Interns and AAs, if you find yourself cutting and pasting, …

Agency interns and AAs, this is for you.

Ask your favorite SAE if they used to do this.

Ask, “When you were starting out in your first PR job and writing a pitch or award submission, did you cut and paste descriptions of the client’s company and products, and lightly edit them?”

The answer will be yes. My purpose in this post today is to tell you NOT to do this.

I also want to reassure you. Everyone does this when they first start working at a PR agency. Truly, it does seem like a good idea at the time.

The emotions and psychology that accompany your actions probably go something like this:

  1. Everyone around me is smart and knows what they’re doing.
  2. I’m smart, but I’m new and in sponge mode. It’s my job to listen and learn.
  3. Someone smart and high-ranking carefully wrote this description and it’s written in a specific way that’s unlike anything I’ve written before. I don’t know how to write this way.
  4. I feel like I’m learning a new language. The vocabulary, structure and tone are strange to me, and I’m gradually learning it. I just need to respect the new culture I’m in and keep finding ways to fit in.

All of that is true.

But what you don’t know yet is that those descriptions are prepared by marketing departments largely for internal purposes. The writing is stiff, jargon-laden, self-centric and unlikely to help the company make friends.  These clients hire PR firms to translate these words into externally palatable form.

This doesn’t mean you are meant to rewrite them “creatively.” No, that won’t work, either.

Instead, think about the people who will receive your pitch or award submission. Google articles or look at coverage reports — yes, go find more to read than what your team gave you — to learn how the company or product fits into a larger market ecosystem.

By that I mean things like:

  1. What industrywide problems are people now focused on overcoming?
  2. Who are the competitors and what are the alternatives, and why do our client’s differences matter? What has or will change now that those differences are part of the larger industry story?
  3. Among prospective customers, what is the common practice now? What do they wish they could do? What else is happening that causes them trouble? How might their lives change if they did things the way your client is suggesting? What tangible or results-focused differences would come up in their lives?

Your job is to search for relevance in the external world, using your own thoughts and research to perceive the answers to questions like those above. This means:

  • Locating information beyond what the team gives you
  • Rethinking it from an audience perspective
  • Translating the client’s message within the audience’s context
  • All while keeping within the bounds of the client’s marketing and positioning guidance

The last one may not feel as clear as the rest. So, I’ll give an example: An online accounting software company  was turning spreadsheet-based work into interactive graphics that also suggest insights. The company liked being described as “beautiful,” which was odd and unlike any language being applied elsewhere in the accounting world. So, you’d keep the word beautiful when you could, include examples of what’s meant by that, and show results that differed as a result of the different approach.

There are clues, signs and guideposts in the marketing language, and you might at times use much of it verbatim. But know that you are meant to go get more information, too, and to tailor it for the audience.

When people around you say “critical thinking,” this is what they mean:

  1. Go find out more
  2. Rethink from audience point of view
  3. Translate to show relevance while staying within overall client preferences and guidelines
  4. Strive to show the client’s impact on the external world, not just its own self-perception

So, when you notice yourself:

  • Cutting
  • Pasting
  • Tweaking

Stop. Instead do the four steps above.

You’ll make mistakes in tone and judgement because it’s a live-and-learn kind of situation, but that’s OK. Every experienced person on your team has lived through this and probably would enjoy sharing stories of their own mistakes. They are funny afterward, if not at the time. Bounce your ideas off these people and ask questions more often than feels appropriate.

Ask questions more often than feels appropriate, not of clients but of your own teammates, especially of AEs. Their lived-it wisdom will be golden.

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