April Fool’s Day 2013 presented us with a wide variety of pranks, from Google’s answer to Smell-O-Vision to SpeakerBox’s move to the moors of Scotland, but as always, there are a few that one wishes were actually real. For me, it’s the BullScanner.
The faux product was the April Fool’s Day prank from Rohit Bhargava, the man behind the excellent Influential Marketing Blog. A stand-alone barcode-type scanner, the BullScanner was proposed to scan document language to create a Linguistic Relativity Score (LRS). If a score was too low, it meant that the document was full of BS – the BullScanner would then take matters into its own hands, destroying the document and punishing the creator with a savage electroshock.
Petty? Yes. Disturbingly accurate with regards to today’s business language environment? Also yes.
Business language, especially in press releases, can be an utter nightmare to deal with from a public relations perspective – “dynamic” this, “bleeding edge” that, and so on. Finding something, anything, to automate the weeding out process would be incredibly helpful – while the BullScanner is obviously a prank, it brings me back to the days of an old Word plug-in called BullFighter, which was designed to recognize and eliminate jargon within documents. The site is still live but looks mostly untouched since the heady days of XP, so I doubt it’s a viable option anymore.
So what about you? Do you have problems with jargon invading your content? Any sweet, automated tools to handle it or are we editors doomed to suffer through the tedium of manual jargon removal?
This month Oxford Dictionaries announced that the American “Word of the Year” for 2012 is GIF.
While GIF is actually an acronym for graphic interchange format and has been around for a while, it is also a trend that has really taken off this year when it changed from a noun to a verb. While the verb only means to create a GIF file, the images have also evolved from something once relegated to pop-culture memes into a tool that can be used in research and journalism.
If you are a regular blog reader, I’m positive that you’ve encountered a GIF at one point or another. While most are still silly, they are becoming more useful as publications continue to increase online content.
Typically, GIFs are choppy animated graphics (most often found on Tumblr) used to show a reaction, make a point or poke fun at a celebrity. But according to Oxford Dictionaries, as they evolve, GIFs are becoming smoother, more polished moving graphics that can accompany sports (and here) and news articles.
Either way, GIFs seem to be here to stay and the word joins the ranks of other technology terms that have been named word of the year over the past few years (google, podcast, tweet and blog).
"Nah, we've got plenty of time. This death threat was written in Comic Sans."
I've been meaning to write about Errol Morris' diabolical New York Times typeface experiment ever since I first saw it in August.
But, you know, all bloggers inherit challenges -- some more than others. An economy in free-fall. Two wars on the credit card, a prescription drug benefit that...
Sorry, been watching too much stump speech lately. Anyway, a rehash of two-month old quasi-news is what you're going to get. And you should be damn grateful for it. Do you know how easily I could just paste in some social media infographic I found on Pinterest, hyperlink it to Kathryn, and call it a day?
Okay, that got a little hostile. Point is, Morris pulled a fast one on NYT online readers -- pretending to administer an optimism v. pessimism test, but (in actuality) measuring the effects of typeface on our perceptions of truth. In other words, would you believe something in Helvetica but not in Garamond?
Morris used a computer program to randomly present a "scholarly argument" in one of six different typeface families. He then asked readers whether they believed or disbelieved the argument's assertion.
Turns out, Baskerville was the clear (read: statistically significant) winner.
So, what does this mean for marketers?
1. It proves something we've long known -- that style is far more influential than substance.
2. It proves that the effects of style are not necessaily intuitive. You'd have been hard pressed to anticipate Baskerville winning Morris' credibility contest. And the font we all expected to come in last -- Comic Sans -- didn't.
This is real. They really, really did this. Really.
3. It proves that newspapers believe it's okay to lie to their readers -- for the purposes of science... Yeah, chew on that one for a little while.
Doubtless, there's something more we can glean from humanity's perfunctory trust in an old-tymey-looking font like Baskerville. A yearning for something older and more substantial? A backlash against the vaporous, transitory nature of digital text?
This is a topic that deserves a long and thorough exigesis...
Now enjoy this infographic, courtesy of Pinterest:
I saw a status update this morning from a friend on Facebook and in the comments someone linked to what I personally think is an amazing website.
