HighTalking: Dave Yewman’s Tips on Better Writing

Dave Yewman: Business writing sucks.

Dave Yewman: Business writing sucks.

I had the pleasure of working with Dave Yewman “back in the day.” Of course, he’d probably like to take a two-by-four to my skull for writing down such a tired cliche. Dave’s a rarity in the PR world – he’s blunt, he’s direct, and he’s honest. Great combinations in a sector filled with shady used car salesmen types fond of pontificating more than providing fantastic counsel and results.

Dave owns Dash Consulting, which helps executives “Get to the Point.” Not as easy as it sounds. He’s also the author of “On Getting To The Point,” a volume of writing tips that should be a must read for any PR practitioner who enjoys a good belly laugh while actually learning something. Dave was kind enough to answer our questions about good business writing.

HighTalk: Why is business writing so bad?

Dave: The writing sucks. The speaking sucks. The e-mail sucks. It’s astounding how even sophisticated companies struggle to get to the point. I think the main problem is that we don’t ask enough questions to get good information. Also we don’t consider the audience enough so we churn out communications that don’t pass the “So what, who cares?” test and use a bunch of insider jargon. Audiences hate that and they won’t read it or listen to it.

HighTalk: How did we get to this point?

Dave: Like frogs in pans of slowly warming water. Business writing has been so bad for so long that we’ve almost come to expect it. Good writing is hard to find – but when you do it’s fabulous. What’s good writing? A subjective question but like Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, “… I know it when I see it.”

HighTalk: Let’s focus on the press release. What are the biggest mistakes that business make in writing them?

Dave: A press release, for example, may claim that XYZ Company’s product is a “leading” tool of some sort. But as a reader I want to know how, by what measure, how long it’s been around, what customers are using it, etc. But if the writer doesn’t delve into the details the readers end up grinding through pabulum and corporate speak, which doesn’t do anyone any good. All press release writers should dig deeper, much deeper.

HighTalk: How can the process for writing better press releases be improved?

Dave: No more “press release by committee.” In no other department at the company do people meddle this much. I’ve never heard of the sales guy asking to see a legal brief or a CEO wanting input on the computer code written by the Website designer. Companies need to find the right person to write, then let them operate.

HighTalk: Which buzzwords do think need to go away forever?

Dave: All of them. If anyone else says they’re going to “monetize” or “optimize” their offerings I may take to swinging a baseball bat around the room they’re sitting in – like Robert DeNiro in “The Untouchables.”

HighTalk: Do you think social media platforms will improve writing? Why?

Dave: I’m not sure. What I like is that the writing is typically shorter – Twitter is limited to 140 characters, for example – so people have to think carefully before posting which typically leads to at least a bit of thought. Conversely it’s usually unedited so it can be worse. I guess I should have stopped at “I’m not sure.”

HighTalk: How can individuals begin to improve their writing?

Dave: By writing. Stephen King said your second draft is your first draft minus 10 percent. If people write and then circulate the copy to 3-4 people they trust to get feedback it’ll help them. If they read through their writing it’ll help them. If they try to keep things short and punchy it’ll help them. Of course, most of them won’t do anything of the sort. But they should.

HighTalk: If you could give three tips to improving business writing what would they be?

Dave: I’m going to go back to my journalism class here:

– 500 words tops. I don’t care how important it is; if you can’t say it in 500 words you can’t say it.

– 25 word lead. Anything over that was an automatic F when I was a journalism major in college. You’ve got to get to the point and summarize the core point in 25 words.

– Do the reporting first. If you ask a ton of questions you’ll get a ton of information. Then start writing. But not until then.

2 Responses to “HighTalking: Dave Yewman’s Tips on Better Writing”

  1. Good interview! I’d be curious to know how Dave feels about social media press releases and how they allow audiences to dive deeper into the information – giving them the ability to access videos, photos, etc.

    Take a look at this SMPR for the Ford Focus. I think it does a great job giving people the visuals they need to get to know the product and make them want to write about it without the need for more information.

    What are your thoughts on the SMPR?

  2. Scott, the social media release for Ford is much more appealing – frankly I’m not sure it qualifies as a “press release” and that’s okay. The world would be a better place if there were a LOT fewer press releases. But it’s good stuff. Pictures, links, etc. I can go where I want and get what I need. That’s a good use of my time if I’m a potential buyer. Although I have to say that SMPR is yet another four-letter acronym the world can live without 🙂 Thanks for the link.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: