So, what do you do again?

As a corporate writer (and as a hobby, one of fiction) I often get asked exactly what it is I do. It doesn’t seem to matter if the person is a colleague, friend or even family member, if you say you’re a copywriter/communications advisor/corporate writer often times you’ll be met with a blank stare and polite smile.

But to be honest, what we ‘comms professionals’ do is pretty straightforward (though oftentimes, not all that easy). We engage with people. That’s it in a nutshell.

An author seeks to engage her reader, the copywriter or communications professional, his audience. The concept might be simple, but the execution is not. When writing a piece of communication, no matter how well written, or edited, one of the biggest hurdles a writer first faces is getting anyone to read it at all.

That’s where a communications professional comes in. There’s a lot to consider before a single word is written. Here are five things a comms person really does:

Identifies your ‘audience’ AKA works out who the message is for

You’ve probably already given this some thought, but your comms person will make sure we identify not only who the message is for, but work out how best to speak to them. What messages are relevant to them? Where are they likely to look for information? How long do they typically spend reading content? The list goes on…

Once we’ve worked out who we’re speaking to we can then work out what channel/medium to use.

Picks the best channel and medium to engage your audience

I’ll speak in general terms here as an example, but different audiences consume content in different ways. Which means the medium  you use, for example video, written content, imagery, and the channel you choose to distribute your content could mean the difference between finding your audience and not being heard by them at all.

A millennial may be more inclined to keep across your company’s Twitter page than a baby boomer. A baby boomer might be happy to have your blog arrive in their inbox each week, and you may find your video content resonates across each generation. It can be tricky to work out where your audience is seeking their content and where they’re happy to receive it through trial and error. A comms person, luckily will already have a good idea of where to start.

Crafts your copy so it resonates with that audience

You know who your people are, you know where they’re looking for content and now you know what kind of content they like. Great! Now it’s time to speak their language.

So often, I’ve seen stiff, corporate copy handed over for use on a blog, social media or media release, and to be blunt, no one will read it. People enjoy reading content that sounds like it was written, well by a person.

Can you imagine if I started this post with an introduction that read, “…the role of the corporate communications professional is to write and disseminate organisational communications to both internal and external audience groups via various channels.”

It wouldn’t be an incorrect statement, in fact, it might read similarly to many job descriptions you’ve seen… but it’s boring. And it doesn’t really get to the heart of the question anyway.

Communication professionals know how to word something so that it has the best chance of being read, understood and even enjoyed by your audience. All of which are more important than your copy sounding ‘smart’, ‘important’, or ‘professional’.

They’re really good at asking questions

This may be more important than you think. Oftentimes I’ve seen a piece of work go right along the chain without a vital question being asked until it gets to comms.

I once worked for a company that was in the thick of an enterprise bargaining agreement with staff. Negotiations had been going on for a long time and people were starting to get tired of it. In the middle of this another department were looking to launch an internal collaboration tool which worked similarly to Facebook. It would allow staff to chat freely across the organisation, sharing ideas and connecting.

It wasn’t until a comms person who was working on the comms for the enterprise agreement and knew of the launch of the collaboration tool asked, “…are we factoring in that people are more than likely going to talk about the bargaining agreement (all things good and bad) on this new tool?” That the team even thought about the implications of this.

It became a great opportunity to have the leadership team get on the front foot and actually drive the conversation around the new agreement when the tool launched, but without the question being asked beforehand it could’ve meant any anger or frustration people were likely feeling could’ve ended up as unmonitored posts doing the rounds internally, with no one prepared with answers or direction.

And finally, yes they write and edit well

Of course, your comms person should also be able to put a few words together nicely, free of spelling and grammatical errors, but that should go without saying ;).

I hope this helps to answer the question of what your friendly neighbourhood comms person can do for you.

Five ways to wrangle writer’s block

Almost all writer’s have been faced with the dreaded empty page syndrome that is writer’s block at some point in their careers, and out of necessity most have ways to combat it. Here are some tips I use when when the blinking cursor threatens to overwhelm me.

Don’t start at the beginning

Who says you have to start at the start? If you’re not sure how to get the ball rolling on a particular piece of writing but you have an idea on some of the material you’d like to include, or even how you plan on concluding the piece (hint: it should sum up the point/s you’re trying to make), then don’t feel bound by starting at the beginning.

Write the end first, or start in the middle. By the time you’ve found your rhythm and you’ve started on the bulk of the piece, you’ll find it much easier to craft an introduction.

Use a template

Sometimes opening a blank Word document is enough to induce writer’s block for me, which is why I don’t shy away from using different templates I’ve come up with over the years to help get things started.

Depending on the piece you plan to write, have a look through past content you’ve written or even do a quick Google search for standard templates for blog posts, media releases, newsletters or the like to get you started.

The topics you write about will of course differ, but you’ll be surprised how often a template with the structure you need to follow will help. With media releases for example, I have a few saved that help me to plan out a story which follows the opening of a new business, an award given to a business or person, and some for charity events.

The subject matter differs but the structure remains the same.

Talk to a subject matter expert

I’m often not a subject matter expert on the topics I’m asked to write about (with copywriting being one exception). So if I’ve only had time to partially research the topic or I’m scanning a few hurried notes it can be difficult to start and craft a piece of writing.

I find the best way to overcome this problem is to interview a subject matter expert. Not only are they a wealth of knowledge but chatting to someone who knows the ins and outs of the topic you’re writing about can inspire you to go in different directions with the piece and of course give you some great quotes.

Don’t re-invent the wheel

If you’re struggling to come up with a topic, you don’t always have to start from scratch. With a blog post for example, take a look back at some of the more popular posts on your site. Which resonated the most with readers? Why not tackle the topic from a different angle?

For example, if you had already written about five ways to tackle writer’s block, why not draft a post about writing prompts and ways to get started?

Don’t try to edit and write at the same time

You may have heard this one before, but writing and editing actually uses the two different sides of your brain, making it extremely difficult to do both simultaneously. So don’t!

Write your piece, just get started. Write anything (yes, literally anything), and see what flows. Even if your idea is a bit half-baked, write it out and then hit save. Come back later to edit with fresh eyes.

Walk away from the pen or keyboard (bonus tip)

I know I said I had five tips I often use, but as I made a cuppa halfway through this post I remembered another tried and true tip!

Sometimes you need to get away from the desk and not think about writing. I can’t tell how many times I’ve looked at a piece of writing and not known how to start it, finish it, or make it better… that is until I’ve gone and made myself a cup of tea and completely cleared the thought from my mind.

Once you’ve gone and done something completely different, it’s amazing how many times the answer is there waiting for you when you get back.

These are just a few tips to help you get started, but at the end of the day, just start writing! What are some of the tips you’ve used to overcome writer’s block?