Writing across media
Craft your message for the medium
Whether you’re creating a one-off execution, or developing a cross-channel campaign, you’ll want to have an idea of how to write for the type(s) of media you’re using.
Telling your story through a digital audio advertisement is very different from telling your story through a print piece. Understanding how to use a medium to your advantage, and to create copy that’s fit for a specific channel or platform, will help maximize your content’s impact.
Two things that are almost always true
Convey the benefit or value that IU brings to your audience
It isn’t just about painting IU in a good light, or showing off our stories. We want our constituents to see how IU enhances their lives in ways other universities do not. Our goal is for people to understand the distinct value in being a part of the IU community. So, it’s important for your audience to be able to visualize themselves in your story.
Give your audience some direction
You want to build a relationship with your audience, and that means encouraging further interactions with the people you’re reaching. So, most of your executions should be accompanied by a Call to Action (CTA) that directs your viewer to do something, and gives them a way to continue connecting with the IU brand.
There are exceptions, though. There might be times when you’re creating awareness-based messaging that doesn’t require further action, for example.
Writing for print
For print pieces, the principles outlined on the copywriting page are a great starting point. The key components of your copy will often be a headline, subhead, and body copy—although, you don’t always have to use all three.
Your headline is the most important piece of messaging, and it will be a determining factor in whether or not your audience continues to engage with your content.
A few devices for writing great headlines
You only have a few words, so choose them wisely. These writing devices are useful for creating headlines, regardless of the medium. But headlines carry an especially heavy weight in print executions.
- Introduce repetition: Repeating certain words or phrases can add emphasis, especially when done in a clever way.
- Build opposition: Create a little energy within your headline by making words collide. You can use contrasting words or phrases, or juxtapose terms or ideas that seem to contradict at first glance.
- Leave something out: Some headlines force the reader to think about what’s being omitted. Making your audience do a little work can help hold their attention. Consider responding to a question that hasn’t been asked or telling only the ending of a story. Just make sure you give them enough to put the puzzle pieces together.
- Modify a familiar phrase: Familiar things can draw us in, especially when there’s something just a bit different about them. You can craft a new twist on an old cliché or play around with an idiomatic expression.
- Misdirect: Introduce some element of surprise in your headline. Make your audience think you’re leading them somewhere, and then take them to an unexpected place. You can also challenge a convention.
- Parallelism: This device uses the idea of repetition, but in a specific way. Parallelism involves repetition of sentence structure or grammatical form. An example would be: “Enter with an open mind. Exit with an open door.”
Radio: painting a picture for the mind
With radio (or digital audio), the imagery is all in your audience’s mind. Unlike other media, where we combine verbal and nonverbal elements, radio limits our expression to the use of music, sounds, and words. But it doesn’t limit a writer’s creativity.
Radio spots shouldn’t take the form of announcements. They should be imaginative, memorable, clever, relatable, and persuasive.
It helps to view the voice reading a radio script as a character for whom you’ve created a persona. The voice delivering the words has the power to make or break the spot, so cast wisely, and give specific cues within the script for how you want things voiced. Indicate words or phrases where you want extra emphasis, more drama, or a faster or slower read.
Be authentic, engaging, and even conversational. Radio is an intimate medium, giving you the chance to create a unique connection with your constituent. Make your dialogue realistic. If you’re only using one voice, consider writing the script as if you’re speaking with the listener.
Add sound effects (SFX) to create atmosphere, mood, and emphasis. Both SFX and music can help transport your listener into the scene you’re trying to create.
Get friendly with social media
This is where characters really count.
Social media platforms offer two types of placements/posts: paid and organic. Although the specifications (specs) for paid posts are usually more stringent, these requirements reveal user preferences, and are designed to make the most out of your content. Stay up-to-date on the specs and recommendations of the platform, and use them as best practices for your content.
Many placements provide opportunities to put copy both within the image of your post, and around it for support. Think about how these pieces work together. Less is typically more, and you should avoid truncation when possible. If a platform indicates they truncate copy beyond 125 characters, it’s a good idea to use no more than 125 characters. On Facebook, it’s generally more effective to keep your primary text under 90 characters.
Be thoughtful about using the space and format of your specific placement. Think about things like using frames to build your narrative, or to convey multiple messaging points.
When using text in videos, keep things moving at a fast pace, deliver copy in digestible bits, and put your most important points up front. Become familiar with the nature of the platform. People tend to have an appetite for longer content on YouTube than they do on Twitter. And as always, know your audience.
Do more with digital display ads
Digital ads that appear on websites come in a variety of sizes, from large placements that take over your page, down to small mobile units. You’ll have less real estate in the mobile sizes, but it’s generally good to keep your copy brief no matter what your dimensions are. You can pair your copy with an eye-catching visual to draw users in.
In digital display ads, you’ll want to make your copy concise to communicate your idea immediately. This is typically the time to be more direct in your messaging, rather than being clever.
Always include a CTA—you want the user to click! These should be brief and simple in their language, and visually distinct from the rest of the design so they stand out. Generic CTAs like “learn more,” “see how,” or “download now” perform well. But, be sure to make the language of your CTA match what your audience will get when they arrive on your landing page.
Writing for out-of-home
Whether you’re creating a billboard on the side of a highway, or a sign on the side of a bus station, traffic (pedestrian or vehicular) isn’t going to stop for you. To get your message across in a glance, you want to get the point, and make it fast.
Be direct, be brief, and limit your copy to what’s necessary. Your audience will need to process your ad almost instantly, so it’s not the place to be obscure or complicated. You can still be clever, but don’t make your audience do a lot of work.
Make it stand out. Together with visuals, you want to make the placement pop so you can catch your audience, even if only from the corner of their eye.
Keep legibility top of mind. It’s possible that your audience is going to see the ad from a distance, so you don’t want anything to get lost.
Consider being contextual and aware of your location. Use the location of your placement to your advantage.
Writing for video
As digital has taken over, our attention spans have changed. The traditional idea of a story arc, with a long build and a climax situated in the middle of the video, is often ineffective at capturing user attention.
Particularly when your constituents are engaging with your video through a mobile device, it’s critical to start things fast. When writing your script or constructing your story, you’ll want to hook viewers at the very beginning. Keep the narrative moving quickly, and continue delivering unexpected moments throughout your piece.
To stand out in the scroll, it can help to include text on screen. This can add visual interest, and allow your audience to absorb your message even if your video is on mute.
Keep things bite-size
Don’t make your video longer than it needs to be. Many platforms provide flexibility in the length of your videos, but also find that the most effective videos are shorter than the maximum allowed. Consider limiting video length on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to less than 30 seconds, if you can. Sometimes, a snappy six-second video might do the trick.
There are plenty of appropriate times to tell longer stories—just ask yourself if the evidence points to there being an appetite for longer content before you produce something lengthy.