(Author's note: This is a contribution from former Grover Joy Jennings.)
1. Use business jargon
Try to avoid cliches and jargon and speak in conversational English. (I'm sympathetic if the clueless COO is twisting your arm.) Like the proverbial bath, good writing couldn't hurt and might help.
2. Put a copyright symbol on your press materials
Press releases, fact sheets and bios are meant to help journalists. So if you want them to use your stuff, don't mark your materials as copyrighted.
3. Capitalize the name of your industry and other non-proper nouns
Do you promote your company's role in the Fitness market or the Mainframe Maintenance space? Do your press releases quote the Vice President of System Push - CRM Resource Adjunct? Just stop. The names of industries are not proper nouns and neither are job titles.
4. Forget the online readers
Remember to use hyperlinks to get online readers involved. In a press release, you can link the quoted exec to his or her bio and link the product you're describing to its page online. Link to external resources such as Wikipedia listings and even YouTube videos to enhance your text; links can be made from photos and logos as well as words. And while I'm on the subject, stop using the clunky phrase "click here" to create links. Very 1996.
5. Use the same style manual you've had since college English
I respect the Chicago Manual of Style and the authoritative Elements of Style, but today's resource is the Associated Press Stylebook. Because it is used by media and PR folks alike, it has become the dominant style for non-academic and non-literary writing. Audiences today are subconsciously familiar with it because they see it in newspapers, magazines and online copy.
6. Bury the news
Don't make journalists wonder what your release is about or mention your real news nonchalantly in the third paragraph, such as your CEO's resignation or the launch date of the new product. Look at your announcement objectively and acknowledge what the real news will be.
7. Describe your company in such flowing terms that no one can tell what it actually does
I've seen this too many times. You're so focused on the benefits of your services that you gloss over what it IS and what it DOES. Don't make your vendors, investors, prospective employees, media, analysts and other non-customers guess.
8. Put more than four bullets per slide on your PowerPoint presentation
Brevity is the soul of presenting. If your presentation is going to be displayed or projected onto a screen, give your audience a fighting chance and make the bullets brief. Resist the urge to paste in a 20-cell spreadsheet or a dizzying pie chart. Crowded presentations defeat the objective of communication.
9. Focus on the words and forget the visual
What a nice case study you've written. So many words and paragraphs to dig into. Now step back and consider what could enhance it visually: your customer's logo, a photo of the quoted subject, a beauty photo of the product or of people using it, a stock photo that conveys the service's idea, a graph of the money saved or efficiency gained, a screenshot of the software, a photo of your building or your customer's building, a callout quote of a significant statement in your text. You'll find lots of simple ways to enhance communication. Do the legwork and don't leave it to your graphic designer to "make it pretty."
10. Be inflexible about your writing because you're so proud of it
My favorite line to clients is that this isn't my ninth-grade poetry. I can write their document nine ways to Sunday, so they aren't hurting my feelings if they want to edit it. I'll champion effective communication, and I'll keep them from presenting themselves poorly, but I certainly won't pout if they start making changes.
Effective communication is deceptively simple. Remember and respect your audience, and your communications will be the better for it.