Every word counts — and none more so than your first few.
You only get one chance to make a first impression.
That seems obvious, right? Yet you’d be surprised by the number of people who disregard or downplay this advice when writing a cover letter.
In our business-writing course at the University of Maryland, we teach the art and science of writing a cover letter. We explain how to create a hook. We present ideas for personal connections. And yet, every semester, some students believe that it’s ok to launch this critical document on the strength of a weak opening line:
“Dear Mr. McGarry, My name is C.J. Cregg, and I’m writing to apply for…”
If ever there were a wasted opportunity, this is it.
If you want to speak with the media, then you need media training.
Never confuse a reporter for a friend.
This conflation is often the first — and most damaging — mistake that people make when engaging with the press. After all, it’s tempting to get chummy with a reporter. He’s a professional listener who’s eager to quote you. In the glare of the spotlight, you get seduced by his charm and let your guard down.
But here’s the thing. Reporters have a job to do: To serve up the news in a way that’s interesting. You, too, have a job: To promote your side of the story. Inevitably, those two missions will clash.
A flack who doesn’t pitch is like a gas station without a tire pump: Annoying and avoidable.
There are two types of PR people: Those who write op-eds, and those who pitch op-eds. Rare is the pro who excels at both.
Why the bifurcation? Let me be blunt: Pitching is a pain. You’re at the mercy of editors whom you’ve likely never met, whose inboxes are inundated, and who are famous for being unresponsive. Indeed, a successful pitch can take one email or a dozen; you never know.
And yet, I’d encourage every PR pro reading this to bite the bullet. If you can’t pitch, you can’t do PR.
Because it lays the groundwork for your résumé.
Many people think cover letters are optional.
The smartest job seekers know that writing a cover letter — even if it’s not asked for — brings with it a bushel of benefits.
If your corporate policy is inflexible, cushion it with compassion.
In March, the federal government announced unprecedented news: It would give every American a stimulus payment of up to $1,200. Yet the check came with a catch: If you opted to have the money deposited into your bank account and your account is overdrawn, then your bank might keep part, or even all, of the payment to make up for your negative balance.
Leave aside, for the moment, whether this action is right or wrong. Instead, consider the diametrically different statements from two of the banks:
How I learned to stop worrying and love phone calls.
Early in my career, I hated phone calls. They were time-consuming and inefficient. Why can’t you just email me, I’d often wonder?
My aversion was so acute that not only did I exclude my phone number from my email signature; I also recorded a message for my voice mail that said something like this: “I rarely check these messages; please email me.”
In short, I viewed Alexander Graham Bell’s invention as an unnecessary evil.
Today, I know better. I know the phone is not a burden but an opportunity. I recognize that for a relationship to thrive, you must do more than swap written words; you need to hear the other person’s voice.
Transform your activities into achievements.
If you’re reading this, then I’m willing to wager that you have a résumé. Yet I’m also willing to wager that you’re making a critical mistake on this critical document. In short, I suspect that some of your bullet points cite activities rather than achievements.
That’s understandable. Achievements are tough to articulate, let alone accomplish. Yet if you want your résumé to stand out, then you absolutely need them. Specifically, you need to transform your day-to-day responsibilities into distinctive results.
The best writers are also designers.
As many of you know, I teach business writing at the University of Maryland. The first presentation I deliver each semester is short and simple; the whole deck is 11 slides.
What can I convey in such limited space? It’s a mantra I repeat throughout the course, which I suspect that most of my students can recall well afterward: How your work looks can be as important as what it says.
In other words: To excel at writing, you need to master both form and function, both style and substance. You need to think visually.
Four tactics when your op-ed pitch elicits crickets.
For 15 years, I’ve been writing and pitching op-eds. Here are the most memorable and useful lessons I’ve learned over the years — the hard way:
Always have a conversation before you provide your price.
Recently, a prospective client emailed me. The subject line of her message said it all: “Need a Media Trainer.”
As someone who delivers media-training workshops, I was delighted. So we scheduled a call.
Ten minutes into the conversation, however, it turned out that she didn’t want a workshop on how to talk with reporters. She wanted a workshop on how to talk with an audience. In other words, she wanted a presentation trainer.
To her, the difference was a mere nuance. To me, these were two entirely different topics. Sure, they were related and there was some overlap, but only in the same way that Fiat and Ferrari are both cars.