OF COURSE you could have written that. Everyone in business is expert at stringing words together on screen and paper, or so they think, if only they could find the time. They know they can’t design the cover for the company’s sales brochure, update the logo, or build a new website. These are mystical, creative vocations best left to experts. But: writing? Anybody can do that.
Writing is the most undervalued of all communications skills. It is the one to which least attention is paid – yet it is the most important.
Believe it or not, professional writers have been trained. Yes, they have latent talent. In the case of yours truly, an English graduate, the preparation was in the hard-knocks arena of Fleet Street and then as a copywriter in exacting advertising agencies. The process in the latter role would be to take a brief, research the subject and its objectives, come up with a string of headlines, narrow them down and then write the body copy. The agency demand was for compression, precision, clarity, simplicity, rhythm and appropriate corporate style – grammatically potent, although not necessarily purist.
This is starkly different from the writing that emerges from general business. “I’d write it myself, but I’m far too busy,” and “Surely we have someone in-house who can write this, instead of paying for it?” are familiar-sounding remarks. Undoubtedly, business managers spend chunks of their working days assembling words in the form of memos, reports and letters. Secretly, they are likely to be proud of their prose and would be starkly horrified at any suggestion that their output might be written badly. Nonetheless, to the professional eye, it is usually poor in terms of the assemblage of ideas and worse still in clarity of expression.
Facets of writing professionally include being able to absorb – and to question – a brief, to define the most appropriate communications strategy, to create the concept, then to execute it in a tone which is compelling, precise, economical and true to the client’s corporate culture.
Always, the writer must transpose into the position of his or her readers, and to seem to be speaking their language. Effective writing concentrates on those who buy the product or service, not those who make or sell it.
This applies whether the writer is working on a total communications package or a single item. Most certainly, it is not a task for part-timers, nor for those whose heads are filled with a plethora of other concerns. It is not a job for the great untrained.
You will not get through to an audience that is bored or restless. Corporate communications programmes will never work at full power, nor deliver value for money, unless they are implemented by craftspeople who understand your corporate objectives and can help achieve them for you through the use of energetic, clear and digestible language. Communications are not only about pretty pictures.