Monday, August 02, 2010

The Editorial “We”

If you’re not a writer, you may never have heard of the “editorial ‘we.’” Simply stated, it refers to the use of the first person plural (“we”), rather than the first person singular (“I”) by individual representatives of an organization. For example, a person may say, “We believe that…” rather than “I believe that….” Why use the word “editorial” before “we”? Because the concept derives from the journalistic practice where one person writes an editorial that expresses the opinion of the newspaper as a whole (e.g., “We support a policy that expands individual liberty”).

Now, why am I writing about this? Because it really bugs me when people in professional services firms are discoursing with clients or prospects and use the word “I” when they are expressing their firm’s point of view…especially since firm policy is generally a collaborative product, determined after research and multiple discussions. It is carefully considered and intended to give the client the best advice.

Here’s a PR hypothetical (imagine an agency person speaking to a client): “I feel you should always have a two-line headline on a press release.” Huh? Indeed the individual account rep may feel that way, but the “two-line headline” policy was clearly stated in the firm’s stylebook. The appropriate statement would have been: “We feel….“ Or another example when “we” should have been used: “I feel you should always do scenario planning when preparing a crisis plan.” Since the whole firm has analyzed best practices in special situations and thoughtfully arrived at this conclusion — as, in fact, has the entire public relations industry — “we” would have been the preferable and more correct pronoun. The client should always be aware of the firm’s position. (Of course, this is not to be confused with a client asking you who can best do a particular job and your responding, “I believe that John Jones can.”)

Further, use of the word “we” adds weight and authority to an individual who is speaking on behalf of the firm. While individuals influence client actions and selections, clients also want to know they are accessing the best advice and all the resources of the entire firm. That is a good part of the value provided to the client and must be reinforced. The firm is “we” not “I.”

Technorati Tags: editorial ‘we’, professional services, organization, journalistic practice, communications, public relations, Makovsky

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