Writing for your lecturer is one thing. Yes, you want to be grammatically correct and you want to ensure that your key messages are communicated in your essay or dissertation. But writing copy for professional people to read is a whole different ball game, and a daunting one at that.
That was the challenge I faced when I got my first job in PR. I graduated in 2007 from Leeds Metropolitan University with an MA in PR and I was lucky enough to land my first job a few weeks after handing in my dissertation. The company I work for is complex and communicating to its shareholders means communicating to other businesses; therefore business to business (B2B) PR is a regular focus of my day-to-day job.
The first rule, which I quickly learnt, about B2B PR is this: know your audience. Even now – two years into my role as PR Executive for a large retail and wholesale buying group – I have to ask myself who my audience is when I’m producing copy.
Fantasy older man
I always try and imagine the reader – for example, when I’m producing award entries I try to imagine the judge, and I always seem to go for an older gentleman whose hair is brilliant white, he wears a blue cravat, glasses, he’s extremely clean shaven and smells of peppermint tea and tobacco smoke – I understand this is bizarre and maybe even a little insane, but for me it seems to work!
In my experience, award entries are hard to draft. You want to champion the project or business that you are putting forward for the award yet you don’t want to sound too conceited. I still find it hard to do this, but luckily I’ve had tremendous support from my managers to help me understand how to write the entries. One important thing that I was taught is to imagine the judge, what would they want to hear, and how can I add some visual elements to the awards to keep them engaged.
B2B means trade press
Communicating with the trade press is a routine B2B task and it is a large part of my job and one which, fortunately, I truly enjoy. Writing press releases, liaising with my colleagues and promoting their expert opinions through features in the trade press and providing company statements is all in a day’s work.
Usually the trade press have a great understanding of the business in which I work; but like in every sector, journalists move on and new ones are brought in with whom you have to establish a relationship. We tend to invite the new journalists to the company headquarters, give them a background presentation on the organisation (due to its complex structure, this usually generates a lot of questions!) and then give them a tour of the warehouse. This often results in a positive feature about the company which helps us to raise the profile of the business; it’s a great way for us to ensure that the journalist is familiar with our organisation; and it’s a relationship-building exercise.
Arguably our in-house magazine, of which I am the news editor, is a B2B PR tool – as the definition of B2B PR is communicating to other businesses rather than directly to consumers (Tench & Yeomans, 2006) and the internal magazine goes out to our members who own their own businesses. The magazine has a readership of 12,000, and its style is very different from press release copy as the tone is more friendly and less formal.
This is another dimension to the skills that are needed when producing B2B copy. Although initially it’s hard to vary your writing styloe when you have just left university and started work in the ‘big wide world of PR’, it’s always exciting to learn about the different ways that you need to communicate within your professional role.
The hardest part of B2B PR, for me, is writing the Annual Report. Yes, this is mainly viewed as a financial document – but the company I work for uses the Annual Report to communicate about planned projects for the forthcoming year, as well as using it to report on the company’s annual results.
Although this might seem like a mundane communications exercise, it’s rather exciting to reflect on the year’s events, analyse them and then find a way to communicate them to the target audience. Yet again, the same principles of B2B are present: who is my target audience, and what are my key messages?
B2B is a great PR discipline which comes essentially with time and effort. The top tips, which I still go by myself each time I commence a B2B PR exercise are this: know your audience and understand the key messages.
Although these seem like fairly easy things to do some people may be complacent in thinking that they know their audiences when in fact they only think they do. Trying to ‘get inside the head’ of the reader will help ensure that you connect with your target audience and that will enable you to communicate your key messages effectively.