Writing… Sometimes It’s About What You Don’t Know

UntitledWrite what you know.

Simple, right? Makes total sense. Mark Twain couldn’t possibly be wrong. Wise words to live by for all aspiring writers. Well, not exactly. And especially not if you are a communications professional living in this century and working within a diverse or complex industry like biotechnology, pharmaceuticals or software development. So, what do you do when you’re charged with writing a blog about the future of AngularJS or a bylined article about the benefits of using GFETs in medical diagnostics? Unless you are a software engineer or biotech scientist, these topics may be more than just a bit of a challenge for you to wax poetic about at the drop of a dime.

Insightful, actionable content is at the core of all successful communications strategies. Whether it’s a bylined article, blog post, media pitch or press release, it needs to be interesting, factual, valuable, relevant and written in a way that will drive action by your intended audience. Basically, you need to know what the heck you’re talking about before you can even think about writing something that’s going to inspire others to want to learn more about your product, service, company or client.

Since most of us probably did not have a dual major in communications and biotechnology, the question still remains: How exactly do you write intelligently about a topic like the benefits of using GFETs in medical diagnostics when you aren’t a biotech scientist?

Well, you can start by talking to a biotech scientist.

The first step is realizing that you are NOT the expert here, and more importantly, no one is expecting you to be. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know the first thing about what a GFET is or what it does. You need to seek out the real experts who can help you tell that story. Look internally at your organization or externally at your client’s organization and find that expert who can provide the valuable insight needed to help get you started. And once you secure that interview opportunity, you should always make it a practice to record the conversation. If you’ve ever spoken to a scientist or a software engineer about one of their new products or discoveries, you know why I’m saying that. You’ll be too busy trying to wrap your head around the twenty-three acronyms and unfamiliar multisyllabic words that they just hurled at you within the first minute of your conversation to even begin to take coherent notes. It’s much more important for you to listen, be engaged and ask questions, especially if you are dealing with hard-to-understand information. So, put your notepad/laptop down and press the “record” button instead. You’ll be grateful for that later.

The next step – as obvious as it may sound – is research. But, the key here is quality research. Most likely, you are working against a tight deadline and you don’t have time to read an entire book or series of white papers on your specified topic. You also don’t have time to read endless blogs that may or may not be reliable or accurate. It’s not about culling a bunch of random information from the darkest recesses of cyberspace, throwing it together and then trying to pass it off as insightful content. Identify the real influencers in your space by doing the research and asking your in-house experts, clients, co-workers, industry friends… anyone who has experience within this particular industry who can recommend the best informational sites, published papers, case studies or other accredited sources from which you can pull vital stats for your piece.

After you have gathered all of your information and you sit down to write, remember to whom you are writing. Who is your target audience? What are you trying to convey to them and why? What should your tone be? What is it that you want them to do after reading this content? The target audience and intended action should always be top of mind before you start writing any type of marketing content.

Remember this simple formula on which we base all of our communications strategies at Slice: Targeted Audience + Compelling Content = Measurable Action

It works like a charm.

Once you have the first draft down, or if you get stuck in the middle, walk away. Go to a movie. Go for a drive. Have some ice cream. Don’t stress over writer’s block or labor over whether this paragraph should go before that paragraph. Step away from it completely for an hour or even a day, so that when you pick it back up again, you’re looking at it with fresh eyes and a clear mind.

And, finally, when you’re finished, share it with a friend or co-worker. Ask them what they think, and if it’s understandable to someone who doesn’t know anything about the topic… someone just like you the first time you heard the term GFET and panicked when you realized you needed to write an 800-word bylined article on it.

Of course, that was before you started this process and became an expert in your own right.

Jenni Glenn is head of PR for Slice Communications (www.SliceCommunications.com), a progressive public relations and social media agency that believes in the power of relevant, insightful and actionable content. She leads the agency’s PR team in developing strategic communications for a diverse array of clients in industries such as biotech, technology, e-commerce, architecture/design, consumer products, healthcare, finance/investment and nonprofit.  With more than 15 years communications experience, Glenn has also held senior-level communications positions at Sprout (NBCUniversal’s preschool television channel), QVC, Inc., Miss America Organization, CDNOW, Inc., and Milan Entertainment. A resolute animal welfare and rescue advocate, Glenn also participates in volunteer work for organizations specializing in the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of pitbulls who have been abused or abandoned.

Political vs. Branding Campaigns: What Politicians are Doing Right

polsmSocial media has invariably changed communication. So far, nothing has been off limits from social promotion, including Mountain Dew’s Dewrito, a Doritos-flavored soft drink (yes it exists).

The growing trend in the social media atmosphere has shifted into the realm of politics, as politicians increasingly campaign on Twitter. A recent study by PEW Research has shown that 1/4 of registered voters now get political news through their cell phones, 16% of registered voters also follow political figures on Twitter.

Politicians seem to be enjoying this, as it allows them to connect with their constituency and opposition in a unique way. Politicians are now able to use live monitoring via social media in order to understand and inform voters about their stances on issues. They also use software to monitor their opposition, taking screenshots of their pages as soon as changes are made and often catching the opposition off guard.

