On today’s Reach, Dan Parscale speaks with Shareefah Hoover, one of Audigy’s copywriters and content producers, about writing content for an audiology specific audience and some of its challenges.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Content generation is an important part of every brand’s marketing experience, but sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start and how to do it properly. Today, Shareefah is going to walk us through copywriting in informal and useful tones in a technical and medical world.
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Hi. I’m Shareefah Hoover, copywriter with Audigy.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Good morning, Shareefah. How are you today?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Good morning, Daniel. I’m doing fabulously. Really good to be here. Thank you.
DANIEL PARSCALE: I know. It’s a beautiful day finally for the first time in several months, I would say.
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Sunshine.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Mm-hmm. All right. So we’ve got a very interesting conversation today. Why don’t you tell us what we’re going to be talking about?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: We’re going to be talking about writing about sensitive and technical matters in an informative tone, keeping your audience riveted and interested.
DANIEL PARSCALE: That’s a tough thing to do. And it’s part of every written piece that we produce, whether it’s for the web, for print, or anywhere else. But we have to produce a lot of content for that. So this is a really consistent challenge that copywriters, like yourself, must deal with all the time.
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: It’s a consistent challenge. It’s an exciting challenge, because everyone wants to be captured in a way that gets their attention and holds their attention. If we don’t accomplish that, they move on. We all know that, because we’re audiences as well. We’re consumers as well. And we have a lot that’s tugging at our time and tugging at our attention.
DANIEL PARSCALE: So let’s put ourselves firstly in the consumer’s shoes. In general, how would you describe, what is it that people actually want from an informative piece?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: They want information that’s going to help them, or that’s going to excite them, that’s going to intrigue them, that’s going to help them help someone else. The same things that we’re looking for when we’re watching a show, when we’re reading a book, when we’re watching a documentary, when we’re listening to someone on the radio.
When we’re trying to get home or trying to get to work, we’re in drive time. And we’re listening to shows that are running during the commuting hour. Those same themes of what inspires us, moves us, interests us, saddens us, angers us, excites us, makes us want to shop, listen, learn, do what we need to do that allows us to thrive.
DANIEL PARSCALE: The first thing that comes to my mind, when you put it in that way, is my personal commute. And I tend to listen to NPR on most days. And I think about how all of those things are present, whether it’s in the tones and inflections of the DJ, who happens to be speaking, or the newscaster, or just the content that they’re talking about.
It’s unusual sometimes, and it’s also something that’s relevant, and it’s usually of the now as well. So it’s always, it’s personal, in a certain sense.
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Isn’t that the truth? And sometimes what we don’t necessarily appreciate, when it comes to what we’re listening to during drive time, whether it’s NPR or whatever else we’re listening to, that someone wrote just about everything that you’re hearing. And they thought about that.
They thought about those ways that are going to move you in terms of storytelling, in terms of transitions from one story to the next. Thinking about putting the listener in that moment and doing their best to reach some or all of the senses– the taste, touch, smell, feeling in terms of emotion, or just listening– all of those things, and being able to do that with words.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Let’s look at the different kinds of people who are consuming the materials that we’re talking about. And specifically, when we’re talking about audiology and medical practices in general, we’re looking at, I would say, two general categories. We’re talking about professionals, and we’re talking about laypeople. Can you talk a little bit about– well, first of all do, you agree with that? And secondly, if you do, what are the differences, if any, in the way that content should be produced for them?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: I agree with what you’re saying. We’re talking to businesses, and we’re talking to consumers. We’re talking to medical professionals, audiologists. We’re talking to ENT professionals. We’re talking to business owners. We’re talking to front office staff. And we’re also talking to patients.
We’re talking to folks who have expert knowledge. We’re talking to people who have a lay understanding of the information at hand. And for both audiences, there are some requirements that are similar, and there are some requirements– in terms of effective communication– there are some requirements that are different. But in the end, we’re still looking to grab attention, hold that attention, come across as knowledgeable, credible, and someone, an organization to whom you want to learn from, and you want to hear more from.