While I have my occasional struggles with grammar and using the right word at the right time, and I have written about this before, I thought it was a topic worth revisiting.
As John points out here and here and Ali points out here, content is incredibly important. But, the quality of that content is equally important. Whether you are writing an authored article, giving a presentation or working on closing a sales lead, using the right word or phrase at the right time is of the utmost importance.
Below are a few of my favorite slip-ups, and a link to explain the correct usage better than I could. (It also comes in book form so if you know someone who is a real word nerd consider adding this to your holiday shopping list – it’s never too early to get started!).
And while not on the list of Common Errors in English Usage, here are two of my other favorites:
Inconceivable and Plethora.
So which words/phrases do you mix up?
Ideally, your white paper should be a bit more compelling than the one above.
Tech companies have a lot of communications tools at their disposal. In addition to the usual suspects – media relations, advertising, social media, etc. – there are more content-specific vehicles that can be used to show that organizations know of what they speak (or, in this case, write).
One of the more effective of these vehicles is the white paper. Don’t let the bland nomenclature fool you; today’s white paper does not have be the boring, techno jargon laden document that your daddy put together. And although they can be time-consuming, white papers can also offer a huge payoff by driving valuable leads and establishing you as a trusted expert.
Are there rules to writing a white paper? Not necessarily. Perhaps “general guidelines” might be a better term. But what are they? I’ll summarize some of them in a few simple…well…general guidelines.
1. Determine your subject matter and how it ties into your business.
While this should be a no-brainer, it does bear mentioning. Before embarking on any writing project designed to promote your business you need to determine what the subject will be and how it ties into what you have to offer. The tricky thing with white papers is that you have to do so in a way that’s somewhat indirect. Much like an authored article, white papers show your expertise without necessarily pointing directly to a specific product example. The goal here is to gain a potential customers’ trust without using the white paper for a “hard sell.”
2. Keep the tone conversational and engaging.
No one wants to read a dissertation. The white paper should be written just like any other piece of good writing: it should be interesting, engaging, and informative. Lead with a “grabber,” whether a headline (see my colleague Jonathan’s Your Website is Trying to Kill You) or the lead paragraph. And don’t feel beholden to a certain format (i.e., Introduction, Analysis, Conclusion). Go with the flow, as they say. Most importantly, get your readers’ attention, and hold it by…
3. Including valuable information and insights that readers can’t find anywhere else.
Provide readers with a unique perspective on the topic you’re writing about. If possible, support that perspective with real-world statistics or examples and, if even more possible, make them unique to things that your company has worked on. Use creative, informative visuals whenever possible. All of this can help bring your point home and, more importantly, sets you up as the go-to person for a particular industry.
4. Don’t forget the call to action and ensuing promotion.
As informative as they are, white papers exist to sell your company. As such, make sure you include a way to collect leads they might help generate. Make the white paper accessible through an online form that requires the interested party to provide contact information. Include your company’s information in a boilerplate at the end. Always provide a way for an interested prospect to get in touch with you. And after it’s on your website, don’t forget to promote it – through blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, all of your various outlets.
We have some great examples of white papers that SpeakerBoxers have written, including ones on good website design, the development of B2B websites, and more. Be sure to check them out, as they offer some great examples of what today’s white papers can be.
- Pete Larmey
Image courtesy TheContentCocktail.com
One of the most dangerous things in the world is the falsehood that rings true.
For instance: "Rich people are the job creators." Well duh! I don't see a lot of high-paying positions "created" by the homeless! What are they going to pay their employees with, buttons?
Here's another one: "Severe winters contradict the global warming myth." Well obviously! It's called global "warming." Last time I checked, blizzards weren't all that warm.
This is the power of words, and why we have to be so careful about choosing our language.
If scientists had called global warning "climate extremism," they'd be in much better shape with their sales pitch (yes, the new phrase "climate change" is better than global warming, but it still leaves open the whole "change is actually cyclical" argument). "Climate extremism" appeals to our common sense. Ice storms in July? Yeah, that's pretty extreme.
Why wouldn't this work? Lasers are basically magic, aren't they?
