Breaking out of the Technical Communication Mold … and into Marketing

Yes I did it… I crossed over. Turns out that adding marketing writing to the technical communication repertoire wasn’t the moral, ethical, or skills struggle I’ve been hearing about for years. I broke into marketing because I knew I could do marketing writing, and I saw a need I could fill.

It started simply enough. My company sent out an email offering new and improved services. That’s great. We all love better service.

I stumbled, however, when I read the email.  Three strikes and it was out for this copy:

  1. The beginning, which should have started fast with a big WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?), slowed me down and didn’t tell me anything. It sounded more like a signoff than a start.
  2. I had to wait until the middle of the message to find out what we were offering and why it was so great that a customer should buy it.
  3. The ending was standard boilerplate contact information, but seemed long-winded and disjointed and just didn’t add anything particularly useful.

My first thought was, “I can do better than this.”

My Technical Communication Approach to Copywriting and Editing

I took the middle part where we announced our new stuff, and put right in the beginning. My own personal rule is to start fast. Or, as the folks around TechWhirl like to advise: “Don’t bury the lead.” Otherwise you’re going to bore people, which is fatal in a society like ours where everyone’s attention is divided.  (Hmm… this is sounding a lot like guidelines for writing good technical documentation.)

I took the beginning of the press release, which was bland and had some useful—but not critical—details, and stuck it in the middle. It would make a decent lead-in to the conclusion.

I also removed extraneous words and phrases, and tried to tighten up the prose and make it march quickly in a straight line.

I changed generic phrases like “We are committed to delivering…” to “We deliver…” You want to keep the central idea intact but be as succinct as possible without losing any meaning. This involves many judgment calls. (Hmm… even more familiar technical communication guidance).

I also broke up the wandering sentence at the end that provided contact information. I put in periods and again tightened things up.

From Stealth Rewrite to Savvy Submission

I had finished my marketing rewrite. Now what? I couldn’t just send my rewrite off to one of the marketing or sales guys. They would be entirely justified in not reading it at all and just deleting it. Worse yet, they might tell my boss I had over-stepped my bounds.

How could I get the sales guys to actually pay attention? Here’s what I did.

I know someone who has been at the company for many years more than I have, and he knows the protocols—he’s my corporate culture SME. He also knows just about everyone because he works in billing.

I wandered over to his office and asked him if he would be kind enough to look at what I wrote, and why I wrote it. I said if he didn’t like it, I would drop the matter and say no more about it. Fortunately he was receptive and agreed that many of our PR pieces were too wordy.


I forwarded the original to him along with my rewrite and a small introduction. In the introduction to my test piece, first I apologized for bothering the sales guys. Second, I said I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. My goal was to sound like I knew what I was doing, but to also be humble about it.

After about 20 minutes or so, I stopped in to see my friend. He said he thought my rewrite was better and shorter than the original. He was also nice enough to offer to send it to the top guys in sales and marketing on my behalf, along with an introduction.

That was huge. I didn’t have to stick my neck out quite as far as I thought I would.

I heard from him later the next day. He said the people to whom he sent my rewrite liked what I wrote and they’d be using my skills in the future. Wow!

The sales guys meant what they said. I’ve been cleaning up PR pieces for two days now, in addition to my regular duties in technical writing. Funny thing… I don’t feel a bit different than I did last week when I was “just a technical writer.” Except maybe more satisfied with my work and my contributions in both technical communication and marketing.

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