The Importance of Being Understood

Earlier in my career, my boss asked me to teach an in-house class on writing.  While I was discussing the importance of using clearly understood words and phrases, one man questioned the entire premise of the class, saying that in order to impress others, it was imperative to use the same terminology used in his profession.  “Otherwise, it’s too simplistic,” he said.

Today, with multiple forms of communication available, attitudes have changed.   Most business people realize the importance of communicating clearly in both writing and speaking.  Unfortunately, it’s easier for some than for others, and one of the main barriers to clear communication is the prevalence of jargon.

JargonJargon – defined as the specialized language of a profession or other group of people – is not all bad.  It can be a handy shorthand within the specific group of people for whom it was intended.   The problem arises when you are speaking to an outside group or even to a group of newcomers within your profession.  That’s when jargon can cause confusion or misunderstandings.  Ultimately, it can have a negative effect on your audience, who may think you are either trying to impress them or are being evasive by hiding behind expressions and acronyms they don’t understand.

Rarely will anyone say anything, however, and this is the real problem.  While you are chattering away, dropping an acronym here and a technical term there, your audience is probably not going to be listening to you.  After the first acronym, they will be drifting away, trying to determine what that stands for, and after a stream of unintelligible jargon, they will often become irritated or lose interest completely.

The use of jargon is not always intentional.  At our firm, we often train clients for media interviews or presentations, and in most cases they don’t even realize they are using jargon.  They have been in a profession or job for so long they think everyone understands their special language.  They have to spend some time untangling their jargon in order to connect with the audiences they want to reach.

Making the effort to remove jargon from your presentations is worth the effort.  When you communicate clearly in everyday language, you are more – not less – likely to impress people.  They will be impressed with your sincerity, thoughtfulness and leadership, and, most important, they will understand you.

Learn to Speak Layman with Lisa Dimond Vasquez.

YouTube ScreenshotPosted by Margot Dimond


What’s Up with Live Streaming Apps?

Live stream_edited-1This year two live streaming apps roared onto the market and into the PR/marketing consciousness. The buzz around Meerkat and Periscope brought renewed attention to live streaming, which has been around since 2007, when UStream, LiveStream and other live streaming start-ups hit the market.

The older platforms are still around, and they also have apps, which begs the question: Why all the brouhaha about the new apps? After all, many of the videos currently on these apps have the appearance of selfies on steroids, rather than anything particularly useful.

But any new communication tool is always of interest to PR professionals, who want to know how to use them to promote their client companies. So here’s our “first pass” look at these apps.

Social live-streaming. With the new apps, live streaming of events is much easier and more like social networking. You can announce  your live stream to your Twitter followers, viewers can comment on your screen in real-time, and you can respond to the comments as they roll in. A new update for Meerkat even allows a viewer to post a brief cameo on your screen.

Periscope is a few months newer than Meerkat, and both are connected to Twitter (Periscope is Twitter-owned). Meerkat also allows users to connect with their Facebook profile. The apps do differ and they are constantly updating their features, so it’s best to just try them out to see which one you like best.

Multiple uses. With these apps, you can demonstrate products and how to use them, follow your clients to see what they are doing, and stream meetings and events or provide any number of “behind-the-scenes” videos. Of course, if you are hosting a conference or training session and want a more formal presentation, you may want to opt for having a video team do the broadcasting for a webcast to go out on one of the older platforms. But things are changing fast in the competitive field of live streaming. It’s worth giving all of these apps a try.

One caution. There may be legal issues to think about when live streaming on-the-fly. As with any image taken for the promotional purpose of a business or nonprofit, it is necessary to obtain a written release before using it. With live streaming, that may pose a problem.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Writing with Personality

iStock_000018352153XSmallIn a world of texts, tweets and Instagram postings, does anyone really need to know how to write anymore? Yes! Good writing is still essential, especially in business.

Unfortunately, good writing – writing that is easy to read – is not all that common. Many people who communicate very well in person completely fail in written communication. The most vivacious, interesting people seem to change when they sit down to write; they become more formal, stiff and aloof. It’s as if they think the process of writing is a very serious business, one in which the writer must throw away his personality.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and here are three ways to make your writing as interesting as your in-person communication.

