Essential ingredients of persuasive writing – It’s all Greek to me

Writing well isn’t rocket science, but it does require a set of skills that you can acquire through training and practice – and writing for PR or marketing purposes has its own particular set of challenges.

It’s one thing to write well and even entertain people with your writing, and altogether another to be persuasive – to engage people in a way that changes their opinions or motivates them to act.

Persuading readers to agree with you can transform them into paying customers, advocates or partners. Luckily there are a few timeless principles that anyone can employ to improve their persuasive writing technique:

Learn from the Greeks

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that a persuasive argument has the following three elements: logos (appealing to logic), ethos (appealing to credibility) and pathos (appealing to emotion). It’s a formula that still works exceptionally well today.

Logos comprise statistics, data, definitions, and proven business results that back up the central argument. This type of evidence allows writers to make an argument without sounding speculative or vague. Feel free to draw on case studies, relevant projections or other evidence that demonstrates why it makes sense for an end customer to engage with your business.

Ethos means to convince the reader of the author’s credibility. Ethos is how well the author convinces readers of his or her authority on the subject at hand. Aristotle maintained that there were three prerequisites needed to make a speaker appear credible: competence, good intention, and empathy.  Depending on the topic of the argument, this may mean demonstrating the author’s business credentials or talking about issues such as corporate social responsibility or employee wellbeing.

Supplementing the written word through links to video tutorials, online resources and toolkits gives people a further glimpse into the depth of knowledge your client harbours.

Last, but not the least, the third pillar in the Greek triad of persuasion is pathos, or emotion. Create a rapport through your writing by addressing your audience using words ‘you’ or ‘they’ wherever appropriate. Draw on all five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) to convey your client’s product / service experience, especially in B2C writing. Importantly, know your audience, so that you can address their concerns and wants.

Follow the 5:3:2 rule

Research is the ultimate antidote to a writer’s block. It helps you bring out genuinely original angles for your piece.  Importantly, it provides the ammunition for the all-important appeal to logic as discussed by Aristotle. Persuasive writing should involve five parts of research and planning, three parts doing the rough draft, and two parts polishing it. Applying this rule to the job, it’s important we know all about our client’s business model, their products and services, their competitors and the industry dynamics within which they operate before we write any content for them. It’s also handy to source a brief from the client in advance—essentially setting down all the goals of the campaign before kicking off.

Stick to the point

From the start, it’s important to have a very clear idea of what your central argument will be.
Select one idea and stick to it. Everything else should back up that argument. Too many tangents can be distracting and confuse the reader. It’s a good idea to outline a problem faced by your reader, and then provide a specific solution.

Work hard on the headlines

Headlines and subheads are more than just a snapshot of the copy that follows, so keep it clear and simple, under seven words, and avoid clichés.  Headlines are also the hook that excites the readers interest and compels them to read on. Write a boring headline and it matters little how impressive your following prose is, as the reader may well have moved onto other, more promising, activities.

Keep at it

Writing is a process of continual improvement. To ensure consistency and perseverance, keep a go-to folder for all things writing including: your favourite writing samples, new writing sites (e.g., join ‘copywriting’ LinkedIn groups and always keep open on your desktop.  Also read, read, read, as much as you can, especially great writers.

Next time you are faced with a writing task, remember the advice of the Greeks, and if you are struck with writer’s block, draw inspiration from Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” It is a reminder that once we get started, words flow much easier from there – as long as we start in a position of integrity.

Purpose is now a comms must-have, but it’s got to ring true to label

Larry Fink’s annual New Year letter to CEOs received much media attention and emphasised the need for brands to not only generate profit but have a higher social purpose. The note kicked off a debate that has now well and truly hit Australian shores.

According to Fink, the CEO of the world’s largest asset management firm BlackRock: “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

For organisations, and in particular financial organisations, this poses many questions around proactively supporting and advocating for societal issues.

Ken Henry, chair of National Australia Bank, picked up this theme in recent weeks saying that businesses must demonstrate a social purpose that drives the way the firm operates. Organisations, he said, need to demonstrate that they are more than just profit.