So what can be taken from these campaigns for your next campaign?

Proofread, Proofread, and Proofread!
Remember to check and double-check every Tweet before it’s sent out. If you’re running a campaign, odds are that no one will notice if you mess up a Tweet and delete it quick enough. Politicians don’t have this luxury, as competition is constantly monitoring campaign handles for updates. A screw-up is liable to land you on the front page of PolitWoops, a website that takes screenshots of all updates, and uploads the botched Tweets. Please folks, don’t be like Senator Hatch; proofread as if all of your Tweets are monitored, even when they aren’t.

SenHMake Connections
As we all know (or should know) social media is all about sharing content and making valuable connections with others. So why should it be any different for your campaign? Politicians know and understand this. They use it to their advantage by interacting with their constituency and sharing important updates. The PEW study showed that 41%, up from 22% in 2010, of those polled said that finding out about political news before others is a “major reason” why they follow political figures on social media.

To put it simply, most politicians are doing it right. Some 78% of Americans who follow political figures on social media say that the content posted by those figures is mostly interesting and relevant. The 16% of registered voters that follow a political figure are more likely to participate in campaigning and are 11% more likely to volunteer their time toward that figure than a non-follower.

Any PR pro will tell you that social media isn’t just about the number of followers you have, it’s about the valuable connections you make. A balance must be struck between pushing your wants and what your audience wants. As such, there can be a variety of ways to be more than just a walking-talking-tweeting ad. The key to creating a dedicated following, is finding what your niche audience wants and giving it to them.

Know your Limits
Remember that social media isn’t the king of all platforms yet. It’s still growing and professionals are still learning.  The story of social media is still being written and we are the authors of its’ early chapters. Social media campaigning is a great way to target select demographics, but not all. I think Gregg Peppin, spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, said it best in an article for the Minnesota Post, “You have to be able to differentiate from what’s feel good and what’s effective,” he said. “There are plenty of people who want to tell you that you will hit this demographic and that demographic if you are on social media,” he said. “It almost gets down to a subliminal hit rather than an overall effective message. It’s a rifle versus a shotgun.”

Though there are some drawbacks to social media campaigns. For instance, a politician must be able to differentiate effective messages to target their audience. Just as well, something buzz worthy is usually just short-lived attention toward the campaign. Keep these tips in mind the next time a campaign idea floats around the office.

Fred Lunt IV is a recent graduate of Temple University. Fred is also a Social Media Analyst and consultant at Mobile First Media, a healthcare public relations and marketing agency specializing in digital and mobile technology.


Tips for Conducting Effective PR Surveys


Survey data is a critical leveraging tool for all PR pros. A practitioner at a client meeting prepared with survey results from a well designed and executed study is no PR pro to mess with. Attention-grabbing and sometimes slightly out of the ordinary results could be the perfect approach for client and brand exposure. Sharing significant statistics without a doubt pique’s the public’s interest and even makes good use for an informative infographic. A recent PR Daily article titled, “9 tips for effective PR surveys,” gives practitioners fresh angles on how to carry out valuable, result driven surveys.

1. Keep the questions short. Always focus on the key objectives of the survey you are conducting. Keep both the questions and the length of the survey to a minimum. If it takes too long to take the survey you may bore participants who will decide to rush through it.

2. Use closed questions. If you are planning to report mean scores and percentages then avoid including open-ended questions within your survey.

3. Use credible stories. Make sure you construct your survey in a way that is relatable to your target audience and the key objectives you are researching. You can do this by including real-life examples and scenarios within the survey.

4. Don’t force answers. Creating a survey can sometimes be tricky. How a question is worded or limited answer choices can easily skew the results. Remember, you want your findings to back up valid points you are trying to convey. If results don’t match up or are easily skewed you could lose credibility in the eyes of both a client and the public.

5. Beware of sample size. For best results limit your sample size to 1,000 interviews when generating results from national or generally representative surveys.

6. Think internationally. Consider conducting a survey within various countries and regions. There are many websites online that are not as pricey as you may think. International surveys can provide eye-opening results as to how others perceive your brand. International data could provide resourceful results, leading you to creative ideas to kick-start a new campaign. 

7. Consider location and sample size Be cautious if you are planning to combine regional and national survey results, without including an adequate sample size.

8. Reconsider ranking questions Sometimes reporting the results of ranking questions can be difficult. The author of the article asks the reader if they are interested in the rank order overall or the percentage who mentioned specific items in the rank order. Also, be sure not to use rank order and rating questions interchangeably. Rating questions asks survey participants to compare different items using a rating scale.

9. Be realistic with business-to-business surveys Be practical when constructing business-to-business surveys. Consider which employees are most appropriate to reach out to in order to receive valid results. There are other decision makers aside from the CEO who may be more knowledgeable about specific topics and information.

In your opinion, what does an effective survey include? How do you analyze survey data to be sure the results aren’t skewed? Let us know in the comment section below.

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