Communicating

Not looking too good

Robert and Simon ZarywaczWhen you send a press release to the media, do you send a good quality photo with it?

By good quality, I mean a portrait shot taken by a professional photographer who understands lighting or, at the least, a clear photo taken on a camera at a high resolution.

In my role as a business writer for a newspaper, I still receive poor quality photos, some taken on mobile phones with low resolution cameras. Sometimes even marketing and PR professionals send these, which astounds me. When this happens, I have to ask them to send a better quality photo.

A high resolution, well composed photo with interesting subject matter can be very powerful. It can persuade a journalist to include an article based on the press release simply because they want to include the image.

Another good practice is to send the photo as a separate JPEG file and not embed it in a Word document or PDF. Often this results in a call or email to send the original file.

As to the composition and lighting, I’ll leave that to the professional photographers, whose expertise and art I admire.

A good photo will make you look good and it’s easy to arrange with a bit of thought and planning.

Here’s one of the z2z brothers.

Overcome fear to tell your story

All businesses need to create a presence so that customers know that they are there. Whether this is through marketing and advertising or from word-of-mouth recommendations, awareness is essential for getting work.

I find that many people are still wary of trying out many of the marketing tools that are available to them. In my role as a business writer for a local newspaper, I often receive phone calls starting with a business owner saying gingerly “I don’t know if you’ll be interested in this . . . ” and then going on to tell a cracker of a story. Of course, the opposite of this is the business owner who sends in press releases regularly with ‘news’ that is only of interest to them. I believe many businesses have good stories to tell and need the confidence to tell them.

While an effective PR consultant can help, businesses without a budget can . . . and do . . . achieve media exposure through their own efforts. With thought and planning, a clear idea of what you want to achieve and a focus on what you will and what you won’t talk about, public relations can be a very cost effective tool.

This applies not only to PR but also to blogging, social media and more. Perhaps you see your competitors getting exposure and feel that you offer a better service than they do, but how will people find that out? Often a voice can tell us that “no one wants to hear about that”, but it’s probably that we’re afraid of standing up and telling our story, a bit like the fear of public speaking.

I’m often encouraging people to talk about their businesses because so many are fascinating and deserve wider exposure. With social media, colleagues and associates can help to share your stories and support you.

There really are many opportunities to tell your stories and people who want to hear them.

Robert Zarywacz is a copywriter and journalist who has written thousands of magazine and newspaper articles. He also researches and writes press releases, case studies and newsletters for clients as well as managing social media and PR campaigns at z2z.com. Robert is the business writer for the North Devon Journal, chairman of COMBEbusiness and courtesy consultant for the National Campaign for Courtesy. Follow @robertz on Twitter.

Write clearly to avoid the reality gap

Sometimes we can spend too much time worrying about the latest Google update, smartphone or OS version and forget that effective communication – for that’s what all these tools are there to support – often needs to be clear and simple.

This runs throughout our lives, as I found when I was booked into my local hospital for a medical procedure. I had a preparatory appointment with a nurse to brief me and took home a leaflet giving detailed instructions. I also had a preparation to start taking on the day before the procedure.

On that day, I found some of the information from the nurse, the leaflet and on the box containing the preparation conflicted. It was a Sunday so I used my common sense to work out the problem: a minor niggle that didn’t matter much.

I was getting concerned because the leaflet said the procedure would take 30-40 minutes to complete and, knowing that it was likely to be uncomfortable and that sedation would not knock me out completely, I braced myself for this mentally. I felt it was going to be tough. As it turned out, just before my turn the doctor mentioned that he was timing each procedure for a study and that the average time was 6-7 minutes: I breathed a sigh of relief.

I am glad to say the procedure was quick, painless and the results were fine. However, I had approached it in completely the wrong frame of mind as a result of the details in the leaflet.

Such gaps between perception and reality can be created by any written instructions. Whether we’re selling a flat-pack wardrobe, an electrical gadget or a holiday, it can be easy to plant the wrong impression in a customer’s mind. Once planted, that seed can grow into a dream or worry that bears no relation to the real product, service or experience.

