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Becoming an Effective Writer

Vice President of Client Services Meira Feinman handles a little bit of everything at Miller Ink. From writing compelling copy to anticipating client needs to managing account teams, few projects at Miller Ink go untouched by her diverse expertise. We recently sat down with Meira to discuss the ins and outs of effective writing, the importance of workplace collaboration, and the skills that make for successful public relations professionals.

How long have you been at Miller Ink? What is your professional background?

I’ve been at Miller Ink for six years. My professional background is in book publishing and marketing for nonprofits.

What is your role at Miller Ink?

I am the Vice President of Client Services, which means I oversee all of Miller Ink’s accounts to ensure that we’re delivering the best product and highest standard for our clients. More specifically, I lead Miller Ink’s Innovation division and focus on the clients in that vertical. I also oversee and help develop our firm’s content and digital departments.

What is your specialty within Miller Ink?

The irony is that my specialty is not to have one. As a generalist, I oversee a wide range of products, services, and employees. I ensure our quality and standard of excellence across the board, regardless of the subject matter.

How do you ensure that written content is both informative and engaging?

First, read. Notice the author’s skill and how they accomplish their goals. Absorb tips to use in your own work. When it comes to “how to write,” I prefer to learn directly from a writer who is doing it well – not from a handbook with instructions. However, it is fun to read “why I write books.” You may find a kindred spirit who looks at the world of words the way you do – or you may feel refreshed by a new perspective.

Second, practice. Don’t shy away from taking a first pass, because every chance to write is a chance to get better. Also, every writing task is different – so each one you tackle gives you another arrow in your quiver. Over time, you’ll be able to write pieces that are serious and powerful or light and funny. You’ll be able to write for an audience of 30-year-old men or 80-year-old grandmothers. You’ll have the ability to change hearts and minds, to spread new ideas in the world, and to educate.   

Third, proofread. Don’t rely on autocorrect; learn the key rules of English grammar and stick to them. If you simply review your writing for proper punctuation, varied sentence length, active voice, subject-verb agreement, and fewer prepositions, your work will improve dramatically.

Why is collaboration so important for a company?

In strategic communications, writing is a very collaborative and iterative process. This is not the case for a novelist, for instance, who works alone and has complete creative control. At a company like Miller Ink that writes with strategic intent, collaboration is critical to producing excellent content. We brainstorm together, proofread for each other, and offer alternative angles or perspectives to make our pieces more powerful. Having an atmosphere of trust, frankness, and candor—but also kindness and understanding that we all desire the best for each other—is the kind of work environment that produces the best results.

What skills are important for a successful PR professional to possess?

There are many, but two of the most important are good judgment and tenacity. Some people say good judgment is not a skill, but I think it is – one that can be improved over time by preparation and carefulness. For example, when a reporter calls you, think about who they are, what they really want to know, and what’s behind their outreach. Be observational and act on the information you have in a thoughtful way.

When it comes to tenacity, anyone who’s attempted to do PR knows that it’s difficult to make headway, especially in today’s media environment. While it’s challenging to cut through the noise and get your piece to the top of the pile, don’t give up. If one method doesn’t yield results, move on to the next one. You may not break through on one topic, but over time you will achieve success for the client.

What is the most important thing for a client to know when working with a PR firm?

Be open to the expertise that the PR firm brings to the table—that a certain market is oversaturated, perhaps, or that there’s an unhelpful association with a certain word. Also, put your cards on the table so that everyone understands your goals.

We know that entrusting an agency to help you share your company or organization’s message demands a high level of trust, and we take that very seriously. We believe in our clients, and we are determined to drive results.

How do you go about gathering client feedback, and why is it important to do so?

I do a little bit of everything—calls, emails, regular check-ins, and ad hoc conversations. A key skill to have in client services is to read between the lines and understand subtext and context so the client doesn’t have to spell it out. I have learned to understand the dynamics between clients and stakeholders, as well as what’s going on between them and my team. I then become the conductor who brings it all together into harmony. We don’t do surveys, focus groups, or fill-in-the-blank questionnaires where we ask for feedback. We just pick up on our clients’ needs throughout the process of working together and take care of things proactively.

As far as why listening to client feedback is important, we want to do our best work on each account. “Best work” means many things, but one of them is the client’s satisfaction. Are our efforts accomplishing what the client wants? Does it feel comfortable for the client to express itself in this way? Does the client see value in the initiatives we’re suggesting? If any of these answers are ‘no,’ the work will not move the needle.

What is your favorite thing about working at Miller Ink?

The reason I was attracted to Miller Ink in the first place—and why I’ve been here for so many years—is that the opportunity to be excellent is endless. There are constant opportunities to challenge yourself, prove yourself, and grow. These things are like oxygen to me. For some, the feeling that there is an endless amount of improvement may be crushing. To me, however, Miller Ink is an open horizon with no limit to what you can do.

When you’re not working, what do you like to do?

I like to spend time with my family. I also enjoy classical music, reading, cooking, baking, and hosting friends and family for meals.

If you were a punctuation mark, which one would you be?

I would be a semicolon. When using a semicolon, you take a bit of a pause in a sentence, but not as long of a pause as you would with a period, comma, or colon. It’s a kind of grace note. To me, it represents the thoughtfulness and the care that we take in all our work.

Meira Feinman is the VP of Client Services at Miller Ink.