The Blacklist

no-more-jargon-content-marketingIt’s kind of a love-hate thing. My feelings about The Blacklist, that is.

If you haven’t seen the NBC crime drama, the basic premise is a most-wanted criminal turns himself in to the FBI and offers to help them track down a “blacklist” of elusive criminals they have a mutual interest in eliminating.

What I love: James Spader. I’m a long-time fan and he’s done it again: Created an intriguing and unlikeable character who can’t be trusted – and who you can’t help rooting for.

What I hate: The over-the-top creepiness of the bad guys and gruesomeness of the crimes. (I’ve stopped watching the show near bedtime.)

I’ve got a similar love-hate thing with jargon. Business jargon, that is.

What I love: Jargon is like shorthand, perfect for those days when a project deadline looms and I’m feeling rushed or lazy.

What I hate: It’s as far from writing in an “authentic” voice as you can get.

If you’re not sure what I mean, here’s a good example from a Harvard Business Review post by Bryan A. Garner: “It’s mission-critical to be plain-spoken, whether you’re trying to be best-of-breed at outside-the-box thinking or simply incentivizing colleagues to achieve a paradigm shift in core-performance value-adds.”

Garner’s post includes a “Bizspeak Blacklist,” dozens of words and phrases that he says should “never find their way into print.” I cringed at how many of these have shown up in my work – and how phony they sound when pulled out of context. Other online lists included jargon I’ve never heard before, like “tiger team,” “swim lane,” and “over the wall.”

Writing like a person – not an institution – isn’t easy, especially if you or your clients work in an industry rife with buzzwords, clichés and acronyms. But effective communication is all about using clear, simple language to get to the point. Piling on the clichés can be confusing, pretentious, even meaningless. Instead of sounding smart, our writing ends up sounding like – well – a big pile of clichés.

So the next time you catch yourself writing, “Let’s take this offline”, try the far more real, “Let’s talk about this later.” And surely there are suitable replacements for the likes of “paradigm shift,” “core competency,” “buy-in,” “synergy,” “state-of-the-art,” and one of my personal pet peeves, “at the end of the day.”

James Spader wouldn’t be caught dead telling his FBI pals to “think outside the box.” He’d just tell them to think.

Listen to Your Heart

open heartIt’s February – and we all know what that means. We’re bombarded with messages about love and romance and (if we’re women) keeping our hearts healthy.

All this heart talk got me thinking about my relationships with the people and things I love. Which eventually led to the following question:

When was the last time you fell in love…with your business?

How long has it been since you scrolled through your company website? Read your marketing materials? Looked at your business card? Or thought about your mission statement? If you had to rate your relationship with your business on a scale of 1 to 10, what would you give it?

At Open Heart Creative, we know that, deep down, you love what you do – or you wouldn’t be doing it. But as with any long-term relationship, our passion for our work ebbs and flows, often overshadowed by the demands of – well – actually working.

So we’ve decided that February is the perfect month to show your business some love. To reconnect with the emotions and desires that drove you to start your venture – and keep you showing up day after day.

Why does it matter? Because your vision, your integrity, your values – your enthusiasm – resonate with others. They are the reasons your clients choose you.

I spent last weekend in Kennebunkport, Maine. Four feet of snow blanketed everything in sight, and navigating the sidewalks required the focus of an Olympic athlete. But it was my sweetheart’s birthday. He’s a Maine man. It made him happy. And that made me happy.

Of course, not everyone is eager to go to Maine in the dead of winter. So Kennebunkport has designated February as “Love KPT” month to promote its reputation as “New England’s Most Romantic Town.” An array of love-themed hotel packages and events are being offered to lure visitors. And everywhere we turned there were hearts.

Lots and lots of hearts.

Snapping pix for my Pinterest page, I was swept up in a wave of joy. The same joy I experienced months ago when I was choosing the name for my business. It was exciting to be plugged back in to the heart of what fuels my work. And I looked forward to getting back to the office.

I invite you to do the same. Step away from the Smartphone and the computer, and take a little time to listen to your heart. You might just remember why you fell in love with your business in the first place!

  • Take a break from the “To Do” list. Put aside the marketing plan and money worries, the vendor issues and client complaints, and ask yourself what you love most about your work. Bonus points: Translate the answer into words – and use those words as marketing tools.
  • If you’ve been in business for a while, think back to how you felt when you opened your first box of business cards. Launched your website. Got your first client. Allow those feelings to re-energize your interactions with colleagues, clients and prospects.
  • If your business is relatively new, reconnect regularly with the passion that’s driving you to take this professional leap. Take advantage of networking opportunities and speaking gigs where you can share your excitement with others. It’s contagious!
  • Make a date with a business mentor and have a heart-to-heart about the issues or challenges you’re facing. They can provide the fresh perspective and confidence boost you need to return to the job with renewed energy and commitment.

Write Less. {Really!}

Easy HardThe most important thing I learned at the Gotham Writer’s Workshop was how to write less and tell a better story.

I was an aspiring short story writer. Adam Sexton was a published author and a brilliant teacher. Each week he would review my drafts and, sentence by sentence, strip away every extraneous word.

I’m not going to lie – it was gut wrenching to read his critiques. But I fell in love with the spare, sensual voice that emerged from the space he helped me create. Each image was more evocative, each sentence more powerful.

The lessons Adam taught me twenty-some years ago are just as important today. Especially when it comes to business writing.

“No one reads,” I tell students in my PR Writing Workshop at FIT. “So keep it short and sweet or your message will never get through.”

Every writer knows this is easier said than done. It’s a never-ending challenge to write clear, compelling and compassionate content, using only the most essential words – and not sound like anyone else. Especially when you love words as much as I do.

My report cards from Paoli Pike Elementary School document my penchant for talking too much in class. Friends, family and colleagues will tell you I haven’t changed one bit. Words are my passion – whether I’m telling a story or writing one.

But I digress.

The point is, telling your brand story effectively is about choosing the right words – and using as few of them as possible. There are tons of tips on how to do this, but here are my three current favorites:

It’s not about you. It pains me to say it, but business writing is not about the writer – it’s about the reader. Yes, it’s your vintage jewelry line, your family counseling practice, your financial services team. But your audience needs to hear what you’re saying in order to buy what you’re selling. Before you write a word, put yourself in their shoes.

Keep it real. I don’t mean keep it conversational. As Richard Linklater, director of the movie “Boyhood” said in a recent Rolling Stone interview, “It’s always an insult when people think we improvised. Real talk would be horrible.” What I do mean is use language that’s authentic – less jargon and clichés, more straightforward simplicity. {Ann Handley has some great advice about this in her book, “Everyone Writes.”}

Banish useless words. This Writer’s Circle Facebook post identifies “useless words to erase forever” to improve our writing. It really got me thinking about how I really overuse words like “really.” And “very.” And who knows how many others.

So the girl who still talks too much is turning over a new leaf. Each month I’m going to pick a word to erase from my written vocabulary.

Really!

I think I’ll start with that one.