Do you need a style guide?

No, I’m not talking about how to wear your new scarf fifty different ways. In this case, I’m referring to a document that can help you and your team (or your marketing agency) when it comes to creating communications to your clients and prospects.  For example, instead of having to pause each time to consider ‘hmmm, should we underline or italicize our white paper titles?’ you could just consult your style guide.

Some corporations (and publications) have pretty exhaustive style guides, and for good reason—consistency is helpful for any reader. But you can start small.  In fact, a style guide is often a work-in-progress. These guides can be especially helpful in specific industries—financial services included—where there are industry terms, phrases or words that must be used in a specific way (or that will trigger the use of certain disclosures or formatting treatments).  You may even decide to incorporate a disclosure library into your guide.

Most companies will start with looking at the two main publishing style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Style Book, and then decide which one they’ll side with as a preference. The other reference go-to when creating a style guide is Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, 11th Edition.

Of course, now that so many communications are digital, you may want to think about how you represent your style online versus in print. For example, I’ve worked with a financial services company that decided when it came to toll-free numbers, they’d include the “1-800-123-4567” in print, and just “800-123-4567” online and in email.

You can really take your style guide in whatever direction you choose. For example, you may want to include how signatures are treated – again, both print and digital versions. Do you go with a less formal name in the signature block (e.g. Bob Smith), or something more formal (e.g. Robert G. Smith II)? Decide, and then have consistency going forward. In the long run, you’ll save time (and money, if working with an agency for communications work) by having all of your style decisions made ahead of time.