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.
Last year, I took a crack at the five scariest things to tell your PR agency. This Halloween, I decided to take a different approach and look at how clients can “treat” their agencies. Buying your firm macarons or a fruit basket is great (and well appreciated!) but what from a process or relationship perspective can you do to throw treats in their collective Halloween basket?
3. Don’t Hate the Player. Hate the Game.
As the infamous Ice-T once said “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.” Public relations is a fickle business…possibly the most fickle, next to being a professional gambler. Not only is your agency pushing your agenda to an entity that both openly hates and secretly needs us (the media), but we’re also competing against all of your competitors and even your partners for media mindshare.
We do everything we can to get your name out there, but the very nature of the business can ruin a pitch campaign before it even gets started. Ex-customers with axes to grind, executive schedules and sudden announcements from industry “big boys” like Microsoft or Apple are all environmental factors – understanding what we’re up against goes a long way towards building a solid relationship with your firm.
2. Be the Bad Guy. Just Not To Us.
Tough love on your agency is fine – sometimes a kick in the pants is exactly what we need. But there will be times when it’s not the agency dragging projects down. Beyond working with a general contact, PR firms also deal directly with internal subject matter experts (SMEs) for specific pitches, articles and campaigns. As public relations isn’t the primary job for the SMEs, they tend to drag their feet when it comes to setting up meetings or even making themselves available for interviews – while agencies can often push this process along ourselves, sometimes a little internal help would be greatly appreciated.
Internal marketing contacts can pressure SMEs to participate using channels that simply are not available to the external agency, smoothing out the PR process in the long run. The firm can’t always see what’s holding up an internal expert from responding or participating, but client contacts are behind the fence and can easily figure out the problem, if not remediate it entirely.
1. Be Reasonable. Please Be Reasonable.
It’s okay to have high expectations, particularly when it comes to big company announcements, like record earnings, a major new product line or a brand new CEO. But smaller announcements, particularly product version (X.X) and marketing-heavy releases (like webinars and low-level new hires), will never have the same impact on media, trade, social or otherwise.
I’m not saying that you should lower your expectations of your PR firm in general – they should always be high. Rather, temper expectations based on the news being announced – it’s one thing to push a major product announcement and hear crickets, but this would be completely expected for a 6.1 version announcement of a niche technological solution. Just…be reasonable.
Public relations professionals do have thick skin and are (for the most part) big boys and girls, so we will willingly fess up for a failed campaign or botched release. The above just let us know that you value us and keep the relationship from boiling down into something toxic. It’s simple, really.
Also…boxes of macarons are never looked down upon. I’m just saying.
Crisis Communications are the Superman to Public Relations’ Clark Kent—a tougher, faster, sexier version of what’s essentially the same organic matter.
And yet when many PR pros enter crisis communications mode, they inexplicably abandon all of the subtleties and nuances of the communications craft, and opt instead for flashy, uncompromising action:
“We have two options -- complete denial or gratuitous self-flagellation. There is no middle ground,” says your PR team.
(Although sometimes they’ll try both options in sequence: Complete denial until the evidence is overwhelming, then gratuitous self-flagellation.)
But is bold and uncompromising action always better? And how do I seamlessly segue from here into professional football? (Oh, wow. Look at that!)
Indeed, it’s been a strange couple of weeks for crisis communicators in the NFL.
First, a plucky PR staffer prevented Jim Schwartz from taking an uppercut to Jim Harbaugh’s jawline on national TV.
Then, a few days later, an even pluckier PR staffer prevented Darrelle Revis from taking… questions… from radio’s Mike Francesa.
Crisis averted in the former situation. Not so much in the latter. By hanging up on his radio interview, Revis inadvertently turned a local non-story into national news fodder.
So how do you know when to—and when not to—physically restrain your client? First, know the consequences. Hanging up during a live broadcast might be necessary, but it’s the nuclear option. In other words, you’d better be darn sure there’s no alternative, because fallout is practically assured.
In Revis’ case, it just wasn’t smart. Francesa’s line of questioning (concerning a pass interference non-call) might have been irritating to Revis, but it wasn’t anything offensive or out-of-bounds. And when you hang up on a broadcaster (it turns out), he keeps broadcasting. Usually about you, and nothing very flattering.
