This is a Someone Who Knows post by Peter Taggart Interning at a major newspaper back in 2009 – you know, the ‘golden age’ of print - I rec ...Read More
This is a Someone Who Knows post from corporate writer Zoe Nikakis.
It is an uncomfortable truth professional writers learn: the idea of living a creative life needs to be balanced with the reality of living an actual life. We actually need to eat and pay the mortgage, and our draughty writerly garrets are actually more comfortable with heaters.
But there’s good news. All the education, all the passion for good writing and for stringent editing that makes the work better, all the joy we take in its creation, are also skills we can use to pay those heating bills. They’re the skills you need to become a corporate writer.
Corporate, or business writing, can mean writing anything from content for annual reports or company websites, reports and proposals to company blurbs for external publications, articles and profiles for internal and client newsletters and magazines, and even sometimes speeches and opinion editorial on behalf of senior staff.
It’s writing used in or for organisations, for internal and external audiences.
Corporate writers and corporate communications professionals use their skills to support and further the strategy of the business for which they are working.
If we assume the basics of good writing are covered - clarity of expression, the need to show, not tell, the importance of using active voice, spelling and punctuation, and writing for your audience - there are a couple key ways in which corporate writing differs from other professional writing jobs and as such, some key things to remember.
Proudly fly your Grammar Nerd flag.
When working as the writing specialist in a large business, especially if it’s on a freelance or contract basis, sometimes there aren’t other communications professionals. It’s a one-person show. Corporate writers don’t often have ready access to professional editors or other communications people to check the work. This means learning how to fix whichever crazy rule of English grammar you still have trouble with – even if it’s as minor as when to use effect, and when to use affect – because the writing is going to the printer, and the person you may have to rely on is you. You can’t ignore it because you know someone will catch it for you. Get it right the first time.
Check your ego at the door.
There’s no room for ego when you’re writing on a business’ dollar. There will be many people invested in the work, and none of them will be professional writers or editors. Especially if you’re writing profiles or other articles for collateral like newsletters or annual reports, other professionals within the organisation, specialists in whatever the company does, will probably have sign-off on what you write.
These professionals usually think they’re writers, and they will send your beautiful, thoughtfully crafted and carefully edited work back in shreds, mostly with changes that make the work worse, not better. There is a reason track changes are red. They’ve cut you and it’s bleeding.
There’s no point getting distressed. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Review their changes and find a way to marry the ones you can accept with your original copy. Explain why you have left certain changes out. You’ve got to work with these colleagues to get sign-off in order to file final, clean, approved drafts of the appropriate length, on time. Which brings me to…
…Corporate deadlines are not fluid.
We’ve all been there. It’s after lunch on the day something’s due, and you haven’t started writing it. You kid yourself that you’ve been writing it in your head and it’s all there, you just have to get it down. And then you miss the deadline but it’s mostly ok, it was more of a guideline anyway, right? Nope.
Corporate collateral waits for nobody. Start the draft early. Get it done on time, and in this case, on time means early to allow for all the people with sign-off to send back changes, for you to do more work, and then to arrive at something ready to be filed. Corporates do not care about your ‘process’. It’s not creative. It’s just late. Even if the person you’re working for says it’s fine, it’s really not. Time is literally money. Get it done, to the best of your ability, on deadline.
Be a Jargon Warrior
Business breeds meaningless jargon. You will never encounter so many terrible words such as ‘enable’ and ‘utilise’ and phrases like ‘going forward in this space’ as you will when working in business. It also breeds terrifying acronyms - one of my employers had a project for which one of the letters in the acronym was actually the beginning of another acronym.
When you’re a corporate writer, quickly becoming immersed in a business’ strategic priorities is necessary to create good content, and the business’ lingo is a big part of that. It’s easy for the jargon to normalise after a little while, so it’s incredibly important to be aware of getting too close, and to maintain a sharp editorial eye for any sentence that isn’t going to make sense to a general audience. Even for an internal publication and a staff audience, there are always going to be people who don’t know all the language specific to the job. Help those people out. Slay the jargon, for all the people whose first day it is and don’t know the language, and for all those who do – they still prefer it’s kept simple.
Manage your people
Corporate writing is fundamentally about your stakeholders. It’s about balancing competing priorities to achieve the best outcome for the business. That means writing the strongest pieces possible, on time and at word count, but it also means collaborating with other staff and managing their expectations from the beginning on the project. Explain what the piece will be, what it’s for, and talk them through the process. You’re the expert. Be confident in offering advice, even to senior staff.
It also means knowing what the business’ strategy is, how your work will support it and knowing what the point of the work is. You will always do your best work if you can find meaning in it.
The last thing
Keep writing for yourself. When you’ve smashed out strong, consistent corporate collateral that everybody’s happy with, and you’ve been asked back to do it all again the next year because you’re great, make the time to write for yourself. It’s the hardest thing of all, when you’re exhausted from work, but you have to make it happen. Leave work, go home to your well-heated garret, and nurture your creative life.
Looking for a corporate writing gig? Check out our writing jobs page for more.
Zoe Nikakis is a corporate communications professional who has worked for public and private organisations across Victoria. She enjoys being her own approver when she does work like this, because all her stakeholders agree with her.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.
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