Book Club Review: Smart brevity is the
killer app for comms pros

We never stop learning at Brands2Life. Our monthly book club is part of that effort. We choose a new book each month focused on skills or emerging trends and then meet as a group, across five different time zones, to discuss and share our thoughts.

Books about writing are always a challenge to review. In this case, we have the daunting task of reviewing a book not just about writing, but about communicating with *brevity*. With copywriting center stage in light of the evolving conversations around ChatGPT that are flooding the news, the lessons of this book are more relevant than ever.

The Book

Smart Brevity by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz (aka “the Axios guys”)

Who is it for?

Anyone that wants to be a better writer, in practically any medium. William Zinser’s On Writing Well is a long-respected resource for journalism, and On Writing by Stephen King is invaluable for creative writing and fiction. Smart Brevity is extremely useful now because the authors offer practical guidance on applying Axios’ succinct style to generate bigger impact with less words in newsletters, emails, social media posts, and even PowerPoint presentations and meetings.

Modern communications professionals have to capture a consistent brand voice across a variety of media – integrated campaign elements must all speak in the same voice – and we’re all fighting for the attention of an audience that has very little of it to give. Smart Brevity is an apt tool for us.

Why does it matter?

As Mark Twain famously apologized, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” Convincing, minimal writing takes discipline. When faced with a daunting blank page, even the best of us can ramble. VandeHei and company give us a framework for messages that beg to be read, starting with an attention-grabbing subject line. We get helpful diagrams on the anatomy of a newsletter people actually read, and tips throughout to help cut down on linguistic clutter. After all, how many of us have reached for ‘utilize’ when ‘use’ would suffice?

Hate it?

Smart Brevity is not without its detractors. Any book written by the founders of a media company, famous for disrupting other media companies, will inevitably face scrutiny. The New Yorker greeted the book with a mostly even writeup, saving the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over “simplicity in our complex times” for the end. The Atlantic really went for it, with a breathless exposé on Axios gaming the New York Times’ Bestseller List, written in the Smart Brevity style, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Ultimately, Smart Brevity helps modern comms pros help ourselves. It flies in the face of the most romantic language practices, but there is room in your heart (and maybe even your day) for a good long read as well. If you are surrounded by glowing, pinging rectangles as you read this — as we are! — you and your readers can benefit from it.