So the moral this week is that sometimes bold PR action in a crisis is necessary, and sometimes a measured, unassuming approach is the better play. And it’s up to us—the superheroes of PR—to know the difference.
– Jonathan Katz
Now this is interesting: according to a recent report by research firm Strategy Analytics Android tablets now make up 26.9 percent of the overall tablet market. Should the folks at Apple be quaking in their stylish loafers?
Not so fast. A look behind the headline is in order. First off, the report states that 4.5 million tablets shipped last quarter run the Android OS. That’s compared to 11.1 million iPads sold. That’s basically inventory vs. actual sell-through. Also, the definition of an Android tablet within the report is pretty loose. I own a Barnes & Noble Nook, for example. I don’t consider it a tablet (it’s an e-reader that happens to run Android way, way, waaay in the background) but apparently Strategy Analytics does, so those types of devices are included in the 4.5 million.
It’s an interesting dichotomy between the high-level message – “Android tablets are coming on strong!” – and the supporting points and data. Granted, this is a report put out by an independent research firm, not a product announcement put forward by Google. But it still raises an interesting point, particularly if you look at some of the headlines that resulted from the report (An example from PC Week: “Apple’s iPad Dominance Fades”). The top-level message – the one you want in your headlines, at the top of your blog posts, as the lead in any press release – is the one that will likely resonate most. And if a user takes nothing else away from what you’re trying to say, it’s that message that is bound to hit them first – and stick with them the longest – even if it’s not the whole story.
- Pete Larmey
It's been a busy week for all of us at SpeakerBox. We were pleased to be part of the inaugural Distilled Intelligence 1.0 event hosted by Fortify.vc. The event was different than many local start up events. A pool of 55 start-ups presented for one minute each (down-selected from more than 100 applicants). Twenty-three companies advanced to the second round, and the last eleven start-ups standing competed for cash and prizes of more than $25,000.
Congratulations to the final 11 winners:
11th Place: Social Tables
10th Place: Venga
9th Place: ProConIt
8th Place: Job On
7th Place: Uppidy
6th Place: Bookstore Genie
5th Place: Ruck.us
4th Place: Grandstand
Second Runner Up: TRX Systems
First Runner Up: Troopswap
Grand Champion: Marz Industries
Take a look at the reaction from the DC Tech Community.
- Katie Hanusik
This weeks FedTalks conference
, sponsored by FedScoop
, featured a long list of government and industry luminaries, each with 20 minutes to speak. If you missed it, presenters touched on all the current public sector hot buttons: big data, security, mobility, telework, data center consolidation and the cloud.
Most interesting to me were the presentations that highlighted innovation, delivered by OPM Director John Berry
; Todd Park, CTO of HHS
; and Dr. Peter Levin, CTO of the VA
Berry spoke about creating a culture of innovation at OPM, and their use of the IdeaFactory, an online crowdsourcing tool developed by DHS. He also pointed out that OPM relaunched the USAJobs website
this week, which last year received 21 million resumes.
Parks presentation was a conference highlight. He spoke with such enthusiasm about what he calls the data liberation
program underway at HHS. HHS is sharing information such as directories of care providers, comparative data on provider quality, FDA recalls and Medicare claims data, in hopes that developers will create meaningful apps that improve healthcare access, quality and decision-making. Not content to simply make the data accessible, HHS is marketing the bejesus out of the data, said Park, through code-a-thons and healthdatapalooza events. The program is already starting to bear fruit by creating an ecosystem of innovation sitting on top of open data.
Dr. Levin took the conversation one step further by sharing an overview of the VAs Blue Button program
, an online button that allows veterans, members of the military and Medicare recipients to easily download their own healthcare information. The program has been so successful that 430,000 people have downloaded their records, and industry healthcare and insurance providers are adding the Blue Button to their own sites.
For more detail on all the sessions, check out FedScoop's wrap-up
. Thanks to the FedScoop team for organizing such an inspiring event. Were looking forward to next year.
- Katie Hanusik
Steve Jobs will be remembered fondly. But for me, at least, it won't be as an innovator.
When the original Apple debuted in 1974 (hand-built by Steve Wozniak, but marketed by Jobs), it wasn't the first personal computer. Likewise iPod and MP3 Players. Likewise iPhone and smartphones. Likewise iPad and tablets.
