Friday, September 23, 2016


Born to Run
Bruce Springsteen's 
new autobiography

"I didn't want the horse race to be first and foremost. I wanted our band to be about something." Bruce Springsteen

By Barbara A. Preston
"The Boss" and I both come from boardwalk towns in New Jersey. We also share a birthday, 23-September, so Happy Birthday Bruce.
His new autobiography is on my reading list. (Birthday present hint.) As a fan, and as an editor, I am engaged by his recent comments in the media about why he writes.

It's More than Making a Living

A few years ago, Springsteen said in an interview: "You've got to find that thing you don't completely understand but that is truly coming up from inside you. If you don't reach down and touch that thing — then you're just not going to have anything to say and it's not going to feel like it has life and breath in it. You're not going to create something real, and it's not going to feel authentic." (YouTube Interview, 5-Nov 2013)

Why is this concept so important, especially in the the digital world? Because most people recognize good content when they see it. And, because you don't have to be a novelist, poet, or musician to deliver authentic content to your stakeholders (your customers, employees, investors, alumni, taxpayers, stockholders...). If fact, if you want to build relationships and earn the respect and trust of these people, you must reach deeper and address some real issues.

If you do not tell your story, someone else will and it may not be to your liking. Or, if you fabricate your story, as some have done in the past, you will be "found out" on the Internet.

Writing & Delivering Meaningful Content Takes Some Soul Searching

It helps if your company and your executives are "about something."

When I was 19, and still in college, I started my first job as a "paid" writer as a news reporter for the Atlantic City Press. I made $200 a week, which was not enough to pay for an apartment — not even a shared apartment.

Worse than the pay, I got to cover evening municipal meetings with dull agendas. If there was something exciting on the docket, my editor would assign an experienced reporter to the story.

Basically, I was charged with pulling something magical out of a monotonous void, something that somebody would want to read in the morning paper. I sat in the front row of municipal meetings, taking copious notes on my steno pad. Secretly, I sometimes hoped that protestors would appear in the town hall and make a scene.

I got stuck writing about the Shade Tree Commission. How exciting is that?  One article was about a row of beautiful ancient cedars along a highway. Another time, I wrote about a zoning board committee report on why a property owner should be required by local law to keep the authentic Victorian-era facade of buildings in the now historic-landmark zone in Cape May, NJ.

Eventually, I earned a first place New Jersey Press Association award for "Responsible Journalism," for a series of articles I wrote on landlords in Princeton who took advantage of tenants who were either mentally ill, homeless, illegal immigrants, or simply poor.

The lesson for me was that I learned to pull meaningful stories out of the void, and people wanted to read them. In fact, I earned multiple awards for stories that were not "sensational" but were important.

Thirty-five years later, I am still challenged by that void.

Business people, too, face that void whenever they have to place content on a webpage or press release. That content often comes with compliance, legal, and regulatory constraints. Also, the content is often vetted by committees of executives that can be time consuming, and the resulting content can become stale or so benign that nobody wants to read it!

Dull Content from Corporations, Businesses, and Even Alumni Magazines

Many corporate websites, employee intranet sites, alumni magazines, and other "marketing" channels miss the mark when it comes to quality, readability, and usefulness. Other times, politics can pollute the channels—for example, an ambitious director who wants to become an executive director who instructs Global Communications to post stories reflecting him or her in a positive light.

Sometimes, the Global Communications staff does not have the authority to say "no" to dull or self-serving content. Or, the staff does not have the guts to suggest that a leader rethink the content. To be sure, Global Communications folks want to stay on the good side of the leadership. They want to keep their jobs, and nobody can fault them for that.

As a result, it falls on the leader to judge whether the content has pith? Will it be meaningful to your readers? A good content strategist will advise you to be objective in telling your story, will elicit interactive feedback from your audience and will help you to develop ethical, transparent, mutually beneficial relationships with your stakeholders. Will you listen?

Whether you are communicating a concept, a process, data, a service, a product, or handling a crisis, a good content strategist will focus on helping you to create and distribute valuable, relevant, and consistent messages to your audiences. This person will know your audiences, and interact with them regularly. And will measure your communication successes using a variety of tools, from surveys to the number of people who open your messages, to the amount of time your message is open on the reader's screen, and more.

Ultimately, a good content strategist is going to help you and your organization to create something real, and build a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship with your stakeholders. And, it will feel authentic.

About the author:

Barbara A. Preston, owner of Preston Strategic Communications, is an award winning communications and marketing consultant. She has worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; and The Lawrenceville School. She has performed consulting work for Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and the Mary Jacobs Library Branch of the Somerset County Library System. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic City Press; The Princeton Packet; The U.S. 1 Newspaper; and in CIO Today.

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