David Sheets has been honing his writing and editing skills for decades, most recently through 15 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and now as a communications and public relations manager at Perficient.
What path led to your current position in communications and public relations, David?
I knew at an early age that I wanted to write for a living, and my concurrent interest in history and current events made news reporting a natural career choice. So, I studied journalism, First Amendment law and economics at Southern Illinois University, then bounced through a series of newspaper jobs in Florida before landing at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where I wrote and edited in several capacities for 15 years. I left journalism three years ago to start my own content management firm. That led to a meeting with some excellent people at Perficient, Inc., where I am now media and communications manager.
How has your journalism experience as a news editor and content manager influenced your marketing and communications work?
For decades, I worked in a field that marketers strive to influence. I saw firsthand which approaches worked and which did not, and now I can use that wisdom to assist and promote my employer in ways it never tried before.
What do you find satisfying about working in corporate communications and public relations?
It provides me a unique vantage point in business and allows me to use my imagination and communications knowledge in different, creative ways.
What resources do you use practically every day or which ones have been unexpectedly useful in a particular project?
I use many resources from day to day, and from project to project, because Perficient’s client list is long and the scope of the industries it serves is broad. So, I helped our social media managers compile a list of valuable websites, and that list became a recent post on one of Perficient’s blogs: “The 130+ Best Technology Sites for Every Tech Enthusiast.”
What fortune-cookie-size advice would you give other editors interested in communications or public relations?
Respect the audience.
Write clearly and with purpose, use proper grammar and punctuation, and for God’s sake spell all the words correctly — especially people’s names. We live in a digital age that allows us to check spelling anytime, anywhere. That’s why today, incorrect spelling is a choice, not a mistake.
What do you consider the secret sauce in your career?
Always having the nerve to ask questions. Too many people today are afraid to ask questions of people directly, preferring instead to avoid confrontation and make assumptions because we can easily hide behind our digital devices. But assumptions are not measures of knowledge; they form the foundation of ignorance.
How do you get in the writing or editing groove?
With a good, strong cup of coffee.
Any great catches you’ve made or embarrassing mistakes you’ve helped a client avoid?
I have made many. You would be surprised how many people in professional communications do not know how to write properly. They can tweet, but they can’t write. Having said that though, I should admit to my own shortcomings, which are considerable. What keeps most of them out of print is the extra effort I take in editing and revising my work.
Word nerd, grammar police, guru, ninja, maven — if you had to pick such a moniker (to embroider on your cape, engrave on your keys to the city, etc.), what would it be and why?
Book worm. Because you can’t hope to become a great writer until you first become a great reader.
What are some non-editing, non-writing activities that you find helpful to your communications work?
Good diet and exercise, and plenty of sleep. Never underestimate the ability of a healthy body to provide you with a healthy mind.
If you weren't working in communications, what would you like to try as a career? What's a job that fascinates you?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a horse. Fortunately, I learned to write before that became necessary.
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