I didn’t get into writing to be a corporate hackette. I wanted to write for magazines – to edit and produce them. I wanted the freedom to be creative. To work with a like-minded team, cultivating leads, conducting interviews, and researching and crafting stories designed to glue the readers’ fingers and eyeballs to the page.
Whether it was doing a piece on a product, an event, or an individual, magazines were (and still are, for me at least) the sexy face of the writing profession – the realm where we get to live out creative fantasies, battle looming deadlines and woo advertisers. This was always my ‘major league’ aspiration.
It’s a shame, therefore, that the medium has joined the walking dead, and I – like many a seasoned journo – ended up as a hired gun in the corporate game. Initially, the move was a means to an end. I never made a secret of that and thought the whole, seemingly one-dimensional thing, would eventually leave a sour taste. But, as it turns out, it has confirmed that I do like lemons – and making lemonade.
Thanks to the people with whom I work in the corporate game, I have discovered that the work required to satisfy a corporate client – while having little in common with the magazine world – can be a fulfilling linguistic and creative challenge. It is the art of crafting the invisible – not outwardly sexy in style, but instead rich with content, and smarts.
There is a reason journalism is going the way of the dinosaur. Like anyone standing at the bar, it doesn’t take a degree to at least have a crack at telling a story. But we’ve all heard bar story-tellers often enough to know who can do it and who can’t. (Perhaps editorial HR recruitment people haven’t spent enough time in bars.)
As newspaper and magazine standards drop and online takes over, readers are less bothered by quality of content and more concerned with dodging algorithm-driven banner ads. Quality journalism and story-telling have given way to click-bait and recycled internet material.
But corporate content is another kind of story. To be good, it must be original, attention-getting, and to the point – quickly and seamlessly. Readers have an ever-shrinking attention span, and the corporate audience comprises innumerable tastes that demand information which is easily digestible and satisfies their needs, not just the creative whims of the author.
Content in this sphere is brand defining and image creating. In each letter, character, phrase and sentence, your words must encapsulate all the personality which its logo and visual styling conveys. Inconsistency on this front, even slight, will leave readers with an uneasy feeling – whether or not they realise the cause. Consistency is king.
But corporate writing can be more than that. To my mind, writing for business is perhaps the most demanding yet creatively rewarding work. Correctly done, it can help move the emphasis and change perceptions much as the client seeks to do. Carefully constructed copy is the key, avoiding ambiguity, convoluted sentences, and imposing unnecessary demands on the reader.
Language is an attention grabber when deployed correctly. And you want that attention, for yourself and for your customers. Fail to grab the attention of your audience and our content is dead in the water. Whether it is advertising copy, a radio script, a speech, or an annual report – writers must zero-in on their audience and exploit the potential of whatever is being related.
Branding agencies and marketing people have their own objectives, but are readers really interested? The task of the corporate hack is to blend these objectives into content that WILL attract and retain readers’ attention – and leave them feeling it was time well spent.
According to the Allison media group, quality content must be readable “consistently and without bold fanfare”. I can agree up to a point, but we at TriMedia Middle East also believe that the quality and delivery of writing must be clear and obvious: that that our work is distinctively ours and distinctly effective.
If the client wants robotic and formulaic content produced to predetermined order, point them in the direction of the Ctrl C and V keys. You have been hired to breathe a touch of personality on your words, and you must use every opportunity to do so.
To service so many demands is truly a balancing act, but for me, the puzzle of corporate writing is why I still enjoy it – perhaps not as much as full-time magazine writing but it has its own compensations by way of professional satisfaction. Life is all about balance, and rising to the challenge. And producing effective corporate copy presents an endless variety of tests – that are all the more rewarding when you pass them.