So marijuana is now legal in Washington State, thanks to the recent election. And the Seattle Police Department thought it a good idea to communicate about what that means and set some proper expectations. Hey, police departments issue press releases all day long, don’t they? So why did this one get national attention so that it showed up headlining todays “PR Daily?” And how often is it that tweeters applaud police department missives–especially about law enforcement matters?
Having recently taught a series of classes for a client on writing for the web, I was intrigued. I wanted to see if it conformed to the key principles I was espousing. First, picture your audience. Who is Jonah Spangenthal-Lee writing to? You might say, to everyone, but that would be wrong. It is clearly to those most interested in the details of enforcement. Admittedly, in Seattle, that is probably a good percentage of the population. But the style is very personal (eg., “…also, you probably shouldn’t bring pot with you to the federal courthouse (or any other federal property).”
Second, address “what’s in it for me.” What’s the benefit here? The benefit to the target audience is clear–staying out of trouble by clearly understanding the enforcement surrounding marijuana in the immediate aftermath of the election. And the writer gets that benefit right into the headline, creatively as well: “Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use in Seattle.” Aside from the creative made-up term, simply putting the words “Legal” and “Marijuana” communicates benefit to this target audience.
Third, be clear on your purpose. Spangenthal-Lee nails this one as well. It’s to inform, clear and simple. He makes that purpose clear in the headline and the opening. And while he has some tricky ground to cover (the fact that the feds still may enforce even while WA state won’t) he informs with clarity and singleness of purpose.
Fourth, use the right voice. And does he ever get this right! It shows he knows who is audience is, and that an informal, personal, direct, and creative approach will work best. Could this have been officious? Yes, that’s what we would expect. but that would not be the right voice for this audience. The best part of his blog is the Q and A. Here’s an example of voice: “What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I’ve got in my trunk?” It’s pretty clear he has a very concrete idea of who he is talking to, what is most valuable information for them, and the kind of language and style that will most effectively communicate.
Fifth, be brief. Hey, this is a long post. And we are told we only have seconds–but for those looking for this information, I suspect they will hang around. But, when he needs to be brief, he certainly can be:
“SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?
This, my friends, is how you write for the web today. And not just the web.