Write with authenticity

The recent return of the MP expenses scandals, and the following, almost unbelievable graphic from @ConradHackett (which I stumbled across via @JoeSarling), got me thinking about authenticity in politics.

First of all, that incredible graphic.

Falsehead face-off

Without doubt, there can be no authenticity in politics if the spin doesn’t tally with the truth. And voters remember if you’re seen to go back on your word, just look at Nick Clegg.

While we should absolutely run this lie detector test on our own political leaders, I want to focus on how they say what they say, rather than what they’re saying.

Having worked in both journalism and PR for a while now, I’ve both received and written my fair share of corporate quotes. But what’s the trick in making them feel real? How do you make a connection with your audience?

Here are some quotes from three politicians. You may recognise some of them, but do they feel authentic?

“When Donald Trump says there are parts of London that are ‘no go’ areas, I think he’s betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of President of the United States.”

“Extending the grant in a sustainable way ensures more than 100,000 people will benefit from financial support when purchasing these cheap-to-run and green cars. We are determined to keep Britain at the forefront of the technology, increasing our support for plug-in vehicles to £600 million over the next 5 years to cut emissions, create jobs and support our cutting-edge industries.”

“Treat people with respect, treat people as you would wish to be treated yourself. Listen to their views, agree or disagree but have that debate. Cut out the personal abuse, cut out the cyber-bullying and especially the misogynistic abuse online and let’s get on bringing real values back into politics.”

I’m obviously being a bit unfair here, comparing two big characters with strong voices to a quote from a government press release, but you can see the stark difference.

Writing authentically is so important – whether in the political, B2B or B2C arena. It can build or erode trust, it can win or lose votes or sales.

So, whether you’re writing for a politician, a CEO or a housing officer, here are my five tips to create authentic quotes:

1. What are you trying to achieve?

Whatever else you do, be clear on your objectives from the start. What is the main message you want people to take away? What are you hoping people will feel, think or do having read your piece?

2. Know yourself (or the client)

We can’t, and shouldn’t, all talk like Boris Johnson. But you can hear him saying his quote. And if you’ve read something that doesn’t sound like him, it immediately feels false, undermining the message. Know your (or your client’s) stylistic flourishes, use them, sparingly, to make it feel like personal and real. And always read your quotes out loud, do they sound authentic?

3. What’s the point?

It’s pretty standard practice to weave the main messages, facts and figures into the quote; simply because the journalist can’t mess around with that bit. But trust the journalist to do their job and write a decent, balanced story. They will, rightly, chop out anything that’s not useful or interesting to their audience.

And don’t overload the quote with facts and figures, don’t try and chuck everything in. While the eye is naturally drawn to numbers within copy, which can be a useful trick, be ruthless about what makes the cut.

Just include the best figure, one that supports your story the strongest – otherwise people will just drift over the quote and not take anything away at all.

4. Know the customer

Remember the old saying that you can never please all of the people all of the time. So be really clear about who you are writing for, what do you want this person to think, feel or do? What tone and language resonates with them?

5. It’s a conversation – what are people saying back?

In the modern, digital world, feedback is pretty immediate. One-way communication is over.

So don’t just evaluate the reach of the message, evaluate the impact. This is easier of course if it’s linked to sales uplift or potential leads, but don’t forget to look at the tone of the article. Take a deep breath and go ‘below the line’, see what the reaction is like in the comments section.

Check out what people are saying on social media, they’ll soon tell you if you or your client are not being authentic.


Answers: In case you weren’t sure the quotes were from Boris Johnson, Andrew Jones and Jeremy Corbyn.



The others

Last night I sat down to write my first blog. It was to be about something called ‘othering‘, a phenomenon where rhetoric and society can, often unconsciously, single out a specific group that’s different, and see and treat them as less important.

I was going to write about housing, particularly social housing, a topic close to my heart. I was to argue that possibly this ‘othering’ was happening in our society. And that welfare and housing policy played on this, making life even tougher for a specific group of people.

Sadly, many in society view those families affected by these policies as lazy, the undeserving, the poor. Other people. I guess understandably, in tough times, you look after your family first.

But then Paris happened.

Innocent people killed. Terrorists. Suicide bombs. Muslims.

Horrific and terrifying scenes.

Headlines we’re sadly getting used to.

My thoughts are with those whose lives have been touched by this terrible crime, in Paris, and around the world.

On Twitter there was outrage at an Arabic hashtag, which translated as #parisonfire. Some were using it to gloat, but many were using it to send prayers too, from all places and people.

But it shows the depth of the divide.

Earlier that day ”Jihadi John’ was reportedly killed in an armed drone strike. What he did was inhuman and unforgivable. But he had a name, Mohammed Emwazi, and he had a family. Who despite everything, also lost someone in this war.

So, both sides are guilty of othering the other.

A survey earlier this year showed Britons most associated the words ‘terrorism’, ‘extremist’ and ‘misogynistic’ with Islam.

What happened in Paris, and the hashtag, showed starkly what a few think of the West.

Barack Obama said immediately after the attack: “This is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share.”

He was possibly more right than he realised. This needs to be about all of humanity. Not a race, a religion, a class or a nationality.

We need to find those truly universal values of the majority, that cross geographic, cultural, racial and religious boundaries. We all need to respect every individual, and their right to a decent life.

It’s definitely the most difficult course, and one that’s hard to stomach after a tragedy like we saw yesterday, but maybe it’s the only way we’ll ever have a safe, inclusive and peaceful society.