For businesses selling products and services, this can create unrealistic expectations, impossible to deliver; for doctors it can cause unnecessary worry in patients.

Consistency and clarity are essential when writing instructions or descriptions. Not only do they prevent confusion and wrong impressions, they help to create happy customers . . . and patients.

Take good care of content

Way back in 1985, in the infancy of online media, I helped build a kind of web site. I say kind of web site because the internet as we know it had not yet been developed. A colleague and I at British Airways built what we called an electronic brochure in Prestel, the BT videotext system. Like Ceefax and Oracle but far more responsive, we created 7,000 screens, or pages, of information uploaded into this early system.

Much of my contribution was to summarise every air fare charged from the UK to 140 destinations and to describe the features and benefits of the classes of service, eg Economy, Business, First and Concorde. I also published the complete USA Flydrive holiday brochure online and each month changed the Concorde on-board menus. At that time 95% of UK travel agents used Prestel and I seem to recall we achieved some 500,000 page views a month.

Then I obtained another promotion and moved department. Unfortunately, Prestel was ageing even then and was being superseded by more sophisticated computerised travel reservations systems and, ultimately, by the internet.

I suppose one day those 7,000 pages of information were turned off and discarded. They were customised to fit the 40-character x 22-line screens with no photo facilities, primitive graphics and limited colour choices. Compared with the simplicity of technology like WordPress, it could be excruciating work to fit everything on to one screen with no scrolling.

This brings me, after meandering via 140 destinations it seems, to my point that content is invaluable. While learning to use social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ is important now, how long will we use continue to use these? What will we use in two or five years? How will we maintain our changing online presence, develop our brands, port our important content to new formats, evolve our messages and presentation, and keep it all fresh, compelling and useful?

I’ve often wondered what happened to those 7,000 pages when Prestel’s screens went blank. Did they just fade or float off into the ether?

Why start at the end when producing long documents?

What’s the best time to manage production of a long document? All too frequently, reverse engineering is required when questions that should have been asked before writing started are asked just before the document is due to go to print.

What style do we want? How can we manage content written by multiple authors? Do we need consistency in how industry terms are written? Does it make sense?

A style guide and an active editor can manage all this.

When all these questions are addressed at the beginning, they can guide contributors to write in the desired style and put in place a process to manage production and flag any problems before it’s too late. Brand names can be written correctly, capitals used consistently and the document can appear as a unified article that makes sense rather than many separate ones joined together in confusion.

Does it matter?

Yes, if you want to get the best value from all the resources invested. If employees are putting a lot of time into writing and if money is being spent on design, printing and distribution, I’d want to see the most effective document possible. Most importantly, I’d want a document that was useful to readers and gave them value.

Where this doesn’t happen, many things have to be corrected at the last minute. Rather than polishing the material, it has to be patched so that it is at best ‘satisfactory’.

You can find tips and advice on managing long documents at editorialresources.co.uk.

Make it easy for readers to find and understand messages

Running a business is a complex challenge. Whatever the size of organisation, many processes need to run smoothly, while a number of statutory bodies require tax, accounting, health and safety and many more regulations to be observed.

How do you get your people to know this and recognise the importance of compliance?

Many organisations create manuals and intranets outlining important procedures, but do people read them?

Making information accessible is important if employees are to use materials in the course of their work. People need to know they can find the information they need fast.

Easy-to-use indexes and navigation

Readers will find a manual more useful if it is structured so that they can find what they need fast in contents or index pages or flick through the main body and see what they want in a heading.

An easy-to-navigate intranet or web site will also be more useful if viewers can find what they’re looking for fast.

Clear explanations

Once a reader has found the information they want, they have to be able to understand it. People tend to consult reference material when they don’t understand something and need an explanation. To provide what they want, manuals and web sites need to provide clear explanations without using jargon and without waffle.

If people can’t find what they’re looking for once or twice, they probably won’t bother trying a third time. And if they can’t understand explanations when they do find the right section, they’ll think the material is a waste of their time.

