Every year, as the days grow shorter, cold winds blow in from the north, and the barrier between our world and the world of ghosts and ghouls becomes thin, people don masks and disguises to evade the malevolent spirits that emerge to haunt the realms of the living. That’s how the old story goes anyways. Even if it isn’t actually true, its legacy endures, as people still love dressing up for Halloween. For most people, it’s the one chance a year to dress up in costume and assume a persona different from their own.
With all the pageantry of Halloween comes a sense that you assume the identity of whomever you’re dressed up as. For anyone who has been to a Halloween party or two, the people you tend to remember the most are the ones who go above in beyond and really nail the voice and mannerisms of their costume subject. For example, it’s one thing to dress up as the Terminator, but it’s something else to do a spot-on Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.
It's not common for most people to think this much about how they act and speak outside of a costume party, but PR professionals, especially those who work in an agency setting, do so more than they may realize. Any PR professional with multiple clients recognizes that the tone and voice of each of their clients is unique and distinct from one another.
In terms of writing and communications, tone refers to the attitude or sentiment of your communications. While tone is not as easily defined as some other aspects of communications like brand pillars or key themes, it is nonetheless critical for any PR professional to understand and use in their work. For example, some organizations employ tone that is professional, knowledgeable, even professorial; others are more down-to-earth, friendly, relationship focused. These characteristics aren’t mutually exclusive, nor is this an exhaustive list of tones a company can utilize. However, most organizations choose to emphasize one or two over some others, and it is incumbent on PR professionals to embody that tone when engaging in communications for their client.
Sometimes, clients have a clearly defined tone going into a relationship with a PR agency, but that is not always the case. It is sometimes a PR agency’s responsibility to help shape their client's tone. In that case, PR professionals need to consider their client's audience, their mission and vision and countless other factors when determining the tone they need to use.
This gets discussed mostly during the onboarding process, but PR professionals need to keep it in mind throughout their relationship with the client. It is easy to fall into complacency when working with multiple clients and use the same voice. However, it is important to use a distinct voice for each client and even for each medium.
In this way, PR professionals dress up as their clients every day, not just in the messaging they communicate but in the but in the precise manner in which they do so. It is important for us as PR practitioners to be intentional in how we speak and write on behalf of our clients. Precisely conveying the tone and voice of your clients is critical for differentiating them from their competition and communicating their true character and vision.
When people put away their jack-o-lanterns and candy, don’t forget that you still need to stay in character.