Category Archives: Business

7 Reasons Why Good Business Writing Matters: No.7

1) Writing poorly is rude to your readers

2) Bad writing makes you look bad

3) Bad writing leads to misunderstanding

4) Writing well saves everyone’s time

5) Writing well can give full expression to your great ideas

6)   The process of improving your writing forces you to clarify your ideas

7)    Good writing makes you look good

Write well and you can get away with a multitude of other failings. If I’m totally honest I would say that throughout my life I’ve been able to get away with being lazy, incompetent and on more than one occasion quite frankly dissolute, simply because I can write well.

People are impressed by the ability to put words together in the right order. It happens with oratory (just ask Tony Blair) and it happens with the written word. It comes back to the point that business is all about personal relations and if you can express yourself eloquently people are more likely to read what you have written, to accept your opinions and ultimately to warm to you.

It certainly helps if you can back up your words with rigorous research, incisive analysis and genuine expertise – just as it’s usually best to remain sober when writing – but it’s not altogether necessary. The power of writing is such that it is enough, on its own, to make you look good.

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Interview of the month: Angela Knight on Reuters TV

Angela Knight has a tough job. As the Chief Executive of the British Bankers’ Association she is essentially apologist in chief for the group of people widely credited with the most severe economic crash in living memory.

As public sector spending cuts start to bite, small businesses continue to struggle to get credit, and the threat of stagflation looms ever more menacingly, Knight is probably hoping and praying for bankers to keep a low profile for a while – most of all stop paying themselves so much.

She will have been disappointed. Shortly after announcing that his bank paid just £113m in corporation tax in 2009, Barclays Chief Exec, Bob Diamond, revealed he’s paid himself a bonus of £6.5m.

He doesn’t really have to worry about the fall-out from all this. That’s what he’s got Angela Knight for. You can imagine the conversation, as Rich Ricci (the remarkably named boss of Barclays Capital) put his head round Diamond’s office door.

Ricci : “Bob! £6.5m, you old dog!”

Diamond: “I know! Great, isn’t it, Rich? And you? Think you’ll scrape by on your £44m?”

Ricci: “Oh I’ll manage somehow. This is the Age of Austerity after all – ho ho ho! Just one thing, Bob – how are we going to square it with the media? I mean, surely, there will be questions asked?”

Diamond: “Oh yeah. There always are. That’s what we’ve got good old Angela for. She’ll go on telly and trot out some bollocks about how we’re all going to move to Switzerland if the Government stops us paying ourselves what we like.”

Ricci: “Switzerland – hilarious! How do they keeping thinking of new ones? Anyway, so long as you’ve got it all in hand I’d best get on. This money doesn’t spend itself after all.”

Something like that anyway.

So, you’d expect Angela Knight to be a good media performer. And she is. She  used to be a Conservative MP after all. Take a look at her on Reuters TV.

Five things I think she does well:

1) Straight away she corrects the journalist’s assumption. In fact she doesn’t really contradict him that much, but the fact she’s done it, and done it in a friendly, jovial way, immediately puts her in a strong position in what could turn into a difficult interview.

2) She’s well presented, in smart, sombre colours. Her jewellery might be a bit fussy for TV, and her hair’s a little flyaway, but nothing that would distract too much or detract from her impressive appearance.

3) She deals with awkward questions (such as “Which of your members are going to leave?”) well. She can’t really answer this, but she doesn’t make it clear she’s not answering it. She looks as if she’s answering it, but actually talks about something altogether. Crucially, she makes what she does say fairly interesting and to the point of the interview.

4) She’s clearly very well briefed on exactly what she believes the banking industry has done to curb excessive pay.

5) She signposts her key messages. For example: “What we MUST do is achieve balance in how we view this issue…”

All in all I think it’s a very impressive performance and one that anyone planning to speak to journalists in front of the camera could learn from. And best of all, it means those good old bankers have one less thing to worry about, and can dedicate themselves full-time to spending their bonuses.

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Pitch of the month: Officebroker.com

I’ve received  two pitches from officebroker.com this week, from two separate PR agencies – the company is clearly putting some serious investment into its PR work. But is it getting good value for its money? I’ve taken a look at one of those pitches and offer here four things I like about it and four ideas for improving it.