  1. Be Conversational. Writing and speaking should not be all that different, and writing at its best is a conversation with the reader. Use conversational language: “help” instead of “provide assistance,” “do our best” instead of “maximize efforts,” and “show” instead of “exemplify.” Read your work aloud to hear how it “sounds” to the reader.
  2. Use Active Voice. There is nothing more deadening to the written word than excessive use of the passive voice: “Mistakes were made” or “The job was completed,” instead of “I made mistakes” or “We completed the job.”   Whether it’s a way to avoid responsibility or sound humble doesn’t matter. When it comes to communicating, use of the passive voice can be as lively as watching grass grow.
  3. Eliminate Jargon. Every profession has jargon, and jargon often comes in the form of acronyms. When readers unfamiliar with an acronym see it, you’ve immediately lost their attention as they spend time trying to decipher its meaning. Don’t assume your reader understands the shorthand you use with peers. Unless it’s a commonly understood acronym, spell it out.

Try these three tips when you write – and let your personality shine through.

Posted by Margot Dimond



Yes, but what’s in it for me?

By now, most business executives have heard of the “WIIFM” factor. If not, let’s specify that WIIFM is not a radio station; it’s a shortcut for “What’s in it for me” – the secret to all successful marketing.

When a new technology comes out, people aren’t as interested in hearing about the speed, design or internal workings of the product as they are about what it can do for them – how they can use it and how it will make their lives better, easier, or more efficient.

However, too often product marketers forget this, focusing on their product’s features rather than the buyers – their audience – and how it may fulfill their needs.   That’s a formula for failure.

It’s that way with all selling. Whether selling a product or service, it’s essential to consider the audience and how that product or service will benefit them.

Sales professionals know this. They usually spend a considerable amount of time profiling their audience to gauge what their needs are before they launch into a sales pitch. That way they have a better chance of having an attentive audience.

Keeping the WIIFM factor in mind, here are some guidelines for a more successful sales presentation:

  • Do some background research. Find out as much as you can about the person or company who will be the audience for your presentation, to determine their interests and needs.
  • Concentrate on your audience. At your first meeting, ask some questions to see what their current goals are and what challenges they face in achieving them.
  • Present your elevator message. Give a very brief introduction to your company and your product or service.
  • Present the benefits of buying from you. Using what you have learned from your research and conversation, present clearly and concisely the benefits of your product or service to your audience and how it can address their particular needs.

Of course, using the WIIFM factor does not guarantee success, but it can go a long way toward achieving it.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Defining Public Relations, Part Three: Telling Your Story

iStock_000012372602SmallEffective public relations often involves telling a story, and every organization – whether a business or charity – has a story to tell.  How you tell your story can make all the difference.  It must be true, meaningful and memorable.

A good story engages its audience as no other means of communication can.  As Pamela Rutledge says in an article in Psychology Today,  “when organizations, causes, brands or individuals identify and develop a core story, they create and display authentic meaning and purpose that others can believe, participate with, and share” (“The Psychological Power of Storytelling,” 1/16/11).

Not everyone, however, is adept at telling their organization’s story for a variety of reasons.  Here are some things that may prevent you from telling your story effectively:

  • You are too close to the story to see it clearly.
  • You are so used to talking to other people within your organization, you may assume everyone knows what you know.
  • You use insider jargon that is essentially meaningless to the outside world.
  • Your business has been operating for so long, you have forgotten your story – or, worse, it has become somewhat stale.
  • You’ve become rigid about how your story should be told.

Your story should be about what makes your organization special, how it came to be, and why its work is important.   Here are some essential elements of your story:

Organization.  Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The Beginning:  Talk about your background and how you saw some problem or area of service that you believed you had the answer to; The Middle: Explain how you decided to address the problem; and The End:  Talk about what your organization does now and why it is successful.  The computer industry is full of such stories:  think of Apple’s iconic founding by two guys in a garage, revolutionizing the computer industry.

Simplicity.  Your story does not need to be full of detail.  People who are interested in what you do will inquire about the details, and you can fill them in when they do.  Always have an “elevator” version – a brief synopsis when someone asks what you do at a conference, during a party, or, yes, from one floor to the next on an elevator.

Audience Friendly.  Your story should always be tailored to the audience you are addressing at the time.  For example, your presentation to the CEOs and managers of an industry should not be the same as a presentation to the people specializing in your particular profession.

Keep in mind that even if you tell your story in various ways to match your audience interests, the essential elements should remain consistent.  Repetition is the key to a company story becoming widely known.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Beware of the latest cool communications tool if you haven’t first developed your message

Today’s post by Hollie Geitner is courtesy of WordWrite Communications of Pittsburgh, a fellow member firm of PR Boutiques International.

