Use protection, financial security, and effective instead. Build your credibility by under-promising and over-delivering.
When someone asks you for a favor and you say “I can do that” it would reasonable for that person to assume you are going to do it, right? But in PR, the difference between can and will is real.
Take, for example, this response to questions about an employee accused of embezzling funds from a company. “We agree this is unacceptable and this employee will be fired.” You’ve stated that you are going to fire him. But what happens when your internal investigation reveals the funds were simply miscoded by another employee? Could you have instead told reporters that “We agree that the allegations are unacceptable and we can take actions as appropriate when we complete our investigation”
A well-written holding statement should focus on what is, not about what isn’t. For example, one of your buildings has burned and a reporter is asking you what happened.
An unprepared spokesperson may say something such as, “We don’t know the cause of the fire yet. We don’t know how much was damaged. We don’t know when we’ll be operational again.”
A prepared spokesperson will refer to his written statement that states, “All our people are safe. We have a well-rehearsed, fire-safety plan that we executed very well. We’re proud of the way our people acted during this emergency.”
What’s Your Story?
If you don’t tell it, someone else will. And when someone else tells it, they rarely do so the way you would want. I had a client who prepared a media statement to use following the release of an inspector’s report that confirmed a pest problem in his restaurant.
After drafting key messages, working through multiple rounds of edits and approvals, a member of his team responded to a reporter and felt good about the exchange. Then he read the first headline, in a highly-credible news outlet, that read as follows: ‘ABC Restaurant staff working to rid kitchen of roaches’. He couldn’t understand how they came to that conclusion. After all, there were no longer any cockroaches in the restaurant.
When he re-read the statement, he quickly realized that he mentioned all of the important things: they were sorry they let their customers down; they took immediate action and were addressing issues to ensure this would never happen again; they immediately saw dramatic improvements. But it’s what he left out that caused the problem. He never actually said the roaches were gone or the problem has been resolved.
Luckily, he had a good relationship with the reporter and was able to add five words to his statement that said, “the conditions present in our restaurant were unacceptable… and have since been addressed.” This simple addition resulted in a new, more favorable headline, while reversing the tone of the story.
Write to Your Audience
Remember, the truth is what people believe. Your communications – tweets, videos, blog posts – all need to be believable before they can be effective. Believable stories require strategic thinking to understand what’s meaningful to your audience, and solid writing deliver a story that hits the mark.
Every word should have a purpose – helping convey exactly what you are trying to communicate. Each message should be proven with facts. Each fact should support your overriding objective. And your objective should be clear.
Evan as the channels we use to communicate continue to evolve, the fundamental ability to write clarity, brevity and relevancy is more important today than ever. Strong writing will separate your pitch from the rest, just as is will separate you from your competition when looking for a job. If you can write, you can tell more effective stories, and if you’re planning a career in PR, telling stories is the business we’re in.