DANIEL PARSCALE: You mentioned that there are a couple of differences between the two audiences and the content that we generate for them. Could I put you on the spot to list a couple of those, even if they’re just high level differences?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Let’s take research. Let’s say we are doing a story or discussing the latest and greatest about smoking and hearing loss. That same information may be aimed at a professional medical audience, and that content may be aimed at separately to a consumer audience.
For that professional audience, we may be getting more into the weeds of medical terminology, the background on some specific science or research and what it means for that practice, in terms of how they’re approaching their patients, or what they may be looking for in terms of prevention, and how audiologists can help that ENT professional, and looking out for certain connections between smoking and, say, hearing loss.
For the consumer, it may be about prevention and really focused more on how they can take better care of their health, if you are smoking, for example. And did you know there are connections between smoking and hearing loss? This is another opportunity for you to look at all the points of your health care and of your overall wellness so that you can be as healthy as possible.
Here are some specific preventive tips. Those preventive tips are not necessarily going to be the tips that are shared with a physician or an audiologist. This is more consumer-oriented. But in the end, we’re still talking with both audiences about connections between smoking and hearing loss.
DANIEL PARSCALE: What goes into your research before you write a piece? Let’s continue with the example you’re using about smoking, for instance. How much time would you dedicate to finding out the different angles for the lay person and the professional?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: You want to start with what the medical journals are saying. What’s the research that’s out there? What are scientists saying? What are they finding? What’s the latest research?
Resources, such as American Medical Association, Annals of Internal Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Oregon Health and Science University Medical School Library, even the American Heart Association. I mean, there are good, credible organizations, academic, research-oriented, scientific organizations that are focused on research– the latest and the greatest– and looking at various topics that make a difference for communities. Not esoteric, but focused on what’s affecting local communities across the country.
What are they seeing? What are they finding out? Topics of interest. So you start there. And at the same time, however, you’re also looking at, how are local, and national, and worldwide media digesting the information?
It’s always interesting, when you look at medical journals and the topics that are covered and the way they’re presented, the way the issues are written about. And then to see media digest that information for a consumer audience, you can definitely appreciate the difference in terms of the terminology that’s used. Taking that same information, and using plain English.
Taking out the most salient points, because any research is going to really get into the methodology. And it’s going to talk about the demographics and the various findings and statistics that come out of it. But when you, say, look at how a media outlet has digested this information, they’re going to really take what to their audience is going to be most important, the biggest statistic that affects perhaps their community. And you can see that difference. And you can see the power of distilling information to capture attention.
And we’re doing the same thing. For example, when we are summarizing medical information, insight, science, research, for physician outreach, for example, working with physicians to build a referral relationship, we’re providing summaries of this salient information and using more medical terminology. Still trying to be light on the medical jargon, because you want it to be readable.
No matter who’s reading it– a lay person or professional– you still want it to flow. You still want it to be succinct and clear. So you can not get too far in the weeds of the medical jargon. If folks want that, they can look at the original research.
But when you are summarizing it, you’re still understanding that you only have so much of that person’s time. So you want to make it readable, succinct, and appropriate. But when you then take that, and you make it available for a lay audience, you’re getting even more salient, I would say, in terms of the big statistic that makes the most– that gets the most attention for the consumer audience and what it means for them.
What does this mean for me? For any news, it’s the who, the what, the when, the where, the why, and the so what. Why does this matter?
DANIEL PARSCALE: That sounds like an incredible amount of work, even before you’ve gotten to talking about writing, I mean, the actual copy itself. Just in general, because I’m curious, how long does it take you to actually prepare for that? I mean, we provide this as a service, because it’s so time-consuming. I’m just curious how much time it takes you.
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: It takes a robust amount of time, or it can take a robust amount of time, depending on the topic. I mean, we’re talking about medical issues. We’re talking about scientific research that can really get into the weeds.
And so the first thing that you’re doing is you’re making sure you’re getting a handle on this scientific research. What does this mean? The writers may not be medical experts. But they can still, because of their talent and their expertise, take that information, and make it digestible for a lay audience, and provide a salient summary for a professional audience, an expert audience.