Some time in the mid-late 1990’s electronic mail (email) became the widely used and preferred mode of business communication. Announcements that had in the past been shared internally by paper memo were soon disseminated electronically via email. Soon after, some companies decided to go “paperless” and ceased publication of their internal company newsletter—much to the dismay of workers who enjoyed reading about a coworker’s wedding or latest hunting prize. I say this jokingly, but it’s true, and there is something to be said for feeling a closeness with your fellow coworkers, even if seeing the 12-point buck picture your cube-mate snagged last month is a bit much.

internal-communications-resized-600The challenge for internal communicators has always been in reaching those who are “front-line” or who don’t sit at a desk all day. When I worked in the corporate communications department for an energy company, about 70 percent of the workforce was in what we considered “the field.” They were lineman, maintenance workers, tree cutters, meter readers and others. Unlike corporate staff, they were out and about all day or running equipment in a power station. If they saw email, it was perhaps at the very end of their shift and often times, they felt out of the loop on company happenings.

Today, the challenge is still there but electronic devices such as smart phones have made communicating with field employees a bit easier. Ragan, the leading source of information for PR and corporate communications, published an article about the growing trend of using digital signs in the workplace. Companies like Auto Trader Group, based in Atlanta, are using digital signs to recruit employees to volunteer in the community as well as to welcome new sales representatives to headquarters for training. While I think it’s a solid strategy for communicating with employees in the places they are in the building (near elevators, on factory floors, etc.) nothing beats person to person communication.

Digital tools—signs, mobile phones, kiosks–are just that, tools. In fact, everything we use to communicate is a tool and the great thing today is that we have more to use than ever before. The risk, however, is in relying too heavily on the tool instead of the message. Nationally, employee engagement is low—only 13 percent according to a recent Gallup poll, State of the American Workplace are actively engaged and committed to their jobs. This means that the majority of employees today are not happy, lack motivation and in the worst cases, spread their dissatisfaction throughout the workplace or in public. It would behoove employers to invest in communicating honest and compelling messages to their employees before they spend thousands on high-tech equipment (tools) to share their message.

It seems so basic and logical, but because messaging can be complicated or uncomfortable and since many leaders are so busy just trying to keep things afloat and make a profit, it may appear more doable to purchase a tool to share a message because then the impact is immediate. “Wow, look at that cool new digital sign in our lobby. It makes us look so high-tech and cutting edge.” Sure, it might, but what do your employees think? Are they reading the messages on it, or are they silently cursing leadership for spending money on unnecessary equipment when all they are interested in is whether or not they are doing a good job for the company and if they’ll be compensated for it with a bonus.

While the latest bells and whistles for sharing messages with employees seem way cool, I would caution companies considering implementing them. Before such an investment, it’s best to have a solid communications plan in place with real and authentic messages that will actually resonate with employees and move the needle on engagement.

Communicate to the middle

In companies with several layers between field employees and top executives, the most effective communication often occurs between manager or supervisor and employer. This is because they have more direct contact with each other on a daily basis. A bunch of messages from the CEO on digital signs will do nothing to engage employees, but meaningful conversations and an open line of communication between leadership and employee will.

Focusing your efforts to the middle and teaching those leaders the best way to communicate with employees is a much more strategic and meaningful investment.  Remember, if nothing else, it is the message, not the tool that is most important. Beware of what we call at WordWrite, “the shiny object syndrome.” Don’t be compelled to invest in the latest or coolest tool, like a digital sign, if you haven’t first put together a comprehensive strategy for what you plan to share with employees and how you plan to measure it.


Social Media’s Growing Impact on Businesses

Years ago, before social media was even a glimmer in the eye of the most Review Sitesadvanced techie, my school-age daughter asked me after a particularly bad consumer experience,  “Mommy, is this one of those places we’re never coming back to?”

Back then, that was pretty much the only recourse – especially for some of the chain stores where complaining to the manager did not seem to make much of an impression.

Poor customer service has been – and probably always will be – part of the retail experience.  People are fallible, after all.  They make mistakes; they have bad days.  But it’s becoming much more dangerous for businesses to screw up in this area.  Social media has provided the sword for customers who, rightly or wrongly, feel they have been treated unfairly.

According to data reported in a Forbes article, “nearly 95% of customers share bad product experiences online; 45% share bad customer services experiences with others.” The results can be devastating, especially for a small business without the public relations staff or resources to fight back.

This trend is only getting stronger. BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2013 reported that 67% of consumers read fewer than six reviews before making up their mind about whether or not to patronize a local business; only 22% read more than ten.

Their analysis?  “Consumers are forming opinions faster now than before. . . .This means that local businesses need to manage their online reputation even more closely than before.”  You can access the full survey results here.

