I will plead guilty to loving my own arrangement of words into sentences a little too much sometimes. I can, for example, still remember, verbatim, what I consider the best lede I ever wrote in my reporting career — from a story published back in the early ’90s. I’ve always loved a clever turn of phrase, never more so than when my fingers tapped it out.
Which can be dangerous in the PR game. Job No. 1 is to deliver your message to advance the mission and goals of yourself or your organization. Yes, you want that message to be, as I say in my book BITE THE DOG: Build a PR Strategy to Make News That Matters, one that arrests the attention and imaginations of your audience. But if you work too hard at being memorable, you may sacrifice being meaningful. That’s the rhetorical sin I committed in the story below.
My goal was twofold in this interview: 1) To convey the very real remorse we felt at another round of staff reductions, because it affected good people we loved; and 2) To make plain that the organization was still thriving despite the financial challenges, helping tens of thousands, and would continue to do so. We may have been dealing with tough economic realities, as many non-profits were at the time, but we remained committed to carrying out the mission.
But then a metaphor popped into my head to describe what it felt like to, for the fifth or sixth year running, part ways with team members who were more like family. My comment arrested readers’ attention, for sure, but was graphic enough that there wasn’t much left to the imagination.
“Long ago I suppose there was a time when we had fat to trim, but we’ve moved throught that to muscle, sinew, bone — and now we’re scraping out marrow,” Schneeberger said.
I had fallen so in love with the imagery of my metaphor that I didn’t pause to think how it detracted from my message. For starters, it was a rather macabre word picture to put into readers’ minds with their morning coffee. But even more importantly/wrongheadedly, while it made clear the pain of my first goal, it weakened the optimism of my second one. I mean, it’s hard to keep soldiering on after the battlefield medical procedure I described.
The wise and strategic practice of PR means serving your message first and everything else — even that cool metaphor that serves your writer’s ego — after that.