So it takes time to look over the information. Make sure you understand what the research is about, what the main points are, because you’re also distilling that information. Like, OK, I’ve read this anywhere from– it could be a two-page scientific report. It could be 16, 20 pages. And, in the end, you’re turning that into a one-page summary, or a blog post, or a headline, or a news release.
You’re turning it into other digestible types of media. So you’ve got to take the time to understand what you’re talking about, because you need to be that credible resource, as well, as you’re digesting that information on behalf of someone else– the person who’s going to read your summary.
Then you’re pulling out those key points. You’re thinking about your various audiences. Am I talking to a lay audience about this? Am I talking to a medical audience?
Also, not only are you looking at that research, but you may be looking at related information that you can tie into it because, again, you’re looking to be a resource. You’re looking to tie in potentially other relevant, salient information that, say, you could turn into additional tips. Putting it into context. And sometimes, to put it into context, you may need additional information.
Let’s go back to the example of smoking and hearing loss. That research might be about the exact effect that smoking may or may not have on hearing loss. And that’s important information. But that study might not talk about how smoking affects people generally, or how hearing loss affects people generally, or what the statistics are regarding hearing loss prevalence across the country or around the world.
So you’re still digging for that other information that allows you to put this research into context for the audience, and that takes time as well. You may want or need to get it vetted by an expert. We have on staff audiologists who can vet our information to make sure that the terminology that we’re using is correct, that it is clear, and that it makes sense for the audience that we’re aiming for. It’s a wonderful in-house service that we have.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Can we talk a little bit about some of the challenges that you run into when you’re trying to find a way to explain these things? And let me give you an example of something like this, or just a for instance, I guess. Because new information is coming out all the time, some of it can sometimes seem contradictory, or it can seem as though there’s two sides of the coin that are both weighted. Or even they’re just reporting, here’s something that we don’t know if it’s true yet. But we’re thinking about it. How do you present that kind of information authoritatively without being misleading?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: First and foremost, I make sure that I am working with credible resources. Just as we need to be a credible resource, and we work hard to be a credible resource and credible source of information, we research, find, and look to credible resources and sources of information.
When you’re looking to professional audiology associations, when you’re looking to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when you are looking to credible resources, such as the American Medical Association and other well known, credible organizations and agencies that you know that can count on– because they, too, have a lot riding on their credibility and their ability to deliver the most accurate and timely information– you know that you’re in good hands. So that’s something that I, as a writer, pay close attention to.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Do you find that there are any components of a well-written piece that necessarily must be there? Or conversely, let’s look at it from someone who’s not a professional such as yourself. Let’s look at it from their angle. Are there any things that are tossed into writing that you think ought not be used?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: I liken it to a good meal. And–
DANIEL PARSCALE: All beef, no gristle, right?
DANIEL PARSCALE: I mean, maybe it might not be so bad to have a tiny bit of fat because fat adds flavor. And when I say fat, I mean, say for example, let’s say you’re writing a story, and you’re looking at the layout of the story.
And for me as a writer, what’s most important is I need to know the main point of the story. What’s the main point? What’s the focus? What’s the impact on the audience that I’m speaking to?
But it doesn’t mean that I have to lead with that. Sometimes I will. If I really want to take a hard news approach, and my summary lead is getting right to it, right to the point, great. But sometimes I might start with a little bit of flavor.
Maybe I start with a question. Well, we all know that a question is not necessarily going to be the main point of the story, but it’s getting you there. It’s drawing your eye in. It’s getting your attention.
So that’s what I mean by maybe a little bit of the tasty fat. It’s kind of the soft lead in to a story that grabs your attention, and then we get you with the meat.
DANIEL PARSCALE: I imagine that’s really helpful, especially if you’re talking to potential patients. For instance, if you’re talking about, again, smoking comorbidity issues, it’s probably easier to lead in with something more gentle than, smoking is probably going to kill you, or something like that.
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Right. You don’t want to lead with, are you still smoking? No. No, that’s not how you want to lead. You want to lead in such a way that’s inspiring, that’s helpful, that’s drawing someone in without being judgmental.
