Election Day was yesterday, which was met with little fanfare in my area. With no presidents or governors to elect, the off-year election doesn’t carry the same sex appeal for the media as even-year campaigning.
Still, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. Two local candidates for city council were slinging mud, and the ads for one major ballot question used soundbites and incomplete information to push an agenda.
I am not a political writer, thank goodness, so I won’t get into the details of the politics. The politics are not really the point of my post anyway.
I take seriously my right to vote, and I voted in this election as I have in every election since I turned 18. Before I vote, I read a lot. I read the full text of ballot questions, as well as the pro and con arguments. I read letters and websites from organizations I trust about why they are for or against an idea or candidate. I read candidate websites. I even read the dozens of mailers dumped on me in the weeks prior to Election Day, although I can’t say I find much value in those.
In all of that reading this year, I was reminded again of some basic rules of communication that everyone should follow. Even if the politicos will not follow these simple rules of courtesy and clarity, business communicators would be wise to heed them – assuming you hope to inspire respect and loyalty.
Think beyond the headline or the soundbite
The headline, soundbite or subject line is meant to hook your audience. It tells the audience that the content to follow is worth reading or hearing. It is not the entire message. If you don’t back up your hook with useful information, your message is flimsy. Give your audience enough detail to help them understand your product or brand a little better each time they read or hear a message from you.
Assume intelligence among your audience
I’m not talking about using five-dollar words. I am talking about assuming your reader not only wants to learn more, but has the intelligence to understand the full scope of the information and make a decision accordingly. It is your job to make the content digestible and easy to understand, but it is not your job to think for your audience.
If your website is riddled with typos and errors (school board candidates, I’m looking at you here), I will judge you. Even if your reader doesn’t actively judge you, those mistakes water down your message. At best, they distract from the professionalism you want to convey. At worst, they give your potential customer a reason to check “yes” next to your competitor’s name and not yours.
Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.