Passionate Neutrality -- Biz Writing at its Finest
It’s a fine line between telling a story and being a shill – and, for business writers and media-types alike, I define that line using the following term: Passionate neutrality.
It’s easy to fall into a rah-rah trap, especially in corporate writing, where you exaggerate and oversell your business. Honesty may be the best policy (it is), but some business writers (or their supervisors/editors) like to stretch the boundaries of where that honesty lies.
There is a solution – one that allows your content to be imbued with vibrancy and enthusiasm, all the while treating your customers and visitors with respect. And that solution? Passionate neutrality.
There’s an old media adage that goes, “No cheering in the press box.” Basically, no matter how close you are to a team, it’s bad form to actively root for a team in the press box. Media row is supposed to be that bastion of neutrality – just the facts from your reporter; a little flavour from your columnist, but absolutely no expressed preference. (Insider note: there's often cheering in the press box. Not everyone holds themselves to the same standard!)
So why not apply that to your business writing?
The challenge for many business writers is finding the way to express passion in your subject, whilst retaining objectivity. And, for me, the best way is to focus on the people.
Early on, I established a mantra for my writing – treat every story as the most important thing I’ve ever written because, to someone, it is. It’s easy to get jaded writing about seemingly frivolous events in a newspaper – the chase for the big story or the breaking scandal is always appealing. But what we tend to forget is that these so-called minor stories represent major events in someone’s life. Winning an award, opening a business, ribbon-cutting, 15th anniversaries… they all matter greatly to the person or people at the heart of the event.
The same can be said for your business. We tend to overvalue stories that we think will get “press,” but downplay the day-to-day accomplishments of our staff. And, sadly, that’s often what’s most readable.
The only people who want to read about your shifting metrics and core competencies are the c-suite. Most people – including those execs – want to read about real people. Find the stories within and celebrate them.
It’s perfect fodder for internal newsletters. After all, people love reading about themselves, and it gives you a chance to celebrate the people within your company.
But it’s also a great way to introduce your company and your products to the masses. In today’s highly competitive market, it can be a challenge to set yourself apart from the crowd. Chances are someone else is making a widget that’s as good, or nearly as good as yours. So how do you attract loyal customers? By giving them the added value of getting to know who you are as a business.
Social media is a great tool for sharing these stories and highlighting success. Sharing your personality, through interesting historical stories replete with personal anecdotes about your company’s growth to profiles and interviews with employees about the amazing things they’re doing – that’s what humanizes your brand and your company.
So find those stories and act like a reporter. Do the interviews, work that inverted pyramid until it hurts, and stick to the facts. Let your subject tell their own story and keep the hyperbole at bay.
In the end, you’ll find that your people and their stories are great on their own. And instead of empty words and useless adjectives, they’ll be packed with heart.
And by embracing that neutrality, you let the natural passion shine through to your staff, your customers, and the world at large.
What are your thoughts? How do you avoid hyperbolic statements and lack of perspective? Or do you? Comments, as always, are open!
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