Tag Archives: tips

Five tips for improving your writing: 2

TIP 2: Always use the simplest, clearest and most direct word available.

Your goal with business writing is to convey your meaning as directly as possible, so always use the simplest, clearest and most direct word available. Your words should be a transparent glass through which we view your ideas, not an overly elaborate painting that distracts us.

Two words that always jar with me are ‘myriad’ and ‘utilise’. Neither word adds anything to ‘many’ or ‘use’, so why not go for the simpler, shorter version?

I’m not suggesting that you should avoid all words longer than two syllables, and peppering your copy with the odd, more florid, word can add colour, but use them sparingly and they will have greater impact.

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Five tips for improving your writing: 1

Good business writing is clear, direct and simple. It says what needs to be said in as straightforward a way as possible.


1)     No one has time to decipher your message; you need to make it immediately accessible for your reader

2)     Clear writing is a symptom of clear thinking. You’ll find that simplifying your writing will help you to clarify your thinking.

Many people think it’s easy to write simply. In fact it is much more difficult to write simply than it is to produce over-blown, jargon-filled text. Getting it right is not easy, and that’s why I run training courses specifically for PR professionals to help them produce this kind of good business writing. Over the next five days I’ll be posting a tip a day from this section of the courses. I hope you find them useful.

TIP ONE: use short sentences

Short, punchy sentences are easier to read – they also have more impact. Longer sentences, with convoluted phrases and clauses tend to appear like argument; shorter sentences tend to appear like fact. People are more likely to read and believe your copy if you use short, simple sentences.

Consider this example:

“As Manchester United and Arsenal, the two most successful clubs of the past twenty years have proven, success in footballing terms comes from continuity of management, and so Everton, if they want to achieve long term success, should be looking to support their manager, David Moyes, rather than firing him straightaway.”
Now compare it to this version:

“Successful football clubs have continuity in their management. Look at the two most successful clubs of the past twenty years: Manchester United and Arsenal. David Moyes may currently be struggling, but, rather than fire him straightaway, the Everton board should be supporting him. That is the way to ensure long term success.”
Which is easier to follow? Which is more convincing?

So, while you should vary the length of your sentences, you should favour short sentences.

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Are your media spokespeople doing this? Question 5

Are they following up after an interview with an email to the journalist?

If they are then well done them – they’re doing better than almost anyone I’ve ever interviewed. The handful or so who have done this over the years are the ones who I’ve gone on to form good, long-term relationships with. I’ve had a good source of information and opinion, and they’ve got a lot of good coverage.

So, why does it happen so infrequently? I’m just suggesting something like: “Good talking to you just now. Hope you found what I had to say interesting (by the way, I’d welcome any feedback you have on how I came across..) – I look forward to seeing the finished article and to working with you on similar pieces in the future.”

How long would it take to fire that over to a journalist after an interview? What impact could it have on the coverage they got in that piece and the future relationship they built?

The thing is that it just doesn’t occur to most spokespeople, and usually that’s because they’ve not had media training, or the media training they have had hasn’t covered this. Why don’t you help them get more out of the interviews they do – why don’t you book them in for some media training?


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Are your media spokespeople doing this? Question 4

Do they signpost key messages?

This is something that very, very few people do successfully. Even fairly accomplished spokespeople – the people who are clear on their marketing messages, who cleverly find a way of weaving those into answers that are genuinely useful to the journalist, and who approach media interviews calmly and capably – even they very often find that their key messages don’t make it through into the finished article.

It can be incredibly frustrating for them.

Signposting is a great way of making sure the interviewer understands your key messages, notes them down, and then uses them in his or her copy. It’s a difficult technique to master – do it too obviously and it can be counter-productive – but I’ve worked with spokespeople practising it in roleplays, and helping them to start using it to very good effect.

Listen in to the next media interview your spokespeople do – are they signposting their key messages as well as they could be?

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Are your media spokespeople doing this? Question 2

Are your media spokespeople answering questions directly, clearly and succintly?

They probably say they are. They probably even think they are. But very, very few people I interview do this well.

Some never quite address the question head on, even when it’s giving them a great chance to sell their company, product or services.

Some lose their message in a welter of empty jargon, management-speak, and general verbiage.

Others just talk. Sometimes even before I’ve asked a question they’ll launch into a speech and on they’ll go. They’ll talk and talk and talk and talk, ignoring my desperate attempts to enter the conversation, just a torrent of words flying out until I’ve lost the will to live, let alone write down whatever it is they’re waffling on about.

The thing is most people aren’t even aware that they’re falling into any of these traps. They think they’re doing a great job. So, help them out – listen in on the next interview they do, and see for yourself whether they are genuinely answering the questions directly, clearly and succintly.

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How to convince someone they need media training?

I’ve begun the year with a flurry of bookings for media training – I have eight sessions to run over January and February. This is great, because I love doing media training.

I enjoy putting forward my ideas on how to perform well in media interviews, and the roleplays are always fun, but what I think I enjoy the most about media training is spending four hours shifting the perceptions of Chief Executives, MDs and other senior people about how to deal with journalists, what they can get out of the media, and even about the need for training in the first place.

Almost without exception senior people begin these sessions with arms folded, eyebrows raised, and a high degree of scepticism in their voices. They’ve got plenty of other important work to be doing. They don’t need to spend half a day listening to a journalist tell them how to do an interview. They know what they’re talking about and if interviews go badly it’s because the journalist is either incompetent or malicious.

Four hours later they’re fully engaged, doing a roleplay and putting into practice what they’ve learnt into the session. Almost without exception they conclude the session by telling me they really didn’t want to do this training, but it’s been remarkably worthwhile and they want the rest of their senior team to do it.

Now, who wouldn’t enjoy that sort of feedback?!

I’m sure this is a scenario many of you will identify with. If you work in PR you’re probably very used to dealing with senior executives who at first don’t understand the media and are very sceptical and suspicious. You’ve probably also had that joyous moment when they do get it for the first time. But it probably doesn’t happen with everyone — many just won’t listen to your strategic advice, invest in media relations resource, or agree to any skills training.

So, I’m going to give you a tool to help break down those tricky mediaphobes. For each of the next five days, beginning tomorrow, I’m going to post something to look out for in how they approach media interviews.

If you’ve got a senior executive who you suspect could get better coverage from the interview opportunities you provide for him or her, check to see if they’re doing each of these things.

If they’re not doing all of them then they’re not performing as well as they could be and they would benefit from media training. You will also have concrete evidence to put to them to persuade them that this is something they need. You can explain to them that media training will improve how they do X and here was an example of where they would have had a better outcome from an interview if they’d done X.

I hope this is helpful. To get these tips delivered to your e-mail inbox over the next five days you can subscribe to this blog very easily by popping your e-mail address where prompted in the column to the right.

Let me know how you get on….

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