DANIEL PARSCALE: So let’s take a look at some of the content that you’ve written about. We’ve used this, the smoking example, a lot. Can Is it possible to summarize what kind of content is popular?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Comorbidities is pretty popular. Talking about the presence of two chronic diseases or conditions. That’s topical. It gets people’s attention because you’re often talking about diseases and conditions that everyone can relate to, either personally or by way of someone in their family.
For example, when it comes to comorbidities, we may talk about not only smoking and hearing loss. But what about conditions like diabetes, tinnitus, heart disease? So many conditions that have been associated over the years, and with growing research have been associated over the years, with hearing loss.
So these are popular topics and popular inroads to speaking to consumers and also reaching out to physicians and other professionals in the community to build relationships. Everyone can relate to these diseases and conditions.
What do they mean for a hearing loss? Is there a relationship? Why is there a relationship? Wow. I never even knew that.
So then, from the consumer standpoint, the person may be wondering, what does that mean for me? Does that mean that I need to make sure that if I’m doing practicing– if I have this behavior or this condition, that I should also be asking for a hearing check or making sure that I’ve got that on my calendar every year?
Or if I am a physician, should I be thinking about that when I have patients who have diabetes, or who are smoking, or who have heart disease or other conditions that have been associated with hearing loss? Do I need to be talking with them about getting a hearing check or talking with them about symptoms of hearing loss?
DANIEL PARSCALE: So part of the popularity of these pieces is their ubiquity among most people or the familiarity that they have with them to something that’s happening in their lives or with their patients’ lives.
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Exactly. It goes back to thinking about the big picture of storytelling when you’re thinking about timeliness. Is this something that’s happening now? Is this something that relates to us now? And impact. How does this affect me? And also proximity. Does it affect the people that I know, that I care about in my community? And relevance. I mean, it kind of hits all of those points.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Well, let’s talk about how we can translate that relevancy, too, because it’s something you’ve talked about a couple of times but we haven’t really gone into yet, is you’re taking this information and these perspectives and translating them between, as you said, blog posts, white papers, all kinds of different mediums.
Sometimes they’re in print. They’re long, or they’re short. You know what I mean?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Yes.
DANIEL PARSCALE: So what are the challenges that go into taking large concepts and applying them in so many different forms and styles?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: The challenge, and the excitement, and the fun is to make them work for various media. You are writing a piece for a web page. And that’s going to be quite different from a Facebook post.
DANIEL PARSCALE: In what ways?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: When you’re writing for various media, Daniel, you’re thinking about your audience. You’re thinking about the audience and the medium at hand. I mean, there are so many requirements for that audience. Is this a lay audience? Is this a relaxed audience? Is this a very formal audience?
So you’re also thinking about, what is the audience looking for from this? Are they looking for guidance? Are they looking for reinforcement of what they already know? Are they looking to be inspired? Is this a piece that’s about a sense of actuation? We need you to do something, and we need you to do it now.
So there’s that piece of the audience and what we’re looking to accomplish with that audience. But then there’s also the excitement, and the requirements, and the limitations, and the opportunities of the medium. Every medium that you’re working with, whether it’s a blog, the web page, the Facebook post, Twitter, a letter, anything, different requirements, different opportunities, different limitations.
So for the example between, say, the web page and the Facebook post, one of the limitations, one of the differences would be, say, word count. Another is the expectations– the audience expectations on that medium. On Facebook, it’s a little bit more casual. You can’t be too casual, or I suppose you can be, depending on your brand.
And that’s another consideration. What is your brand? Is your brand casual? Does your brand let its hair down a little bit on Facebook? Is that the expectation of your audience?
So you’re taking that same content. And for your web page, you’ve got to think about, is this an educational page? This is strictly a set of tips on this topic. Let’s go for it. And then we’ve got a call to action.
All right, so we’re going to take that same page or that same content. Now we’re looking at Facebook. A, we don’t have as much room. You only have so many characters that you can work with, or and so many characters that you want to work– only so many characters that you want to work with on Facebook. You don’t want to bombard folks with information. So you’re thinking about how I take that great informative information on my web page and make it appropriate for my Facebook audience.
