Seven Issues That Can ...


Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, writing is back in vogue.

Yet, fresh challenges stand between today’s business writing and grabbing the reader by the scruff of the neck.

As we scrutinize our own writing and the associated internal training, we view seven issues that guide us:

1. Education of stakeholders: This has nothing to do with the actual writing part, but everything to do with the end product. It’s still very — no make that very very, tough — to help the stakeholders with sign-off power recognize that the “me, me, me and now here’s a little more about me” era has ended. I’ve been conducting our storytelling workshops for several years, and the No. 1 thing participants come back to me with is, “Yes I believe in storytelling. I’ve made the shift in my writing. But how the hell do I get the big bosses to sign off?” I wrote a post with this in mind, “Who Moved My Story?”

2. Online is a different game: There’s no getting around the fact that the Internet has changed how people consume information online. We need to develop online copy with pace (i.e., shorter sentences, conscious choice of verbs, subheads that break up copy, etc.).

3. And mobile is a different game than online: Attention spans gets even shorter. Visual storytelling must come into play. I know PR people don’t come with MFAs, but we absolutely need to get the visual storytelling religion for mobile. With this in mind, we increasingly turn to illustration where anything is possible.

Montage of Illustrations LARGE 11-15

4. Break out of the industry lexicon: Every industry has its own lexicon. EVERYONE — including the content developers/copywriters — gets conditioned by his/her industry lexicon. So everyone is using the same words to describe the same things, which makes everyone sound the same. Take any industry and look at the “About” section (corporate website) for the top three players in that industry. You’ll see what I’m talking about. Homogeneous copy.

5. Lack of an entertainment dimension: It’s a little like the line from Mary Poppins, “A spoonful of sugar helps the content go down.” Even in technical areas like semiconductors, you can’t just spew the facts and expect people to keep reading. There’s an expectation of being “entertained,” not in the classic sense of a Hollywood movie, but with content that makes the read enjoyable. Every agency with a pulse espouses storytelling, but it’s not about storytelling. The reality is for business communications, the opportunity to articulate a story with a beginning, an end and something going terribly wrong in between that needs to be fixed seems few and far between. Instead, it’s about storytelling techniques, my favorite speaking pulpit and one I shared with PR Week earlier this year.PRWeek - Lou Article 11-156. Headline writing: This relates to the entertainment quotient. But you can’t take this too far or you’re left with click bait, which might work for BuzzFeed, but doesn’t put a company in a good light. The content needs to deliver on the headline promise.

7. Show, don’t tell: Parroting my high school English teacher, this can be a tough one for those writing for companies, and again it relates to storytelling techniques. I love using the opening narration for “500 Days of Summer” as an example in our storytelling workshops. The narrator doesn’t say/tell that Tom Hansen is a hopeless romantic and Summer Finn is a tough chick. Instead the viewer reaches that conclusion on his/her own.

This topic sits high on our radar since so much of our work has shifted to content development. I’m guessing around 30 percent of our revenue now comes from content development, and more than half of the content development revenue can be traced to owned media.

Words matter now more than ever.

But many variables go into persuasive writing.

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