Especially recently, Apple has made its fortune not by introducing new product ideas, but by getting people to "love" existing ones.
In case you missed Martin Lindstroms provocative op-ed fromFridays New York Times, heres the gist of it: You have an unnatural, quasi-romantic attachment to your iPhone,you sick weirdo. Or maybe you dont, say a couple of neuro-imaging specialistswho find Lindstroms argument about as cogent as Hank Williams metaphors.
But, regardless, the very fact that its within the realm ofpossibility (that you could be experiencing romantic love with a gadget) is -- I believe -- Jobs' true legacy. He's succeeded in making technology somehow more essential, more human than it's ever supposed to have been.
So in that sense, he's not an innovator; he's a humanist. (All right, he's also clearly an innovator, but let's face it, you wouldn't have clicked this link without that provocation. So sue me.)
P.S. Please don't sue me.
Steve Jobs died today
. In the days, weeks and months to come, we'll see amazing profiles written on his legacy, and what he's meant to Apple, the broader technology landscape, and innovation in general. When he stepped down as Apple's CEO in August, we saw fantastic pieces
pieces written on Jobs and his importance
, compilations of his pithiest quotes
to some the most legendary visionaries of all time, and questions about who will be the next Steve Jobs
. We even learned what he was like in meetings
and that he was a good neighbor
We'll see even more of those pieces now, but I think what will stay with me-- long after my iPhone, MacBook or iPod are gone -- are the thoughts Jobs shared in this 2005 Stanford commencement address about dot-connecting and cross-discipline curiosity.
There is one quote in particular from that address that I've always loved, and which teaches perhaps one of Jobs' greatest lessons:
"If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might now have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it as made all the difference in my life."
Thank you, Steve Jobs, for teaching us all how to connect the dots.
In case youmissed it, there was a huge and I mean huge! press announcement this week. Somethingabout fruit, and one that has all the Interwebs and fanboys and fangirls abuzz.
Thatsright: Arrested Development is coming back, baby! Youremember Arrested Development,right? The show that re-launched JasonBatemans career (and gave one to Michael Cera)? The one that Opie/Richie Cunningham himselfproduced and narrated? The one withcharacters named Maeby, Funke, Gob and George Michael? Earlierthis week 20th Century FOX entertainment announced it was bringingthe show back for a limited fourth season, to lead into a proposed featurefilm. Showtime and Netflix are vying forthe rights to the season, while the film is scheduled to come out sometime in2013.
Will it ever happen? Maeby
maybe, maybe not. Thats not the point. The point is thus: a show that had largely terrible ratings issomehow, someway poised to make a splashy return. Why? Because it was demanded by a small, yet extremely vocal and sociallyviral fanbase.
Sincedebuting in 2003, Arrested Developmenthas become sort of a TV poster child for something that was never massivelypopular but really connected with a particular audience a true fanbase. It just so happens this fanbase has grownvery technically and socially inclined since social networks became popular(ironically, after the show was cancelled). For example, do a Google search on the term Arrested Development fan site. Up pops more than 10,000 blogs, Facebook pages, wikis, etc. And since news broke earlier this week,#ArrestedDevelopment has been trending very well on Twitter. So whatdoes this have to do with the price of frozen bananas (thats what I wastalking about when I mentioned fruit earlier on, and if you dont get that, younever watched the show)? Well, if yourein marketing, plenty. Look, ArrestedDevelopment was never a huge hit. The movie version will probably make about 30 bucks. But Im willing to bet those people who seeit will love it. They will tweet aboutit. Perhaps update their blog withpictures of them dressed up as George Snr. in his prison jumpsuit (again, youdidnt watch, did you?).
Photo Courtesy Isabella Voskimova/Fox
FOX maynever get Star Wars-type dollars from the ArrestedDevelopment franchise. Theexecutives at FOX know this. They alsoknow that they have a very fervent, targeted and vocal audience that willcertainly help them get some sizzle from this steak. With ArrestedDevelopment, FOX isnt catering to customers, they are catering to fans ones who will watch the show, see the movie, and promote it to theirfriends. Who knows? Maybe itll be enough to warrant anotherseason or film. And that will be yetanother testament to the power of online social media. Now if FOXcan only get that much-rumored 24movie going we may actually have something.
- Pete Larmey