Beyond word count, and beyond the limitations or the opportunities of that specific medium, you’re also looking at the intention of the audience that you’re targeting and how they got to that information that they’re reading, what their expectations are. For example, when you’re looking at the difference between, say, your web page and, let’s say, a social media post, there’s a good chance that if they’re on your web page, that they got there because they did a keyword search on Google.
So they’re looking for hearing aids, or tinnitus, or hearing test, or hearing exam, or hearing loss, but whatever it is that, say, got them to your web page. But if they’re looking at some information that’s, say, on a Facebook post– it’s your Facebook post– it’s likely that information was pushed to them by way of, say, it may be a Facebook ad, or it came up through their feed. And so what you’re looking to do at that point is you’re looking to provide a teaser that draws them in to your web page, your website, your blog.
You need to pull them in to get that information that you want to share with them. So you’re writing for a different medium. It’s a way to repurpose that content. And for that, say, that social media post, it might be a quick question or a statistic that’s real attention grabbing. They’ll want to learn more about this.
Did you know? And then you’re giving this salient statistic that someone could not ignore. And then you pull them in. Want to learn more? Or to learn more– and send them to your website. Having a quick call to action that guarantees they’re going to get some more information, that is targeted to them, that is of interest to them, and that will mean something important to them.
DANIEL PARSCALE: I really like that angle. You mentioned search engines, and that intentionality is one of my biggest focuses when I’m thinking about that for SEO. But I think that the same applies offline as well.
So, for instance, let’s say, something that comes to my mind is you’re promoting an event of some sort. And you are doing that on your website and, let’s say, with a direct mail piece, too, just for fun. Well, if it’s on your website, as you said, someone’s gotten to your website, either due to their previous familiarity with your brand, or they’ve gone looking for you in some way. So you know that they have some interest in your services. And that’s going to provide an opportunity for one tone, knowing that they are interested.
But if you’re using a direct mail approach, that’s maybe a little bit more shotgun method, there’s less reliability that you know what their mindset or their need is. And so you have to present the information usably to them but with a different tone. And I think that’s– it falls in line with what you’ve been saying.
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: And when you’re, say, using a mailer, I mean, that also opens up other opportunities. Is it a postcard mailer that’s, as you mentioned, say, like a shotgun approach? Or is it, say, a targeted closed envelope mailer, that’s going to, say, specific folks on your database, patients that you have a direct relationship with? There are other considerations where you want to get them to an event.
Say, if it’s a postcard, one of the considerations is that you’ve got to be succinct. You want to grab their attention. You don’t have a lot of real estate to do it on. You’ve got a postcard that’s front and back. Some of that is reserved for your return address, for the mailing address, the postage. So you’ve got to make a lot with very little space, which is exciting. It really forces you to be clear, to be succinct, to be impactful, to grab attention.
There are also some other considerations. For example, you want to make sure that you are complying with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which deals with, among other things, medical records, patient privacy. So one of the things that you want to make sure that you’re doing if, say, you’re using a postcard, is that you’re not identifying the person as a patient. You want to respect their privacy.
So you’re being creative, and you’re getting their attention. You’re giving them information. You’re sharing information that’s important, but you want to do it in a way that respects their privacy and, at the same time, moves them to take action.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Besides HIPAA, there are occasionally other restrictions that might have to be taken into consideration. For instance, there are regulations about not misidentifying your credentials, is a common one. Or sometimes, even some of the wording that you can use is regionally specific. And I’m thinking things like use of the word “free” in regards to services versus “complimentary” or something like that. Can you talk a little bit about that and what you have to do as a copywriter to maintain those regulations and rules?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: I can talk a little bit about that. There are federal regulations concerning the use of the word “free” or referring to free tests or free evaluations. Providers can offer free tests or free evaluations to– because of Medicare and Medicaid restrictions. So the purpose of that is to avoid influencing someone’s choice of Medicare or Medicaid provider based on whether or not billable services are being offered for free.
