woman talking with 2 men

Most New Year’s resolutions focus on eating and exercise. Why not craft a few new habits for writing and editing, too? 3 Ruralite Services Communicators of the Year share tips to help you get 2015 off to a great start.

A legacy of excellence (from left): Jeff Marshall of Clearwater Power, Idaho; Sabrina Owens of Escambia River Electric Cooperative, Florida; and Lori Froehlich of Klickitat County PUD, Washington.

Jeff Marshall

2013 Communicator of the Year
Clearwater Power Co., Idaho

I approach communications armed with my graphic design and advertising background. I try to either draw attention gently with simple language (in articles) or draw attention bluntly with one-hit design (in ads).

For inspiration, I collect magazine ads and billboard examples. I also bookmark good blogs and memorize good advice. Here are my favorite nuggets of wisdom:

  1. “Form follows function.”Louis Sullivan, architect
    Don’t let the artwork dictate the content. Distill your message and then formulate the best design around one simple idea.
  2. “People don’t read ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.” —Howard Gossage, advertising professional
    Contrary to popular belief, everyone reads ads and everyone is affected by ads. Anyone who believes otherwise just isn’t consciously aware that it’s happening.
  3. “When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents out of your dollar.” —David Ogilvy, father of modern advertising
    The headline is often the only part of your ad someone might see. Make it clear, make it honest, make it count.
  4. “Pity the reader. Be sympathetic and patient, ever willing to simplify and clarify.” Kurt Vonnegut, writer
    Think from the outside in. Just because we’re interested or we “get it” doesn’t mean they’re interested or that they’ll “get it.”
  5. “Find the heartbeat in your work. Be fearless.” —Dave LaBelle, photojournalist
    In photos (or any communications piece), there should be some edge, or mystery, something inspiring, something answered, something that sparks a memory, something that sparks desire.

Sabrina Owens

2014 Communicator of the Year
Escambia River Electric Cooperative, Florida

  1. Organize and prioritize. Working on multiple projects—which we all have to do—can be overwhelming.  I like to break each project down into deadlines and put them on my calendar. Then it’s easy to see everything that needs to be done, and I don’t feel like I’m overlooking something.
  2. Get another viewpoint. When you’ve been in the electric co-op business for many years, you sometimes take phrases and terms for granted and think everyone knows what they mean. It’s a good idea to ask a friend to read the article just to make sure it makes sense to those not in the energy industry as well.
  3. Save the editing. I like to write articles without worrying about sentence structure and grammar too much. Then I go back and edit. I often lose the point of my story if I spend too much time trying to make everything perfect while I’m writing.
  4. Give yourself time. When writing in a rush, I may think something sounds good and send it to print only to cringe when I read it later. I like to write an article, then move on to another project for a while, and then go back and reread. Often what sounded good the first time around may need a different word choice or even a total redo on the second take.
  5. Have fun writing. I’m often guilty of writing with a serious, factual tone.  While there is certainly a time for that, lighthearted and whimsical writing has its place, too. If it’s a happy subject, have fun writing! Most readers enjoy a witty, creative slant on a topic. Just be careful not to let it get too quirky.

Lori Froehlich

2012 Communicator of the Year
Klickitat County PUD, Washington

  1. Make deadlines. I start with Ruralite’s schedule of important dates to set my own deadlines. This also means making deadlines for when I need materials from my coworkers, and being responsible for letting them know the deadlines. This ensures I can get everything compiled in time and turned into my editor.
  2. Keep in touch. I try to keep my editor in the loop on my vacations or anytime there’s big projects going on that take time away from Ruralite —especially if it coincides with any deadlines. She does the same for me. Open communication allows us both to be flexible.
  3. Organization. This might not work for everyone, but I keep a file on my computer listing all previous articles published by month. This works out really well with articles that are run annually and have to be advertised before a certain deadline (i.e., budget payment plans in May, power outage kits in November). I review the file every month to make sure I’m not overlooking something.
  4. Ask for help. After a few years, sometimes you run out of ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask your editor for some help filling pages. Looking at the share package helps inspire me by seeing what everyone else is communicating to their members.
  5. Schedule writing time. Sometimes it feels like there are a hundred other tasks to do each day when you know you should be working on your pages. I have to schedule time for myself where I can just write and be free from as much interruption as possible. My writing flows best when I take a break from helping members and coworkers and focus.