Haiku & the art of a key message

japanese-writingOccasionally clients have asked me to write copy for banner ads. Banners are the little boxes that appear when your browser arrives on a Web page, or you enter certain terms in a search engine, marking you as someone’s target audience. From a writer’s standpoint, the challenge of a banner ad is that space is rigidly constrained – “one line, no more than 35 characters (spaces included)” or something of that sort. Make your point, and get out.

The process reminds me of haiku, a Japanese form of poetry that most of us probably tried to avoid in school. English teachers use haiku as an exercise – the writer must compose three lines totaling 17 syllables, no more and no less. It’s a way of forcing students to squeeze an idea or feeling into a tightly defined template. The challenge is, how richly can you communicate in 17 syllables?

My point here is neither haiku nor banner ads. Rather, it is the art of writing a key message for investors. Some ideas:

  • Keep it short. In one sentence, where’s the value in your company?
  • Identify “magic phrases” – the essence that distinguishes your firm.
  • Use down-to-earth words. “Growing sales” not “revenue enhancement.”
  • Speak in active voice. “We took action” not “Steps were implemented.”
  • Begin and end on strong words, not “based on current assumptions.”
  • Practice. For every communication, start by writing a key message.
  • Then do what the great novelists and professional writers always do: Polish, polish, polish – until your message is practically haiku.
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