Same thing with the job creators argument. It's no accident that those in favor of tax policies favoring high earners like the phrase "job creators." Because, yes, rich people are the ones who literally hand out paychecks, even though it's the poor and middle class who spur that hiring through increased demand.
(Annoying economics sidebar using the example of delicious groceries:
See, rich people always buy the same amount of groceries. When they get a bonus, they don't go out and buy extra arugula to treat themselves, because they already have all the arugula they want. So it's not that rich people don't consume a lot of goods -- they do! But they consume them consistently, regardless of their economic ups and downs.
Not so with poor people. They're friggin poor. So if the economy is bad, they stop buying things they like and sometimes even things they need. Even in the best of times, poor people can't afford everything they want, so these people are extremely responsive to stimulus, rarely ever reaching the apex of their demand potential.)
Okay, enough of that. Sorry. My point isn't political. It's that democrats should try to push the phrase "demand creators" instead of job creators. Because demand creators rings a lot truer when it comes to food stamps and unemployment checks.
Intuitively, it's hard to sell the fact that food stamps create jobs. Unless you're also able to communicate the common sense argument that rich people own grocery stories. And they don't stock the shelves with extra potatoes just because there's extra cash lying around. They do it because there's not enough potatoes in their suddenly overcrowded stores.
See, it's all semantics.
What's in a name?
Now in marketing and public relations, it's the same principle -- for ill or for good. The cases we try to make are always much more dependent on "feel" than "fact." If something feels true intuitively, it might as well be so. And if it doesn't pass the common sense test, then good luck trying to sell it.
Here's my favorite example: Fat-free snacks.
Fat-free and low-fat snacks continue to be a billion dollar industry, despite the fact that every scientific study we've done shows that they're terrible for weight loss. To make foods low-fat, companies stuff in extra carb calories -- which are a much more potent cause of weight gain. So factually speaking, fat-free snacks have zero or possibly negative utility.
But that hardly matters. Because the word "fat" (as in lipid) is the same word we use to describe our overweight friends. If, instead, we all started asking: "Do I look carb in these jeans?" the low-fat snack industry would surely take a nose dive.
Intuitively, we just can't wrap our heads around the fact that "fat" isn't making us "fat." Or that "organic" water isn't somehow healthier (yes, that's an actual product line).
It's not that we're getting dumber. We're just getting busier. We're bombarded with so much information, that we rely more and more on our instincts.
So think about this the next time you read a press release or an advertisement:
You're being misled by professionals.
(Initial image of poster for Juvenile Protective Association
Art Director: Puja Shah
Copywriter: Eugene Fuller
Creative Director: Blake Ebel
Photography: Jill Greenberg)
What? Nobody else finds power sexy?
My lovely and estimable colleague Kathryn recently blogged about PRSA's ongoing attempt to crowdsource a universal definition for public relations.
I would leave it there, except that when I actually read the definitions, I noticed that they were all identical and awful.
Let me get this straight: Thousands of definitions were submitted, and THESE were the three finalists??
It's as if PRSA is going out of its way to paint professional communicators as incapable of coherent communication. Take definition one for example:
Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.
Oh, it's the MANAGEMENT function of collaborating with publics. Now I get it. Also, a quick suggestion: It's typically best to define things using actual words, not PR terms like publics. Isn't the whole point of a universal definition TO MAKE THE CONCEPT ACCESSIBLE? And why am I shouting?
Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.
Ah, this definition is way more strategic, in the sense that it tells me how strategic our communications are. We don't just blather about things at random. There's a strategy, dammit!
Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.
Wait, couldn't you add “and realize goals” to the end of just about any mission statement? As in, Muommar Gaddafi's plan was to crush the Libyan insurgency and realize goals. Hmmm. That last part didn't really add much, did it?
Look, my problem with these definitions is that they exemplify the worst, most cardinal sin in public relations – obfuscation. Successful communications achieve clarity, above all. In a sense, these PRSA things aren't even definitions. They're anti-definitions, which (thanks to the Large Hadron Collider) we now know exist.
So what's my brilliant, unassailable definition for Public Relations?