The most publicised social purpose campaign in recent times was Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s support for marriage equality – for which he received a pie in the face, but ultimately widespread praise.

Social issues don’t necessarily need to be controversial. Richard Branson says the focus at Virgin includes diversity and inclusion, giving back to communities, and many important global environmental and social issues – from climate change to LGBT rights to ending the war on drugs. All worthy causes.

Late last year, Honner worked with Ariel Investments to provide a joint submission to ASIC calling on the regulator to create a platform whereby local banks, investment managers and other financial companies can support financial literacy programs in Australian primary schools.

It is no surprise the rise of social purpose for organisations has grown as the number of gen Y and millennials grow as both employees and customers. More than eight in 10 millennials (81%) expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.

Brands are increasingly responding to this trend.

In a recent interview with the Australian Financial Review, Coca Cola Amatil CEO Alison Watkins said stakeholders expect more than simply short-term profit delivery. “At Coca Cola Amatil, we need to be leaders in reducing obesity and waste. I also recognise that I am responsible and accountable to our shareholders; however, I look at that as a long-term responsibility even though we have some short-term shareholders.”

From a communications perspective, building a consistent message and projecting your organisation’s values builds trust and generates commitment — whether from employees, customers, industry or other stakeholders.

However, the social purpose needs to be true-to-label. It needs to reflect who you are as an organisation and it needs to resonate through your entire organisation. Alan Joyce drove the marriage equality debate from the top down; Virgin’s values flow through all it does; Honner works to educate individuals on financial services every day.

Anything less than an open, transparent and true-to-label approach will be quickly spotted.

This article was originally published in Mumbrella on the 6th of March, 2018.

When, if ever, should you ask a journalist for a correction?

The media play a significant role in how you and the company are portrayed in the public arena, so it’s vital that both you and your PR team focus on building and maintaining positive relationships. This can be difficult when a negative or incorrect article is published and you, as a spokesperson, are involved.

Asking a journalist for a correction or retraction can be tricky, and if mismanaged can tarnish the hard-earned relationship you have built.

Here, we list our suggestions on best managing the most common scenarios.

The tone or wording doesn’t sound right

Sometimes, you may not agree with the tone of the article, exact wording, or way you or the company have been positioned. It can be frustrating, especially if the article is negative and you felt the interview went in a positive direction.

In instances like this, as difficult as it is, you should not ask the journalist for a correction. The media are entitled to freedom in their writing style and tone, and it will damage your relationship with the journalist, and jeopardise future opportunities, if you try and take control of their editorial license.

It could be something you said. At the time, it may have sounded okay, but out of context and in writing as a quote, it is unsettling.

In general, information shared on the record is public information.

If you have immediate regret after the interview, your PR team can liaise with the journalist to smooth out some of the wording – but it’s important to act quickly.

There are some incorrect facts and figures

Journalists are increasingly under pressure to meet deadlines and file numerous stories each day. Mistakes can easily happen when reciting figures and intricate details, especially if the article is written a few days or weeks after the interview.

In this instance, a fact or figure is incorrect, it’s important to review any interview notes or recordings you or your PR team have and confirm what was said on the day.

As a spokesperson, it can be difficult to recall the exact dollar amount or the official name of complex products during an interview. The best approach is to caveat anything you’re unsure about with a disclaimer and confirm you will send a follow up email with the precise detail. Having someone from your PR team facilitate the interview is important in scenarios like this to ensure this process is seen through.

Journalists strive for accuracy in their stories, so are usually open to actioning corrections of this nature. It’s important to approach the journalist about a correction in a friendly way.. An even better approach is to let the experts (your PR team) handle it—they’ve done it many times before!

The article is entirely false

In the event the article is completely false or misleading, a full retraction can be requested. It is a rare occurrence, with the retraction usually published in the paper in the following days.

It’s important to contact the editor and precisely detail the issues with the piece in a clear and calm manner.

Remember: retraction requests should be saved strictly for worst case scenarios.

In a perfect world, every article published about you and your company would be factual and positive – but unfortunately, the reality can be much different.

Media training and ensuring your interviews are facilitated by your PR team are two simple ways to mitigate any issues and maintain positive relationships.