For my Amazon friends: I stumbled upon my old notes on how to write strong PR FAQs.
They are still true and trusted – not only for the specific Amazon PR FAQ document, but more generally for business communication that is targeted to convey a complex idea and convince people of it’s merits (e.g. strategy proposals, business plans).
Start from the WHY!!
- Get your numbers early! If you have placeholders, you don’t have a business case. You might think you have one but you don’t know! It’s about numbers, not wishful thinking and assumptions.
- Get the problem statement right! Until you have that, nothing else makes sense. Once you have it, everything else falls in place.
The ONE thing!
- Focus on the core, the most important thing. There will be many things that you want to achieve – focus on the one that matters the most, move everything else to the appendix. I know it hurts, but you have to do it!
- Simplify and crisp up your story. Too much information distracts. Focus on the core benefit that you will provide and structure a logical story flow around that one benefit.
- Data is key, too much data is a problem. Don’t throw in all the data you have, present the data that is critical to enable smart decision making. If you add data that doesn’t support decision making you will only confuse and distract everyone. You will also demonstrate that you don’t know what you’re doing.
Increasing layers of detail and refinement.
- Follow the Journalistic Pyramid. Your story must be clear and convincing in the first paragraph. Everything after that adds additional layers of detail and perspective. Try reading a newspaper article – if you read it top down you can stop at any point and you will get the most important information. If you read bottom up that won’t work. The most important information is at the top, additional supportive information is at the bottom. Structure your thinking and writing the same way.
- Develop your story top down. Likewise get feedback on your story in that layered way. First establish alignment on the problem statement. Then come back and do the same on the bullet points of your solution approach. Finally, and only then, start writing narrative and FAQs. If you try to do all at the same time you will spend a LOT of time and energy in completely re-writing your doc several times.
- What questions are asked in early reviews? Write them down, those are either things you need to fix in your PR, or they will serve as excellent questions for the FAQ.
Don’t waste the reviewer’s time.
- Be clear about the state at which your thinking is. If you want to solidify the problem statement, be clear about that and ONLY bring the problem statement. Once you need structural feedback, bring bullet points, not the narrative. When those are ready, only then start writing narrative. It’s super frustrating to review narrative, if you’re not even sure you understand and agree with the problem that is to be solved. Set proper expectations for everyone in the room (including yourself) or everyone will be frustrated! Don’t bring a narrative if you’re not yet clear on the problem statement or structure – it simply doesn’t work.
- Implement the feedback!! Nothing is frustrating me more than if I spend 30-60 mins to give thoughtful feedback on a document, only to see that it was ignored in the next version. At points I played with the thought of just leaving a review meeting when I see that – I think in the future I will. If you ask for feedback, you MUST work on it. If you don’t want feedback, don’t ask for it and don’t waste people’s time (good luck though with that approach, you better be extra-smart).
Think big, think backwards!
- Don’t think forward, don’t think incrementally. That is the hardest one, but it’s also what makes Amazon what it is. We all are trained to think forward and incrementally by the previous jobs and companies we worked in. We know what we have, and we think what we can add to it in order to make it better. Don’t! Free yourself from what you have, and think about where you want to be with your product in 3 years. If you would be starting from a green field, what would you build? Don’t think about how you can make your car float if you actually need to buy a boat. It’s hard, but this is the key to being successful at Amazon and in your career.
- Gather data, then form an opinion. Get lots of inputs, data and opinions from stakeholders, partners and users. Listen to their thoughts, reflect upon them, let them influence your opinion. Then lock down and go do. Don’t try to write a document that makes everyone happy, write a document that YOU think is right and addresses the most important problems and points. Identify the point in the process at which your opinion counts the most – it’s your document and idea – and everyone else only has inputs. Identify the point where brainstorming and seeking alignment ends, and you start owning a document, setting a bold vision and leading change.
Writing PR FAQs is a muscle.
- Like any muscle, it needs to be exercised to be developed. Write early, write often. Write documents that you only review with your peers or your manager. You don’t want the first document that you ever write be one that goes straight to a VP or SVP (unless you love to be in a world of pain).
- It’s not about the document, it’s about the thinking. We don’t write PR FAQs to produce pretty papers. We don’t review to show people how smart we as reviewers are. We do both to REFINE IDEAS. PR FAQs help us to explain an idea and then bring the best minds together to poke, polish and refine. Any given idea gets better through the review and debate process. It’s painful at times, but it’s always worth it.
Good luck and enjoy the intellectual challenge!
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