Why go to the trouble of creating a bio? Well, journalists, bloggers and the general public want to know about the key people in an organization, and a bio is the most efficient way of delivering that information online and in print.
There aren’t very many hard and fast rules for writing the bio. However, there are two main forms, which have been dubbed by the authors of The Public Relations Writer’s Handbook as newspaper style and feature biographies.
The newspaper style adheres to a chronological format. You start with an individual’s current position and then move through their relevant past positions in order. This format is not set in stone, but if you happen to have to write a press release about the promotion of the subject of one of your bios then, as the handbook’s authors state, you’ll be able to drop most of the newspaper-style bio into the release verbatim.
In addition to the subjects’ names and current job titles, you’d also place information about the person’s duties and responsibilities and to whom they report in the lead or second paragraph. Here’s a pared-down example:
John Smith became director of client services at XYZ Inc in 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the installation of XYZ’s products and client training.
Smith had been executive sales representative for XYZ since August 1996 and joined the company in June 1989 as a sales representative in March 1989. Before that, he served as a speaker at UVW, where he conducted more than 100 conference presentations, workshops and product demonstrations at state, national and international events.
As you can see from this example, you usually present the individual’s professional history by starting with the position held immediately before the current one and then working backward through time. However, you can also jump to the person’s most interesting position before the current one or educational history, whatever makes the most impact.
Briefly mention or just outright omit positions that are irrelevant to the subject’s current experience or the area of expertise that you are emphasizing.
Also, if you are going to make a claim such as the following, “Under her leadership, ABC Corp. became the third largest company in the industry,” present evidence to that effect. For example, cite a credible third party such as an industry publication or association’s research or state revenue and/or sales figures in a way that confirms your statement.
Information on educational history and awards is included toward the end of the bio. Personal information such as subjects’ age, marital status, area of residence, etc. are optional, but some feel that such details “humanize” subjects.
By the way, one of my favorite PR gurus, Joan Stewart the Publicity Hound, states that many bios are boring because lists of degrees, honors and positions are just copied from subjects’ resumes. One of her recommendations for creating bios is making online bios more succinct and appealing but including a link to an actual resume in order to accommodate anyone who wants more details about the subject’s job history.
“Feature style” means that the bios are written as if they are magazine articles and so include more personal details as well as quotes from the subjects in order to include human interest angles.
The lead paragraph of the feature-style bio should grab attention. Two effective tactics for this is to start with a quote from the subject or use an “it all started when…” angle. Stewart has three versions of her bio on her website, and the long version actually uses this tactic (and is quite entertaining).
While PR and communications professionals are often required to create subjects’ quotes, I recommend insisting on an interview when writing a feature-style bio. Subjects’ comments tend to be better than anything that you could devise, particularly because they may have an intriguing perspective on their achievements and general past.
In addition to putting bios in media kits, online media rooms, etc., PR gurus also suggest publishing online biographies that contain keywords that search engines will pick up on, allowing reporters to find your experts on their own.
Because of the different ways in which you can use a bio, you will likely have to reduce or expand any bio you create in order to have it fit a particular communication vehicle. In those cases, always keep in mind what aspects would most interest particular audiences and edit/expand the material accordingly. Brand-Yourself.com has some very interesting articles on breaking down the elements of a bio and writing bios for social networking sites, etc .
Finally, you should remember to review and update bios as needed. Your executives and key staffers will not only change positions, but they also may earn awards or have other accomplishments that would be suitable for the bio. It can be easy to forget this routine task, so set a regular time to attend to it and keep bios current.