Friday, October 26, 2012
Friday Fundamentals: Following Someone Else's Tracks
It's not that I'm going away -- or (heaven forbid!) running out of things to say -- but I am starting an absorbing new project next week, which means that I may not be posting blogs with my heretofore clockwork-like regularity.
So in this, my last post in the series, I'm going to hand you off, dear communications lover, to other sources of inspiration. And the truth is, you don't have to look far.
Do what I do, and check out the magazine rack.
One of my favorite ways to jump-start my writing projects is to get hold of a magazine that targets an audience similar to the one I'm addressing and skim through its pages. The reason is purely pragmatic. This is a communications vehicle that is already good at reaching the people I want to reach -- so good that it is able to charge advertisers for the privilege of piggybacking their ads onto the magazine's already-compelling content. To me, that means that the magazine staff is doing some things right. From the topics they choose, to the style of voice they use, its editors are able to get the attention of the people I want to win over -- so I think it's worth a look inside to see which of their tactics I can steal, er, emulate.
For example, not long ago I had to prepare for a presentation to a natural foods company. To get my thoughts oriented, I pored over a few issues of Prevention magazine. On another occasion, I was going to attend a business networking event. I read through that week's Long Island Business News.
Another bonus: magazine articles always have attention-getting opening paragraphs. If I need some inspiration for how to start a particular communication, I thumb through a magazine and read the lead sentences from a few articles. By the third or fourth one, I have an fresh idea for how to begin my train of thought.
Here's the truth: wherever you want to take your audience, someone else has covered that territory before. You can follow in their tracks, and keep out of the quicksand.
Do it. It's so deviously obvious!
Got a writing gig for a professional group? Pull a couple of their trade publications off the library rack. Educated crowd? Grab a Smithsonian from the newsstand.
Young adults? Moms? Teens? Retirees? Go to Barnes and Noble's periodical section and zero in some typical representatives of your target bracket. Then take note of which selections they browse, and if you're really brave, casually sidle up alongside them or loom over them as they read to see which articles are grabbing their attention. It's like that line from the movie When Harry Met Sally: "I'll have what she's having!"
Some other communicator has already succeeded in making this niche group their own. Find out what that individual does, and construct your own approach accordingly.
Remarkable messaging starts with knowing your audience -- their opinions, values and motivators -- and using that knowledge to establish a bond. Magazines are doing that bonding every time they publish. They know a lot, and they've done a lot of the sorting for us.
It's not ripping off. It's researching. So follow their tracks to take your audience to the destination of your dreams. And if you're really, really good, one day some other writer will be poring over your work, grabbing inspiration from you.
Keep watching this blog for more tips -- just not on a weekly basis. I'll post when inspiration strikes. Onward and upward, my fellow communicators!