Public Relations

Talking About Yourself Is Talking to Yourself

Fixating on establishing your “brand” can leave you kind of lonely. You’re at risk of neglecting what’s most important in building relationships with customers, clients, and readers: communicating how you can help them. If you talk about yourself too much you’ll soon just be talking to yourself. No one really cares, and won’t be listening for long. Instead, tell stories about how you can make your readers money … save them time … improve their lives.

Before crafting your narrative you have to know why people buy. Notice number 16 on the list below culled from the book Rapid Response Advertising by Geoff Ayling – “to communicate better.” PubArts understands that in helping you (our customer) communicate better, what we really need to discover is what YOUR customer desires.

We don’t want to prattle on about ourselves in this moment (and choke on the irony), but do point out that we can also help you (and yours) with numbers 1, 2, and 3, among other goals. And while we might be at a loss with number 11, we are quite practiced with rejuvenating communication materials and strategies.

People buy:
1. To make more money
2. To save money
3. To attract praise
4. To increase enjoyment
5. To possess things of beauty
6. To avoid criticism
7. To make work easier
8. To speed up work
9. To keep up with others
10. To feel opulent
11. To look younger
12. To become more efficient
13. To buy friendship
14. To avoid effort
15. To escape or avoid pain
16. To communicate better
17. To be in style
18. To avoid trouble
19. To protect family
20. To express love

Tiptoeing Through the Typo Minefield

So you’re writing an article about new laws. Being thorough, you do a computer spell check when you’re finished. Now, thanks to technology, you’re good to go.

Too bad the word you meant to write as “statutes” came out as “statues,” and the computer didn’t think to correct it. Because statues is also a word. And because computers don’t think. That’s your job.

Consider yourself lucky: you could have typed “pubic” instead of “public.” It happens.

You have to be careful; there are so many ways to get caught with your pants down when it comes to professional communications. You may be writing about policies, but end up with polices. Resigned can become re-signed. Just. Like. That. Or you might type a word according to how it sounds and end up with sense instead of since. Or peak instead of pique (or peek), woe when you meant whoa.

Editing is integral to good writing, and it has many levels, from structural to proofreading. The more important the document, the more crucial it is to have an outside editor assist you in your cause. Even as simple a task as proofreading may seem, it’s difficult to perform properly on your own work. That’s because your brain knows what you meant to say and will read something that isn’t actually on the page or screen. Your brain is just trying to be helpful — helpful like a lame friend who doesn’t know how to tell the truth you need to hear.

One way to avoid an ugly confrontation with yourself is to proofread your work backwards, from the end to the beginning. This forces you to read each word individually instead of scanning whole sentences. Still, reading backwards is most effective if you are only looking for incorrectly spelled words and less so for catching correctly spelled, but incorrect, words. So you might also employ the following trick: search for “danger words” after you’re finished proofreading. For example, if you intend to use the word “public” be on the safe side and search for “pubic” when you’re done. Similarly for “manger” if you use manager in your publication, “contact” for contract, “county” for country. Or vice versa.

A sloppily edited piece makes you look bad and may even cripple your objective. If you don’t have the time, inclination, or aptitude to proofread (or do other editing) properly, contact PubArts. We guarantee a 24-hour turnaround on small projects. We’ll help you out. Unlike that unreliable so-called friend of yours, your brain.

Talking Big and Thinking Big

Big words, small words, little gray words and florid ones too: I love them all. Not necessarily equally, but each has its place and time.

The common thinking goes, however, that only pretentious or insecure individuals would use what used to be called five dollar words (back when that was a lot, not a latte). I disagree. Golly, what’s wrong with an evocative term like “palimpsest” or “gimlet-eyed” when they are just the right ingredient? (For that matter, what’s wrong with “evocative”?) Instead of rolling his eyes, shouldn’t the reader turn his gaze to a dictionary?

The point of communication is to connect with others, absolutely. The point is not to talk down from your lofty pile of words. Here’s a point of view from an author I greatly respect:

“The person who says “adamantine” when in plain talk he means “immovable” or says “coquette” when we would understand him better if he said “flirt” may have a big vocabulary,” writes David Schwartz in his great book The Magic of Thinking Big. “But does he have a big thinker’s vocabulary? Probably not. People who use difficult, high-sounding words and phrases that most folks have to strain themselves to understand are inclined to be overbearing and stuffed shirts. And stuffed shirts are usually small thinkers.”

