Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Emotionally attached to your writing? Maybe PR isn't for you.

President Obama shares his hand-written edits
on a speech about health care reform
Photo by Pete Souza, courtesy of the White House via Flickr

In PR, we do a lot of writing – for a wide range of audiences, and many different objectives. We are skilled wordsmiths, who understand how to cast a message in a multitude of ways to make it persuasive to a multitude of audiences.

We’re experts, and our clients and employers reward us for that expertise.

Does that mean they always use our writing without making edits? Absolutely not.

Do their edits upset us or bruise our egos? Nope; or at least, they shouldn’t.

Don’t forget the client is the client

I once worked with a gifted writer who was tortured by the edits an internal client would make to his prose. He would work diligently to create beautiful pieces of writing that clearly and engagingly told a story and conveyed key messages, only to see them, as he perceived it, jargoned-up before they were sent off to press.

It seemed he’d be in a funk for days before he could shake it off: how could they? How could they take such excellent writing and strip it of its clarity?

Corporate writers should absolutely strive for perfection in their writing; they should absolutely be proud of their work. It’s their responsibility to debate ill-advised revisions with the client, in an effort to show why clearer, simpler writing is always the most effective choice.

But they also have to remember that their client – whether inside the organization or outside it – is the boss. The client decides what (s)he wants to say and how to say it. And, believe it or not, the client may actually know his/her own audiences even better than the writer does.

Young communicators sometimes worry that edits from a client mean they didn’t get it “right.” What’s important to remember is that some clients have pre-conceived ideas about how the final text should sound, and that the only way to get it perfectly “right” is to get inside the client’s head and write it from there. A text may be effective and lovely – but sometimes, if it isn’t written exactly as the client had envisioned it, (s)he’s going to change it. And oftentimes, (s)he should.

A boss I once had in the corporate world used to say “They pay me to give my advice, but no-one is paid to take it.” I think that’s a healthy way to look at professional writing, too: I’m paid to draft a text, but in the end, the client gets to decide what the final version will say. I’ll suggest revisions to the revisions if I’m welcome to, but always position them as “suggestions for your consideration.”

And if the client doesn’t use them? No worries. Hey, even Barack Obama’s speechwriters get edits from the boss.

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