Sep 13

Hyperbole, superlatives and all that marcom jazz

Lost in the various trade journal hysterics about the rise of public relations and our unique  Grammar_crackers_large ability to play lead dog in the social media explosion is the simultaneous decline in the quality of the average PR practitioner's writing.

Poor writing has been the subject of numerous articles and surveys over the years. It's been blamed on everything from an underfunded primary and secondary education system to the inherent informality in blogging, texting and Tweeting. I'd agree that both have contributed to the mediocre copy many senior corporate and agency executives review nowadays. I'd also add that the word 'copy' itself is part of the problem.

As the traditional lines separating advertising, direct mail, sales promotion, digital and PR have blurred, I've noticed an alarming increase in the use of superlatives and hyperbole once reserved solely for the copy in a full-page print ad.

PR and journalism graduates from the very best schools have somehow forgotten that our press materials need to be written in an objective, factual manner. Instead, I routinely hear industry leaders lament the plethora of poor prose from juniors. They shake their heads and speak of receiving press releases and opinion pieces with endless, run-on sentences that include adjectives ranging from “thrilling” and “remarkable” to “game-changing” and “awe-inspiring.”

It's fine for the advertising and marcom types to use such hype. But, as I wrote in a recent blog ('A Wigotsky in every agency'), the generation of PR editors that included Victor Wigotsky of H&K and John Artopeous of Burson, wouldn't have permitted such an atrocity.

Today's industry leaders are not only allowing poor writing to take hold, we're enabling it. Heck, PR Week actually asked two professionals to debate whether good writing EVEN MATTERED anymore. If our leading trades aren't endorsing the need for a “back to basics, just the facts, ma'am” approach to PR writing, what hope do we have?

It's our responsibility to counsel clients on what is, and isn't, newsworthy. It's also our responsibility to write a release, a bylined article or other communications piece in a classic, objective journalistic style.

The more our product looks and reads like advertising copy, the more likely an organization is to cede control of its overall marketing communications to a digital or direct marketing shop. And, trust me, there's nothing thrilling or remarkable about that possibility. That said, it will be an awe-inspiring, NEGATIVE game-changer if our industry leaders and journalists don't step up and address the issue more seriously. Oh, and there was no hyperbole in that last paragraph. Just facts.

Dec 22

Bloggers of a certain age

December 22 - menofacertainage I'm starting to warm up to the new TNT series, 'Men of a Certain Age.' It stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher as three erstwhile college buddies who have stayed tight and are now helping one another navigate the murky waters of middle age.

Romano, who owns a party store, has lost a marriage because of a gambling addiction. Bakula, meanwhile, is an actor, who pays the bills as a temp working at an accounting firm and dates a 25-year-old woman. Braugher is an obese, diabetic who holds down a stressful job as a salesman at his father's car dealership.

The guys bond during a daily, two-mile hike in the hills. It's there that they discuss women, careers and failed ambitions. It's good stuff.

I like the gritty reality of the show. Middle age brings with it a stark reality that young people simply can't imagine. Parents die. Friends grow old. The eyes grow weak. The joints grow stiff. The reactions become noticeably slower. And, yet, the Mets and Jets still somehow keep losing (at least there are some constants).

Middle age is also an interesting battle ground for one's image and reputation. My friend, Maria, is appalled by people 'our age' who have 'given up' and refuse to exercise or party because '….they think they're too old for that.' She argues that, actuarially speaking, people of a certain age still have another 35 or 40 years ahead of us and should 'keep fighting the good fight.' I agree, Maria. Go get 'em.

While I fight my daily battle to keep things in place, I also look forward to learning new things and experiencing new experiences. Someone once said, 'youth is wasted on the young.' I don't necessarily agree. I don't think I would have enjoyed running Peppercom, performing stand-up comedy, climbing on ice, snow and rock, cycling, blogging or the myriad other things that fill my days and nights. The fact is I wouldn't have had the depth or breadth to do most of the things I've done in middle age.

December 22 - mountain
Many men of a certain age possess a world weariness to be sure. But, others exude the confidence and wisdom that only comes with experience. That's huge. And, that's why I really enjoy being a blogger of a certain age. Sure, I have my fill of bad days. Days when I feel like chucking it all and settling down on Scotland's Isle of Skye for perpetuity. But, then, some new challenge or opportunity presents itself and, boom, I'm off and running again (literally). The newest challenge: occasional guest blogger Rob Longert and I will be running the Central Park half-marathon in late January. Brrrr.

Middle age? Bring it on. This blogger of a certain age is ready for what's next.

Dec 21

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride My Bike

Guest Post By Matt Purdue, Peppercom

As the first 10 years of the 21st century draw to a close, one of the most successful social media tales of the decade is still peaking. It offers great lessons for anyone involved in this emerging communications space.

December 21 Eldon Nelson, 43, started his blog in 2005 as a way to share his tongue-in-cheek experiences riding his bike in an effort to lose weight. The Fat Cyclist became popular thanks to Nelson’s everyman approach to a subject to which many of us can relate. But, ironically, Nelson’s blog really took off after his wife was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Mixing equal parts humor, pathos and unabashed honesty, Nelson recounted his family’s long struggle with the disease in graphic detail.

After Nelson’s wife died in August 2009, traffic to his blog tripled.

Nelson has used the increasingly popularity of his blog to accomplish incredible good works. He helped form virtual teams of cyclists who raised more than $600,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. More recently, he inspired some 3,700 readers of his blog to donate more than $135,000 to LAF and World Bicycle Relief. The efforts earned Nelson a ride with Lance Armstrong and his new team.

Nelson’s formula presents a fantastic lesson for social media planners:
– Be honest…always
– Address subjects that people are passionate about
– Write with the everyday reader in mind
– Get your readers involved
– There are ways to measure success other than widgets sold

Happy holidays to Fatty and everyone out there.

Nov 01

Alicia’s challenge

Account Executive Alicia Wells and I journeyed north to Poughkeepsie yesterday to meet with MaristMarist
College students. Our goal: to share advice on the needs and realities of today’s workplace.

We discussed the dearth of good writing, reliance on ‘TextSpeak’ and importance of creating and maintaining a personal brand and reputation.

I was pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of questions. Students were genuinely interested in agency business models, personal career paths and ways in which to improve their writing.

I was disappointed, though, that more students didn’t engage in the 90-minute conversation. As is usually the case, a small group seemed to ask the most questions, while others were content to sit back and listen. I’d encourage those who were reticent to act differently in future settings. Employers prize warm, engaging workers who can quickly connect with peers, clients and, of course, the media.

I was also disappointed, but not surprised, to learn most students didn’t participate in the Blogosphere. I encouraged them to do so, knowing that blogging, podcasting and all things digital will only become more important in years to come.

Last, but not least, Alicia issued a challenge to the Marist students: we suggested they read today’s blog and post their comments. So, c’mon guys: tell us what you thought. Especially those of you who were a little shy yesterday.