Ouch. It’s true that what matters in communication is the effect words have on others, not the size of the vocabulary … but still can’t we luxuriate in the richness of the language? Once in a while, just a little? Broccoli benefits from a little béchamel now and again, right? (Béchamel? Happy to oblige:

Know Thy Customers (Rule #1: Don’t Use “Thy” When Talking to Them)

Successful companies build relationships with their customers, and to do that effectively they have to speak like their customers. Social media is no different. Given the jocular and pithy nature of the space, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube messaging that tracks informal and humorous tends to work best. That’s who the customers are, or want to be.

So Old Spice is hailed for its multi-platform integration of the Big Three (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) in its naked guy advertising campaign. Gillette too got kudos (and lots more “followers” and “friends”) with the humorous “manscaping” theme to sell razors.

The jocular tone could benefit other firms. “Many companies need to learn how to be, well, friendlier in a social space,” Sam Ford, director of Digital Strategy at Peppercom Communications, told

An obvious key to effective communication is listening – and in marketing, listening to the customer. This is a lesson still to be learned by most in the social media space. The Old Spice guy showed the way as he tweeted followers in real time, directly addressing their comments. A collective gasp escaped the blogosphere: “Genius!” (That’s what 13 million YouTube page views and 43,000 Twitter followers in 48 hours sounds like.) The commercials also scored points with marketing experts by not hawking the brand too hard, but simply tucking the cologne into the towel of the topless dude, letting it speak for itself.

Of course you can’t just mimic someone else’s campaign and get the same effect. The novelty is gone. So the lesson is determining who your customer is, how they like to see themselves and how they talk amongst themselves. The lesson is not trying to sell your Chevy with a buff model dressed only in a towel.

Don’t Say Anything!

Foot-in-mouth syndrome is a curious ailment. It goes viral very quickly, but its effect on others is usually mirth with the occasional side effect of moderately painful wincing. It seems so widespread sometimes you’d reasonably conclude it’s contagious — but it infects others with an entirely different sickness, schadenfreude.

The dreaded FiMS serves as a cautionary lesson. You’re safe from its ravages if you take precautions like pausing before you speak, or at least asking if you’re being recorded. Think of it as using a condom for your tongue.

Whether or not you actually mean the regrettable things you say, it’s never been easy to regain your balance once you’ve done so. And heaven forbid too, for the billings of the crisis management industry. But it used to be people worried more about what they put in writing and less about spoken indiscretions. “The old way of thinking was that speech evaporates, while the written word was lasting,” Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute was quoted by Jeffrey Zaslow in the Wall Street Journal. “What has emerged is a culture in which the written word can be revised [online], while on YouTube speech lives on.” []

Clumsy phrasing may lie behind some gaffes, such as Carl-Henric Svanberg’s “we care about the small people” remark. The BP chairman is from Sweden after all. Deeply held (and usually politely sublimated) beliefs may drive others, for instance Mel Gibson’s rants about minorities, Jews, and women that spew out when he’s sauced. [To see how entertaining people find mellifluous Mel’s recent phone meltdown with his erstwhile girlfriend, see this round-up of re-mixes and mash-ups:]

In the humiliation-as-entertainment culture of TMZ and rapidly partisan politics, compassion for our fellow fools is understandably on the decline. A recent University of Michigan study (cited by the Journal) found that college students’ empathy has plunged 40% in the last 20 years. The villain of the piece may ironically be the same technology that seeks to bind us together, for “social” media reduces the need empathy-building face-to-face transactions.

You may be fortunate enough not to have your private affairs shared in public, but make no mistake: no one is immune in the Internet age. All politics may be local as the saying goes, but stupidity is increasingly global.

Ever innovative, the Internet is also busy offering solutions. For instance, the website gives users a forum to apologize for things they’ve said to people no longer around to hear it directly.

But perhaps the best advice remains that of 1950s humorist Sam Levenson: “It’s so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and then don’t say it.”