THE PITCH

“hi, would you like to do something on officebroker.com? Market leaders at finding workspace deals for businesses.

Company began 10 years ago founded by Jim Venables and Andy Haywood. Turnover is now £6m.

Story is how they’ve become the biggest in the serviced office sector by bringing in a sales led business model.

Previously the market for commercial property was dominated by chartered surveyor led consultants (much like King Sturge who are also our clients).

Jim is a former market stall trader and Andy used to import cars. They met while working together in a recruitment business.

They brought that commercial nouse to bear in growing their business. They have also benefitted during the recession as companies have looked to save costs and hunt for better deals on accommodation.

The guys have expaned aggressively. They have around 80 people in their HQ in Tamworth and have opened offices in USA and Australia.

Andy moved over the the US to help run the operation there. They chose Dallas, Texas as a base saying it’s Central time zone location has helped them get a foot in both the East and West coast markets.

They have around 20 staff in the US now and around half that number in Australia. So worldwide staff count is around 110.

Let me know if you think you could use them for a feature.

FOUR THINGS I LIKE ABOUT IT:

1) They get straight to the point. Far too many pitches start off with unnecessary waffle, asking how I am (even though I’ve never met the sender), going into minute detail about the company, or giving a supposedly interesting but unrelated intro. This pitch gets right into it, asking if I’d like to write something about officebroker.com, telling me very briefly who they are, and then summarising the story.

2) It’s well targeted. I write for the SME press, so this is very much my area.

3) It’s given me clear facts and figures. Rather than being coy about its size in the hope that  I’ll assume the company is bigger than it is, they’ve been direct and open, telling me its  turnover and how many staff it employs. This helps me build a picture of the company, and get a feel for where I could use the story.

4) They’ve used short sentences. This does a great deal to make a piece of writing readable.

FOUR WAYS IT COULD BE IMPROVED

1) I have a name. Why not use it? Presumably because this was a blanket e-mail to dozens or hundreds of journalists. Immediately that makes me less interested in the pitch.

2) Nouse is spelt nous. Benefitted should be benefited. Expaned should be expanded. That is three basic spelling errors in a fairly short piece of writing. Looking at the grammar, it’s should be its…….you get the picture. Journalists spot these things. It makes us assume that the writer is either stupid or unprofessional. Neither make us keen to pursue the pitch. More likely these were typos. They happen. I frequently make them, especially in e-mail conversations. But this wasn’t a conversation – it was a blanket e-mail sent to dozens, maybe hundreds, of journalists. Shouldn’t the sender have removed these typos?

3) There’s too much irrelevant detail. Having outlined the story, they go on to tell me about where one of the partners went to work, why they chose the location they did, and specific employee numbers for each branch. It feels a bit like they were trying to fill in space at the end, or they thought they’d chuck a  few more facts at me in the hope that one would stick.

4) They’ve not shown me why my readers should be interested in this story. They’ve given me a lot of facts and they’ve told me a story. They’re strong facts and it’s a compelling story, but for a journalist whose job is to inform or entertain readers that’s not enough. The very best pitches show the journalist exactly why his or her readers will be interested in this story. It’s a difficult thing to do, and that’s why very few succeed – however, it is what marks out the great pitches from the merely ok ones.

So, is officebroker.com getting value for money? I can’t tell you. I don’t know how much they’re spending for this PR service. And who knows – they might have got lucky and hit some journalists just at the point they were keen to run a story like this. Next week we might not be able to open a paper or a website for stories about officebroker.com. I hope that is the case – after all this was far  from a bad pitch. Believe me, I’ve seen much worse!

I can though say with some confidence that this pitch could have been improved. What do you think?

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Interview of the month: James Laxton on BBC Breakfast

It was the sort of media opportunity businesspeople dream about: a full one and a half minute piece on BBC Breakfast, combining both pre-recorded pieces and a live interview with the MD, repeated throughout the morning. Whoever James Laxton, MD of Laxton’s Specialist Yarns has got doing his PR, he ought to give them a bonus.

However, as we all know, getting the opportunity is only half the battle. You have to make sure you fully exploit it, and I’m not sure that Laxton entirely achieved this. Take a look at the clip here and see if you agree with me.

