Writing Tip . . . even if you never use a billboard!

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     “Start with a billboard!”



I was told this in my first writing job a zillion blank pages ago. It took a while for that suggestion to settle into my neophyte, know-it-all demeanor, but reality is that it’s one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever received.

No matter what you are writing, no matter the audience, the medium, or desired result, when you can write a billboard first—even if you never use an actual billboard—everything else will flow easier and quicker, and have greater impact.

   And why is that? For an outdoor billboard to be effective, considering average passing rates of speed (and website billboard responsiveness, considering online attention spans plus trigger finger impatience), the total number of words should not—as a rule of thumb—exceed seven!

And those seven words need to tell a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end . . . AND be persuasive! “You deserve a break today … at McDonald’s” is a perfect example. Look around; you’ll see others, and hopefully from some more health-conscious businesses than fastfoods. [Please post or send me any good examples you run across.]

Even working with a noncommercial entity like the Pennsylvania Heart Institute and a two-dozen member team of heart surgery and transplant specialists and cardiologists, it was enormously helpful to establishing the Institute, and to growing the affiliated physician practices by coming up with a billboard to start things off.

     “Put Your Heart In The Right Place!”

[especially as caption to a graphic with a big red heart on the right side of a blue-outlined Commonwealth of Pennsylvania] best captured both the rational competitive spirit and emotional sense of sentimentality in a single seven-word statement.  It served as a successful inaugural theme for their branding and community relations programs.

     Think about how to write an effective billboard before tackling your next letter, business plan, chapter, email, advertising campaign, sales pitch, poem, speech, short story, editorial, script, sermon . . . and do it! 

It will force you to encapsulate the essence of what you want to communicate, help you be more persuasive, and ensure you of getting the most impact value from your efforts.

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