David Ogilvy sent these writing tips to the employees of his advertising agency in 1982. His goal was to improve communication between people working within the agency, but his advice applies to any professional communicator.
The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
- Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing[, Writing that Works]. Read it three times.
- Write the way you talk. Naturally.
- Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
- Never write more than two pages on any subject.
- Check your quotations.
- Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – and then edit it.
- If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
- Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
- If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
Taken from The Unpublished David Ogilvy.
We made these graphs for Nextgov to show how the shutdown is impacting different agencies’ ability to communicate. They show the number of Tweets sent by agencies during a normal (that is, fully funded) week compared to Tweets sent during the week when the shutdown began.
Most agencies look more or less like the EPA – the lights went out as soon as the shutdown went into effect. Meanwhile, the VA is one of a few agencies that is fully funded on a two-year cycle, so it hasn’t been impacted. In fact, the spike you see in Tweets from the VA on October 1st is the result of many frenzied reminders that VA services will not be impacted by the shutdown.
NOAA is also mostly funded and was extraordinarily busy during the week of the shutdown because of tropical storm Karen.
The State Department, on the other hand, is mostly funded, but slowly grinding down. It’s been very interesting to be working with the embassy here in Costa Rica this week. I had lunch with the manager of the embassy’s Facebook Page yesterday and he told me that they had stopped updating their Facebook Page last week. What’s most interesting is that Costa Rican law prohibits the State Department from furloughing the many Costa Ricans who work at the embassy, firing them, or asking them to work without pay. Nonetheless, there’s no budget to pay them. It’s a complete impasse that’s slowing work but not quite stopping it. Let’s hope this ends soon.
Here’s an update of our graph showing the number of Tweets sent by the federal government during the week of the shutdown.
The Atlantic’s Andrew Golis highlights a great insight from Upworthy’s Eli Pariser on why it’s so hard for organizations to sound “interesting:”
Eli Pariser defends Upworthy to On The Media, a captures perfectly the catch-22 of producing successful social media (emphasis mine):
PJ: […] It’s weird. Talking to you, I feel completely convinced that what Upworthy is doing makes a lot of sense, and that I am very silly to be agitated by it. And then, I’ll quietly tab over to the site itself, hit refresh, and be like, no! It’s the tone! The tone still bothers you, Vogt! Do not be seduced by Eli Pariser’s soothsaying.
I know that’s not a question. I guess the last thing I’m curious about — you said up top that the thinking behind these emotional appeals is that it’s the way to get people to focus on and share a story. Uh, is there some other way? Or is this just what works and I need to grow up and get used to the internet / human nature / social network psychology?
ELI: Haha. I know it doesn’t suit everyone. But I’d just so much rather be on the side of trying to make important stuff seem more fun and interesting — and maybe be a little over the top tone-wise — than the kind of Officially Boring headline-writing that mostly convinces people to skip over it entirely. Just think how many fewer people would watch that awesome John Green video if it was titled, like, U.S. Healthcare Costs In Context: A Report.
I do think this is one of the blessings and curses of social media. To fit in, you have to sound like a person, not an institution. And people can be so much more annoying than institutions. And also so much more interesting. I think that’s the trade-off.