EEC Perspectives

Writing in the Office: Six Tips for Utility Communicators

sunny-guy-compressor

Credit: iStock

“How did you write that so fast?” a client asked after I rewrote something for him. Easy, I emailed back: no meetings! I inserted a smiley face emoticon to show how I felt about that. Hopefully I wasn’t rubbing it in.

pokemon-go-compressor

Credit: iStock

Well, not having meetings certainly was part of it, but there were no interruptions either. No one dropped by for a quick chat. I wasn’t compulsively checking email or social media. I wasn’t listening to music. I had finished breakfast, and lunch was still two hours off. There was no popcorn aroma emanating from the break room to distract me.

I was fully caffeinated, so a coffee run was unnecessary. The phone wasn’t ringing. Our dog Callie didn’t need to be walked. There was no need to text anyone. I was not trying to capture any Pokémon.

arms-compressor

Credit: iStock

In other words, there were no distractions. Actually, to be more precise, I did not allow myself to be distracted. I even turned my mobile device upside down, so I wouldn’t be distracted by its blinking blue light signaling a new message had arrived. I closed out my email so I wouldn’t be tempted to sneak a peek.

That got me thinking: Why is it so hard to write in the office? One reason is that writing doesn’t come easily to everyone, just like calculus doesn’t come easily to everyone. But another reason is there’s no solid time in the course of a work day. Utility communicators and marketers — managerial and non-managerial — spend a good bit of their working days in meetings, leaving less time for thinking, reflecting or drafting copy. Unfortunately, thinking, reflecting and drafting are essential precursors to good writing.

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Look Inward, Utility Communicators, to Prevent Your Next PR Crisis

Credit: Time magazine

Credit: Time magazine

Aaron Sorkin is an acquired taste. I get that. But whether you like your Hollywood honchos to be red-meat Republicans, like Clint Eastwood, or dyed in the (blue) wool Democrats like Sorkin, you can’t help but admire Sorkin’s rare talent. “A Few Good Men,” starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, was his first paying gig as a screenwriter. He followed that by writing “The American President,” a movie starring Michael Douglas, and “The West Wing,” a TV drama starring Martin Sheen.

More recently, he was the wordsmith behind the movies “The Social Network,” “Moneyball” and “Steve Jobs.” Sorkin has his quirks, and he doesn’t always hit home runs, but when he swings for the fences — and connects — the ball can leave the park in a hurry.

Credit: http://tomandlorenzo.com/

Credit: http://tomandlorenzo.com/

I’m riffing on Sorkin because I recently binge-watched “The Newsroom,” a TV drama that was one of his towering, no-doubt moonshots. Throughout the series’ three-year run, there was a lot of food for thought for those in the media or communications business. Jane Fonda played the chief executive of a media company which owned a cable TV network around which the series was built. Her character had a particularly telling bit of crisis-communications wisdom in the series’ final episode. After listening to another TV executive complain about how his image is taking a beating in the press, she retorted, “You’ve got a PR problem because you have a real problem.” In other words, before you blame the media for your PR problem, consider the possibility that you have an actual problem.

In some ways it’s sad that we need a writer as talented as Aaron Sorkin to remind us there is a difference between reality and perception, substance and spin. In today’s optics-obsessed culture, when images can be manipulated and facts often seem negotiable, it was worth being reminded — albeit in a fictional TV drama — that PR problems more often than not stem from real problems. Bad acts create PR problems.

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In the Court of Public Opinion, Utilities Lose by Playing Defense

 

law and order logo

Courtesy: NBC

Different people celebrate the 4th of July in different ways. Beyond the fireworks, baseball and ritual grilling of meat, I like to celebrate our nation’s independence by binge-watching my favorite TV show, “Law & Order,” the long-running police procedural drama.

 

Courtesy: NBC

Courtesy: NBC

The original show ran for 20 years and had several spin-offs. Regrettably, the original and most of its spinoffs have ended. My father was a police officer, so that could account for some of the series’ appeal. For me, Lenny Briscoe, the sardonic New York homicide detective played by Jerry Orbach, made the show worth watching. His wisecracks at crime scenes closed out the first block of every show for a dozen years.

 

Credit: iStock

Credit: iStock

But given my work in utility communications and marketing, I think the show’s frequent reference to the “court of public opinion” is what really resonates with me now. Whether invoked by the police, prosecution or the defense, nary an episode of “Law & Order” went by without some character asking how something would play among the public. Most of the concern about public perceptions took place well before social media grew into the dominant force it is today. Winning in the court of public opinion involved one distinct set of challenges; winning in a court of law a very different set. Very different sets of rules governed each, and, of course, disparate outcomes awaited the loser in each court.

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