In some ways  Laxton had a tough job following on from his employee in this piece. That employee (unnamed by the BBC) might not have been the first person the marketing team thought of when they looked around the factory for a media spokesperson but he did brilliantly. He spoke with a broad smile, and he brimmed with enthusiasm for his traditional and highly-skilled work – there would have been few viewers who didn’t warm to him. He also did a great job of conveying the  company’s key selling point: it’s not competing on price with textiles manufacturers in Asia, but it offers a high quality product.

So, it was a challenge for the boss, but one that, had he risen to it, could have seen this turn into a major PR triumph. And he did ok. He certainly looked the part; he was calm, considered, and clearly proud of the work he  is doing taking his family business into the 21st  Century. However, I think he got a bit lost with his message.

He told viewers that they have responsibility to buy British, so that retailers will want to stock it. It was a somewhat confused argument – you can see him slightly losing his train of thought – and it wasn’t the right argument to make. Viewers don’t want to be told what they should do; they want to hear what’s in it for them. The point his colleague had made about quality was the right one to use, and I think that with a bit more preparation on his key messages Laxton would have had much more impact in this interview.

Those are my thoughts – what are yours? (NB. I’ve resisted all temptations to talk about woolly spokespeople, so you should too!)

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7 Reasons Why Good Business Writing Matters: No.6

1) Writing poorly is rude to your readers

2) Bad writing makes you look bad

3) Bad writing leads to misunderstanding

4) Writing well saves everyone’s time

5) Writing well can give full expression to your great ideas

6)   The process of improving your writing forces you to clarify your ideas

Good writing is not only a result of clear thinking; it is also a cause of it. The process of writing forces you to plan and structure your thoughts, to clarify exactly what you mean, and to make your case in a logical and persuasive way.

Very often when I’m writing an article or a report I will change my opinion on the subject during the writing. You might expect this would happen during the research – that I would read around the subject, speak to experts, and then form an opinion – but that’s not always the case. In fact very often I find that where I do form an opinion at that stage, once I start writing I find all sorts of holes in my argument.

Pushing half-baked opinions and viewpoints through the white heat of the writing process can cut out our lazy assumptions, it can make us rigorously question our beliefs, and it can drive us to nail down exactly what we want to write. The outcome is that when we do write it, we are much more confident and vastly more compelling.

Sometimes the result of this process is that I discover I don’t have anything worth writing. I find out that my view on the subject is either hackneyed or ill-informed. In those cases I stop writing on the subject. At least it’s me who finds that out, not my readers.

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7 Reasons Why Good Business Writing Matters: No.4

1) Writing poorly is rude to your readers

2) Bad writing makes you look bad

3)    Bad writing leads to misunderstanding

4)    Writing well saves everyone’s time

Badly written documents tend to be long, dense affairs that take hours to read and often do more to confuse than to clarify. Instructions remain unclear so either the reader goes ahead and probably does the wrong thing or they have to go back and seek clarification from the writer. Either way this adds in time to the project. Someone somewhere has to pay for that wasted time.

The brief is unclear so either the company wastes time producing a proposal that fails to meet the mark or they have to go back and seek clarification. Again, poor writing adds in unnecessary steps. It makes business less efficient.

Think of any type of written business communication and in every case writing well would save time and increase efficiency. Of course  it takes  time at the beginning to learn how to do it well, and then it requires that little extra effort planning, crafting and editing the  document to get it right first time, but it saves time in the long run.

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7 Reasons Why Good Business Writing Matters: No.3

1) Writing poorly is rude to your readers

2) Bad writing makes you look bad

3)    Bad writing leads to misunderstanding

Bad writing lies at the heart of so much misunderstanding in the business world. It could be you choose an ambiguous word, or even the wrong word, and then wonder why the person who works for you doesn’t do what you want them to.

It could be imprecise grammar that means a prospective customer misses the key point of your sales pitch. Or it could be an ill-considered structure that means your boss never gets to the end of your report and so fails to notice the good work you’ve done.

There are so many ways that bad writing can damage not only your business relationships, but also your business revenues. I firmly believe that good business writing is all about clarity of communication. It is about avoiding ambiguity.

The fundamental point is that good business writing is all about good business. Be clear, be accurate, be direct and you will reap the benefits.

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