At the Bradford Dalton Group, we write a lot. Press releases, articles written in collaboration with or on behalf of clients, promotional copy, social media posts — you name it, we can probably write it.
I would never hold myself up as an authority on writing, since the process is different for everybody. However, over the years, I’ve developed a few habits for writing that have seemed to work for me. My background is in journalism — I majored in it at the University of Nebraska and started my career working at newspapers — and I’ve found the lessons that I learned during those years to be extremely helpful as I’ve made the transition to public relations and client work.
Writing for clients is fundamentally different from journalism, because in journalism the goal is to state the facts as clearly and objectively as possible, while in PR, the goal is to frame the facts in a way that makes the client look good. However, because journalists are often the audience I’m trying to reach, I make sure that promoting a client never gets in the way of being fundamentally truthful. As a whole, journalists have good B.S. detectors, so any effort to mislead them won’t bode well if you hope to foster a long-term relationship.
Make the Interview Count
Whenever I’m asked to work on a press release or a longer article, I view the initial client interview as the most important part, because it not only gives me the necessary facts, it gives me a glimpse at how the person speaks and what they think is important.
As I’m taking notes during an interview, I try to quote interview subjects as accurately as possible, especially any interesting turns of phrase that can be incorporated into a piece. Some interviewees are very concise and well spoken, and provide compelling thoughts that can be used almost verbatim. Others are a bit more rambling, but their points can become clear through editing.
I prepare for an interview by researching the topic as best as I can, using the internet and any other materials available. Then, I write more questions for my interview subject than I’ll have time to ask. Doing this gives me the flexibility to steer a conversation one way or the other based on what seems to be most interesting in the moment.
If I don’t understand a term or concept, I think it’s much better to be upfront with the interview subject, rather than pretending to be knowledgeable. I’d much rather have them explain something to me twice during an interview than to try to piece together the facts on my own later on.
Take Time to Research
Before I start writing, I often take some additional time to read about the subject so I can write about it confidently and knowledgeably. The necessary amount of time varies for me — at some point, I just realize that I’m ready to start writing. When I sit down to start typing, I rely on my instinct about what are the most interesting aspects of a conversation. I operate under the assumption that if I find something interesting, hopefully other people will too.
If I’m writing a piece that will be appearing in a trade journal, I know that it’s more acceptable to use industry jargon and terms that will be familiar to those readers. If I’m writing for a general audience, some industry-specific concepts may need to be explained, or avoided altogether in some cases. I’m also careful to not use terms that I don’t understand, and I try to not use big words when simple ones will do.
Be Receptive to Editing
When I’m done writing, I give it a close read and look for spots to tighten. One great way to do that is to go back and read a piece aloud, which I try to do at a low enough volume that my coworkers don’t start worrying about my sanity. If you hear me in my office muttering to myself, that’s probably what I’m doing. Probably.
Everything we write at the Bradford Dalton Group goes through at least one editor before being presented to the client, and it’s a big reason why our overall level of writing quality is so high. We all have blind spots as writers, and it’s crucial to have another person’s perspective to help identify what aspects of our work can be improved upon. Being receptive to feedback guarantees that the final result will be better than it would be otherwise.
By taking care throughout the writing and editing process, you’ll end up with a piece of writing that you can feel proud of. And even better, a piece of writing that makes your client happy.