Highlight your wins with quality writing in recognizable formats
Quebecers may remember that award-winning campaign by the Montreal Gazette. It’s always been a favourite of mine, and I think of it these days as we’re in the midst of a crisis — a communications crisis where big ideas are held hostage by bad writing.
I said what I said. The internet is making our writing much, much worse.
In the arena of PR and strategic communications, one could even go so far as to say that words can be a matter of life and death — I felt that pressure myself in the early days of the pandemic, writing sensitive medical communications for some of our clients.
Even in crisis, writing is all too often treated as an afterthought. As a former current affairs radio producer, I can tell you this is a catastrophic oversight. I was booking a minimum of 15 interviews a week but simply finding someone to fill the slot was never enough; they had to be compelling, a person of substance who makes ideas exciting and communicates them with passion. If you penned a powerful newspaper op-ed or brilliant, information-rich blog post in the days leading up to the interview, chances are I’d reply to a PR email with a proposed day and time for your in-studio interview.
Thought Leadership is not some kind of secret tradecraft; anyone can do it, so long as you understand the media landscape and are able to prioritize your writing. And if writing isn’t your forte, then consider leaving the trench work to those of us who specialize in the art of high-level audience engagement.
Here, we pull back the curtain to reveal five formats that go beyond the traditional press release, inspired by classic journalism. Together they form the foundations of powerful PR and content plans.
Person: Third | Word Count: 500-1,000 words | Tone: Formal or business casual
A profile or biography text can be so much more than a laundry list of academic and professional credentials. How you present yourself as a leader conveys values, stability and vision.
While the information is as unique as each individual, all profiles try to answer similar key questions, like: Who are you? What makes you best-suited to lead this organization? Why should stakeholders and the public have faith in your abilities? What change in your industry do you hope to affect?
In answering these questions, know that the purpose of this exercise, unlike most other blogs on your website, is not primarily meant to inform about the product or service so much as it is to help define a leadership vision. If a stakeholder really wants to evaluate your CV, they can go to your LinkedIn page; your profile is about telling your story in a manner that is compelling, concise and relatable.
We also use several writing techniques to make these pieces both easily-read and its information organized in such a way for busy journalists and media producers to evaluate efficiently.
Person: Third, sometimes First | Word Count: 750-1,500 words | Tone: Business casual or casual
A good weekend longread can transport you to another time and place. Our in-depth features are more suited to weekday reading and usually do not exceed 1,000 words but still our goal is to bring readers inside the operation with compelling detail, telling a story surrounding a brand pillar.
The first step is identifying your core issues or pillars. The second step is having the confidence to hand over creative control to writers like us that can transform your raw materials into spun gold.
If we’re not around and you have no marketers or writers on the team, you can tap your executives or key employees to provide well-balanced and multifaceted input into the organizational philosophy. Asking for help to tell your story is essential since the exercise requires some distance from the core of the operation, as well as a lot of creative bandwidth when leaders already have little to spare.
Your thesis statement — e.g. “public-private partnerships in healthcare better serve everyone” — must be backed up by sources that substantiate your claims and help demonstrate your honest commitment to Thought Leadership, ideally over the long term. This commitment is what separates artful PR from shot-in-the-dark PR, which often can be a mere compilation of statements with little to no cohesion or call to action.
Similarly, I have written and received hundreds of press releases in my 25+ year career; if you want to stand out, give people a reason to remember you. The best way to do that is with thought-provoking ideas communicated on at least a semi-regular basis with authority and precision.
Analysis and Commentary
Person: First, sometimes Third | Word Count: 500-750 words | Tone: Business casual or policy argument
In the age of social media and self-publishing platforms, anyone can be a pundit.
Be it in the form of a blog post or podcast, putting your spin on current affairs is a great way to connect the dots between your mission and what’s happening in people’s lives. Politics, healthcare, sustainability, youth employment; issues like these are evolving rapidly, as is the dialogue that surrounds them. By making meaningful, regular commitments to joining the conversation, adding substance and fresh perspectives, ideas will take root.
When opining, remember to not fall into an echo chamber, validating your ideas only with like-minded peers. But while you should always welcome a diversity of opinions, especially in the internet age, it’s important to maintain a fair amount of control over your narrative.
For me, completing this exercise in particular is a very gratifying moment in a client relationship. When I help someone find their voice, be it in a piece of commentary, media interview coaching session or on a podcast, I feel like I’ve done my job; that I’ve given this person the means and methods to be heard, seen and taken seriously using the power of their own ideas.
Person: Third, sometimes First | Word Count: 25-100 words | Tone: Formal or business casual
In an age of shrinking newsrooms, securing earned media is both increasingly rare and challenging. The days of casting a wide PR net and hoping for the best are over — if you’re going to commit to an outreach campaign, then I suggest you make it count.
This begins with a curated media contact database of reporters, writers, producers, hosts and assignment editors who would conceivably be open to what you’re pitching. And what are you pitching? It should be most relevant to the overlapping group representing your audience and the pitched outlet’s core audience. These are the most successful media appearances; the ones that hit all the right notes for both audiences.
These successful appearances that speak to your brand’s core values and mission should be highlighted in the form of a blog or microblog, and on a regular basis. Earned media hits in traditional outlets like newspapers, radio and cable news networks bring an unparalleled level of credibility: they are prestigious and well-read within the corridors of power, and so-called “legacy” outlets still hold exponentially more value for search engine optimization (SEO) versus other websites, like your blog page.
But landing the perfect interview does not end the PR process. Wins must be highlighted online, tracked in a database for all to see, and presented as part of a broader narrative. Each win is then used to further the next, ideally increasing visibility and prestige with every earned appearance.
Person: Third, sometimes First | Word Count: 20-300 characters | Tone: Business casual or casual
Contrary to popular belief, social media is not where good writing goes to die. Or at least, it shouldn’t.
True, the churn and burn of producing social media content can seem like an exercise in futility — Who is actually reading this? Am I driving traffic or simply feeding a black hole? — but always be mindful of that old adage: quality over quantity.
Social media writing, due to hard and soft restrictions on text length, will rarely be as convincing or compelling, especially for high-level decision-making, compared with a text of a few hundred words featuring expert insight in some detail.
Because social media is a necessary “evil” of sorts, don’t be afraid to cut back on your posting: For Facebook, no more than once a day; Instagram, every other day unless you have an earth-shattering announcement to share; LinkedIn, more or less the same; Twitter, more or less the same although the character limit makes increased frequency more common on that platform.
While this may seem like less work, it is actually a different set of tasks for your marketing team. When “less is more” is your mantra, then what you do post has to hit the mark. You need to make the most of these opportunities, spend more time developing higher-level content, and not saturate your audience with meaningless jargon only meant to fill a void or to stay on an arbitrary posting schedule (these hard editorial calendars have essentially been obsolete for at least five years following important social media algorithm changes — social media marketers must be aware of this).
Crisp, clean and active writing is essential to growing all of your social platforms, as is a call-to-action or place to go for more information on occasion — like a thought leadership feature or even a whitepaper on your website. Most people want quick messages on social media but your most ardent supporters want to delve deeper; give them nerd-level access to your operations as much as possible without giving away all your secrets.
When all of these tools are working together towards a single message, only then do you begin to understand the power of interconnected PR and its interplay with emerging forms of web content.
The media format will change but your philosophy, adapted to different platforms, should remain laser-focused on your mission. Write it down, and be accountable to yourself.
Christopher Paré is a Senior Consultant with TNKR Media.