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.

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Developing a Career as a Freelance Publicist

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When I graduated college with a degree in both fashion merchandising and communications the market was less than stellar. Despite having interned at multiple agencies around the area, great grades and a full portfolio, I didn’t have a job lined up after college. I interviewed but no one was hiring. Instead of giving up I decided to take matters into my own hands and began freelancing. First with a politician (2012 was a huge year for politics) and then with a fashion brand. A month into this I received my first full time agency job but continued to freelance on the side, after hours. Eventually through networking, hard work and lots of late nights I was able to take my freelance clients (I had a handful now after about a year) and start Piqued PR. Here’s how I started freelancing;

Rates & Services
Businesses often chose to work with freelancers over agencies and in-house positions because freelancers are either more budget friendly or require less of a long-term commitment. Keep this in mind as your developing your services and rates to attract clients.

Portfolio
Just like any other business, an important tool for a freelance publicist is a portfolio to show your past clients and work. In your portfolio be sure and include different clients to portray that you are well versed in the field and can understand the messages and markets in various realms.

Network
The best way to get your freelance business out there is to network both in person and through social media. Use platforms like Linkedin to connect with businesses and potential clients. Attend various events in your area and always have business cards in hand. Eventually the goal is to obtain future clients from existing or past clients through recommendations but networking should always be part of your weekly schedule.

Do you have experience as a freelance publicist? Please comment and share your top tips and advice.

Patricia Maristch is a graduate from Immaculata University and a young entrepreneur. She is the founder and principal of Piqued PR, a boutique lifestyle public relations agency, piquing the interest of press and consumers. Her years of retail experience, shopaholic tendencies and constant desire for all things luxe, provides a unique viewpoint to public relations and social media. She understands her clients’ audience because she IS their audience. While she works and plays on the Main Line her client list extends across the nation. In addition to Piqued PR, Patricia serves on the Wings for Success board, is the Main Line Fashion Week and Her Main Line founder as well as a frequent guest blogger for various publications.

The Power of Words: Getting Yours Published

Whether they are your own words or a client’s, getting a book published can be daunting and difficult. During the upcoming program “The Power of Words: Getting Yours Published,” some of the region’s top professionals will discuss the ins and outs of the industry. There is still time to register for the program and hear about the entire publishing process — securing a publisher and agent, writing a proposal and outline, marketing, sales, market research, and more!

Confirmed Panelists Include: Lisette Bralow (Managing Partner, VIN Partners, LLC), Gregg Feistman (Associate Professor, Public Relations, Temple University), Kevin Ferris (Author and Commentary Editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer), Dava Guerin (Communications Consultant, Writer, and Communications Director for the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress), and Lloyd Remick, Esq. (Entertainment, Sports and Media Attorney, Professor and President of Zane Management, Inc.).

Moderated by Meredith Avakian-Hardaway (Director of Communications and Marketing of the Philadelphia Bar Association).

Date: Wednesday, March 12

Time: 8:30AM (Registration & Breakfast) to 10:00AM

Location: Philadelphia Bar Association (1101 Market Street)

Share Your Story With A New Essay Contest

Was 2013 all you hoped it would be? Did you step outside your comfort zone to do things you once never thought possible? Have big plans for 2014? Bright, shiny, big goals you want to crush in the New Year?

If so, you need to enter Jessica Lawlor’s #GetGutsy essay contest! When Jessica (who serves as PPRA’s VP of Communications) relaunched her blog, she decided to focus on the idea of getting gutsy. For over a year, she has been blogging about her personal experiences and “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Check out her blog for details on the essay contest and get your entry in by January 5, 2014!