ADDING CONSTITUENT VOICE
A graphic designer recently received copy from a client for a brochure she was to design. The intent of the piece was to promote the client’s educational and support services. She felt the copy was unworkable, so she asked me to evaluate it. After a quick look, I agreed with her.
The most serious flaw was lack of “constituent voice.” By this I mean the copy described the services from the sole perspective of the deliverers. Absent was any indication of value as seen through users’ eyes.
It was a curious omission. Here was a piece for a department whose primary mission is to help cultivate good relationships within the institution it serves. I had to wonder: why hadn’t the department pulled its messages directly from its relationships with its constituents?
Among my clients, most already make liberal use of quotes from students, alumni, and faculty in their recruitment publications when I start working with them. Some don’t—or do so in some cases, but not in others where it clearly would be of benefit. I can understand their reluctance; even we creative professionals will balk at asking clients to comment on our services. In fact it took me years of soliciting testimonials and success stories on behalf of clients before deciding it was time to turn the tables.
Where does that reluctance come from? Some think it takes too much time, energy, or money. Some hesitate to ask for the favor, or fear their clients will think ill of them for “fishing for compliments.” But asking your constituencies to talk about what you do for them is not a frivolous exercise. And it’s not just about collecting pats on the back. It’s about gaining new insights and getting better at what you do. That means it’s not optional.
Viewing your work through others’ eyes brings new perspectives on what you do best and what you need to improve. The comments of outsiders—including professional colleagues—can also bring clarity to the way you convey your strengths to others. Both of these results stand to improve your ability to do your work. And that benefits you as well as the people whose needs you aim to meet.
So once you’ve collected comments, what does it mean to add “constituent voice” to a piece? Testimonial quotes are only part of the picture. The entire piece, from the way it’s structured to the messages on it, should bear the stamp of your conversations with your constituencies. Every element of the piece, from the header to the fine print, should reflect insights you’ve gained from those conversations.
Adding “constituent voice,” in other words, means letting the audience in on your conversations with the people you serve. It means making it easy for them to see the connection between those conversations and the copy they’re reading. If readers can’t pick up on that connection, they’ll lose interest. And not even the most electrifying design will get them back.