So there are some instances you’ve got to be careful of that. Is this a provider that is providing care to people who are using Medicare or Medicaid? Now, if the member or the provider does not bill Medicare, it’s OK to, say, offer free tests and evaluations. But you’ve got to be clear on where that provider stands and what services that they’re offering.
Another thing is advertising something as new. If it’s been on the market for longer than a year, per HIPAA, we can’t advertise that service or product as being new. So those– just things like that, that are important to be– provisions like that, that are important to be aware of, and keeping that in mind when writing, when doing business to consumer communications.
DANIEL PARSCALE: I want to ask one last question for you. I think this is going to be on the minds of most of the people who are ready to write their own content as in addition to the stuff that we’re providing. Where do you come up with your ideas? I know that this is a big one even for us internally.
And seeing all the work that you do, I wonder, how in the world did you ever come up with these ideas, knowing that they’re relevant? I mean, there’s just so much work for this. What would you recommend to someone who wants to write their own content but doesn’t know where to begin?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: The opportunities are endless. Just hearing from your patients for starters. What questions are they asking? What concerns do they have?
There’s that saying that, any one question that you have, you’re representing at least, what, 1,000 other people who have that same question. So you can bet, if one person is asking, lots of other folks want to know the same thing. Lots of consumers, lots of prospects, lots of people, who may not even know about your practice, who want to know the same thing, who would appreciate that educational, helpful information. So starting there is valuable, starting with your patients.
Also looking at news stories. There’s a service from Google, for example, called Google Alerts. And you can set up keywords that you want to hear about, read about every day. You can stay on top of current events, what’s happening locally, regionally, around the world.
And I say around the world because there are smoking, hearing loss, many health conditions, diseases, many are prevalent around the world. There is research that is done not only locally, and regionally, and nationally, but on issues that are affecting people globally. And even when they’re globally, there are ways to localize the information. So staying on top of those current events is so important. And Google Alerts is one way to do that.
Also, most of the time, most practitioners are going to be affiliated with certain professional organizations that are going to have a salient, updated information on their websites, in their newsletters. Sign up for electronic newsletters. Most organizations provide free e-newsletters. All you have to do is provide your name, your company, and your email address. Boom. You’re getting updates every day, or weekly, or however often you’d like to get that information.
And also networking with fellow practitioners. Building those relationships with other practitioners in your field and folks who are not in your field but who are in other disciplines. Because, again, when it comes to comorbidities, for example, that association between hearing loss and other diseases and conditions, those other diseases and conditions, they may not be diseases and conditions that you treat. Yet, when you are networking with other folks who do provide that care, you’re able to connect the dots and see that, wow, this is a topic of interest. These associations, these conditions that are associated that give me and give my colleagues an opportunity to add another issue to the list of preventive care.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Well with that, I think we should take a second to step back and review everything that we’ve learned today. So this is the part where I ask you to tell me your top three takeaways. What is the most important information that you would like people to remember from this conversation?
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: Information is almost always repurposable for various needs and audiences. If that information was worth putting together and sharing, then it’s worth repurposing.
The second thing that I would advise is to keep in mind who your audience is. Is it a professional audience? Is it a lay audience, consumer? Think about that when it comes to the information that you’re sharing in terms of the tone, the storytelling style. Are you getting right to the point?
My third point would be to be true to your brand. Regardless of what you’re communicating, or to whom you’re communicating, or in what medium you’re communicating, being true to your brand. Knowing who you are, what your mission is, what you stand for, and what’s unique about you that your audiences can always rely on.
DANIEL PARSCALE: Well, thank you, Shareefah, for your time and for helping us to really break down a very complex and time-consuming task. I appreciate everything that you’ve taught us today.
SHAREEFAH HOOVER: It’s been a real pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, Daniel.[MUSIC PLAYING]
DANIEL PARSCALE: Thank you for listening to Reach. As always, make sure to subscribe to our show via iTunes or Google Play, access full transcripts for every show by visiting attainable.fm/reach, or just say hello by dropping me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d also appreciate your feedback on Reach by leaving us a review on iTunes or Google Play. Did you learn something new today? If so, let us know by leaving a review. It’s quick and easy, and it helps us to improve.