More importantly, if staff cannot understand important processes or regulations, what impact will it have on your business? Could it reduce productivity or, worse, prevent the business from meeting legal requirements?

Useful resources improve business

If you are going to the expense of creating reference material for employees, you’ll get the best value if they find it easy to use and it helps them do their jobs. It’ll also help maintain productivity and ensure your business meets any legal obligations.

Use the phone to save hours of travel

Yesterday I could have arranged to travel to three face-to-face interviews for articles I am writing. The travel alone would have taken 3.5 hours. This morning I’ve just finished a 20-minute telephone interview that would have required a further 1.5-hour journey. Now when there are deadlines to meet, I just can’t spare that time.

I agree that face-to-face meetings can be valuable and enjoyable; I always enjoy guided tours of businesses I write about. Sometimes it is necessary to get a really thorough understanding through a visit, but this isn’t always the case. It’s like the TV news reporter standing outside 10 Downing Street on a dark, cold, rainy night relaying the news that nothing has happened back to the studio presenter who is probably more informed on the topic: they add nothing, but expend a lot of energy being there.

I’ve been conducting telephone interviews and doing research by email for many years. When working at British Airways, I used to compile a weekly report based on telexed information from cities around the world. Often it was all I had to go on.

Now I know that some people are wary of talking on the phone, even though nearly everyone working has a mobile these days. I was lucky enough to have excellent telephone training when I worked at British Airways, so I’ve always been comfortable talking to anyone remotely.

Sometimes when I suggest a telephone interview, people sound reticent. I like to give them some advance warning to get their thoughts together. When we come to do the interview, what is important is to make the subject feel comfortable, to ask questions that draw information out of them, to listen to their answers and build on these to ask further questions. Before they know it, they are talking away enthusiastically and telling an interesting story: just what I need for an article.

I can’t understand why some people don’t use the phone more but insist on travelling to meetings. I complete most of my work through remote collaboration. In fact, we never meet 90% of our clients, but still develop long-lasting relationships with them.

I am sure that many businesses and other organisations could improve efficiency and save time through better use of phone, internet and other communications technology, especially when transport costs are soaring.

Is there still a need for face-to-face meetings? Yes, and there always will be, but I think a lot more could be accomplished remotely.

What do you think?

Posted via email from z2zine

Make it easy

With businesses pumping out so much information in press releases, newsletters, blogs and tweets, how much of it is clear?

Clarity is important when readers have so much to read. If they can’t understand something, it needs to be very important for them to take the time to re-read it or contact you for clarification. Most likely they won’t bother and will move on to the next item, possibly from a competitor. If that is easy to read and understand, you’ll have lost out.

When you’re close to your business, you understand the complexities: how everything fits together. It won’t be so clear to someone who doesn’t know your business. Often, people give up if they find something confusing.

Sometimes it isn’t necessary for customers to know about complex issues which are important to the internal processes of your business. If that’s the case, don’t mention them or you’ll add unnecessary complexity.

Where you do have to mention complexity, such as different brands or subsidiaries dealing with different products or services, make sure that these are explained clearly. If not, customers won’t know who to contact about what and they could feel it is easier to go to a competitor.

Why am I writing this? Because I am trying to write about a company which appears to have a similar sister company offering a similar product and I have had to ask them to clarify the set-up. Not everyone would bother to ask.

Are they interested in what you’re interested in?

When you’ve got something you want to tell the rest of the world, it’s easy to rattle on enthusiastically about what you find interesting, usually something of great value to your business. But how do you know if a journalist or editor will find it interesting too?

Even large organisations and public relations agencies sometimes forget to ask this.

A call to a journalist, if they’re accessible, can confirm what, if anything, will interest them in your story, while familiarity with a publication can help you to tailor your press release, article or other news snippet to its specific readership.

If you’re managing your own PR, you can do this yourself. If you pay an agency, make sure that they are tailoring releases to targeted media.

It’s worth doing, as if you’re going to send out press releases, or pay someone else to write and send them out, you’ll get better value for money if your news has a chance of actually being published.

Posted via web from z2zine