Friday Five: The 5 Ws (and one S) of good communication

If you’ve taken a high school journalism course, you’ve heard of the 5 Ws of journalism. The 5 Ws are the five questions a journalist must answer when writing a news account — especially when using the inverted pyramid approach to news reporting:

  1. Who?
  2. What?
  3. When?
  4. Where?
  5. Why?

But the 5 Ws matter to other communicators, too — not just journalists. It’s important for the marketer to be able to answer these 5Ws when preparing their materials. It’s also important to think about these 5 Ws (and 1 S, which I’ll get to in a minute) before you start working on any marketing project. These questions should be answered in strategy sessions — long before you sit down to write your copy, set up your video shoot or design your website.

Strong marketing copy should address the 5 Ws for the same reasons as a news story: To get to the point quickly and make it easy on your reader (customer). (This post provides more insight into why the 5 Ws are more important to business than to journalism.)

Answering these questions before you start writing your copy, creating your video or designing your marketing materials will save you a lot of time up front:

  1. Who is my customer? (In other words, who am I trying to reach with my message?) Also, Who am I to the customer? This can be an important distinction, and your relationship with the customer makes a difference in how you answer the other questions.
  2. What do I want the customer to do as a result of my communication?
  3. When do I want the action (the “what”) to take place? Enroll today!
  4. Where do I want it to occur? Apply online or Come visit our campus!
  5. Why should they take action?

But there’s a sixth question we need to ask before we start our production. And it’s more important than any of the 5 Ws. That question is:

So what? Who cares?

Who cares about your offering? Is your communication even worth sharing?

That’s the toughest question of all. Which is why it often goes unasked.

And that’s probably why we see so much “careless” marketing. And by “careless,” I mean marketing that makes the audience “care less” about what we have to offer.

Happy weekend.

(Image courtesy of Julian Gough.)

P.S. – Technically, that “one S” question is two questions. I include this caveat because I know some of you care about those details.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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