Find out in the next addition of our award-winning three-part series “Jonathan Yells At Stuff.”
The AP has heard my Christmas wishes!! This week it announced that it will launch a beta version of StyleGuard
, an automated style-checker for Word. I’ve often wondered why there was never a synergy between the AP and Word, since it seems like such a natural correlation. But now, for (the low, low price of) $49.95 your documents can be automatically checked in Word as you type.
With the $50 price tag I’m interested to see just how much use it gets right away since an AP Stylebook is only $20 and there are always a few floating around most PR firms or any content creator's office.
According to Stylebook product manager Colleen Newvine, the price is based on how much work is involved with the product:
“This product has been in the works for quite some time. The heavy lifting involved in having linguists dissect each Stylebook rule to look for multiple ways people might get it wrong so the software can recognize a mistake and suggest the right way is monumental.
As such, we consider this a premium product that delivers more value than the traditional spiral-bound book.”
While I’m really excited that the AP has finally integrated with Word, I’m not sure it’s something I’ll jump on right away due to the cost. Plus, I love asking around, taking guess and then looking up a word or term in the Stylebook to see who’s right.
– Ali Robinson
Maybe it’s the geek in me, but I couldn’t resist sharing a blog post I read the other day about web typography. We’ve come a long way (and when I say we, I’m referring to web developers, graphic designers, publishers and the like – I am no expert) in terms of fonts, characters and formatting. Long gone are the days of the basic rigid visual choices including left/right/center or Serif/Sans Serif. There’s so much more out there, and the unique possibilities are endless. However with more choices means more complications, which of course requires more education. There is a great website called Thinking With Type where you can learn about (or brush up on) all of the various visual elements that can be applied to web text, as well as that in print. Looking through the “catalog”, I’m reminded of some of my college courses where we learned the definitions of “kerning” and “superfamilies”, the difference between “typeface” and “font” and the meaning of countless, silly-looking proofreading symbols. It’s a bit overwhelming, but it’s a great reminder of just how specific you can get in terms of customizing your image, both online and off. (Besides the message itself, it’s amazing the visual implications text can have!) You may find some of this stuff helpful, you may not. But if nothing else, it’ll make you sound smarter the next time you’re working on revamping your website or publishing a book.
- Mary Evans
Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Henry Hitchings, author of The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, took us on a fascinating walk through the history of punctuation, and how we evolved from early manuscripts (featuring no punctuation at all) to the rise of the comma in 1520, all the way up to modern punctuation.
According to Hitchings, in our Internet culture, which "favors a lighter, more informal style of punctuation" ... "punctuation is being renounced."
I fully understand that in the confines of Twitter's 140 character limit you may opt to leave out a punctuation mark here or there. But, as we all learned in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, proper punctuation enhances the clarity of written communication, and bad punctuation changes meanings. Some examples, from the National Punctuation Day (who knew?!) website:
Let’s eat, mommy.
Let’s eat mommy.
Quality service and attention to detail.
Quality, service, and attention to detail.
Don’t use commas, which are not necessary.
Don’t use commas which are not necessary.
Giant moving, sale Friday
Giant moving sale Friday
Hitchings walks through other punctuation evolutions, from the interrobang (great word), to the dash and apostrophe. And like many people, Hitchings thinks the apostrophe may be the next punctuation mark to go:
Defenders of the apostrophe insist that it minimizes ambiguity, but there are few situations in which its omission can lead to real misunderstanding.
The apostrophe is mainly a device for the eye, not the ear. And while I plan to keep handling apostrophes in accordance with the principles I was shown as a child, I am confident that they will either disappear or be reduced to little baubles of orthographic bling.
I can get behind adding the interrobang to my punctuation go-tos. But, fellow communicators, I challenge you to question whether the apostrophe should disappear. Is it that hard to properly insert an apostrophe to add clarity? And, as one astute commenter on Grammar Girl's "Apostrophe Catastrophe" post noted, there are instances (however rare) where the apostrophe does, in fact, change the meaning of a sentence:
Never drink wine before its time
Never drink wine before it's time
Do you really want to question whether or not it's time to drink wine? Didn't think so. Let's keep the apostrophe after all.