You may not be able to resolve every customer’s complaint right away, but it’s important to treat it seriously, and to treat the complaining customer with respect.   In these situations, what your customers want, first and foremost, is to be listened to.  They want to know they matter to you.

But what about the customer who never complains in person and goes directly to social media to post a complaint?  That’s where the real work comes in.  You should regularly monitor any sites that are likely to post reviews on your type of business.  It’s time consuming, but essential, to search for – and promptly respond to – complaints and ask for an opportunity to resolve the issue.  It’s also a good idea to thank people who give you a positive review.

Whether you respond online or off line, you may want to do some internal research before you respond to get some background on what could have gone wrong.  Just keep in mind that a positive experience in resolving a complaint can often turn a complaining customer into a dedicated customer, and there’s a good chance their next post will be a rave review.

(Search tip:  Many customers will use your company’s hashtag to “tag” their post.  If your business is called Mary’s Pet Place, for instance, your hashtag is #maryspetplace. You can search for the hashtag to see what comes up.)

Posted by Margot Dimond

So as I was saying…

Dictionary Series - Marketing: communicationI thought it was just me, but apparently people have been noticing this occurrence for quite some time:  the use of the connective word “so” as the beginning of a sentence.

Indeed, it was featured three years ago in a New York Times column by Anand Giridharadas, who examined the current usage, gathering the opinions of experts and finally speculating on the fact that in a world in which communication is fragmented and there is so much competition for our attention, the use of “so” is our effort “to be heard,” and he concludes: “We insist, time and again, that this is it; this is what you’ve been waiting to hear; this is the ‘so’ moment.”

My concern is not based on linguistics or psychology, as interesting as those topics are; it’s more about what the use of “so” to begin every sentence does to “messaging” – the ever-important PR tool.

As I listen to media interviews on the radio or watch them on television, I hear “so” at the start of responses to questions so frequently that it’s hard to ignore.

Interviewer:  “What is the nature of your business?”                                                 Response:  “So our main product is information.”                                                 Interviewer:  “That’s a pretty broad topic.  What do you mean by that?”                Response:  “So we collect and analyze data for surveys and productivity studies.”

You get the idea.

This is the problem with crutch words in general, and “so” is only the latest to join the crowd.  Well, like, um, uh and the ubiquitous you know are all distracting fillers.  What’s even more of a concern, the use of these words seems to be contagious.  We often hear them a few times and begin using them ourselves.  Like weeds in our gardens, we must be ever-vigilant to keep crutch words from invading our vocabulary.

These words are a serious impediment to good communication, and they can completely overshadow your message points in a media interview.

Posted by Margot Dimond



Write Right

One of the most Writingimportant skills for a public relations professional is the ability to write clearly and concisely.  Writing well takes practice, and practice often means opening yourself up to the critique of others.

Unfortunately, some people take offense to criticism about their writing.  They either want to think they are good at it, or that they should be good at it because…well…because it’s supposed to be something everyone can do.

As someone who has been writing for a living for many years, I’m happy to pass along  some basics for writing well:

  1. The most important part of writing is re-writing.  Nothing is perfect the first time around.  If I’m writing something important, I like to do a draft, then let it sit there for a while (assuming there is time).  Waiting even an hour after writing something makes me more objective about what I have written.
  2. There is a difference between style and basic grammar.  No, that run-on sentence is not creative.  It’s just wrong.  Yes, you can occasionally use a sentence fragment for emphasis, but know the rule before you break it.
  3. Punctuation is not an afterthought.  In fact, punctuation provides the framework for communication.  It’s what helps people understand what you mean.  A misplaced or missing comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence, as was cleverly demonstrated in the title of a book on punctuation, published in 2003:  Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by British author Lynne Truss.
  4. Sometimes what looks good on paper may not be what it seems.  Especially in the era of computer editing, it’s easy to become sloppy when making changes.  If you are writing an important paper, read it aloud.  You may be surprised by what you have written.
  5. Be careful with your tone.  This is especially true with email, which can cause all kinds of misunderstandings.  If you plan to discuss a sensitive subject, it’s often best to just pick up the phone.

Most of us have pet peeves regarding the written word.  Here are some of mine:

  • Misplaced modifiers:  Don’t confuse your readers.  “She saw two cows on the way to school.”  Were the cows on the way to school?
  • The use of less when you mean fewer:  If it’s something you can count, use “fewer.”  The use of “less people,” for example, is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.
  • Misplaced quotation marks:  Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes (unless you are using British English).
  • Not finishing the comma set-off for nonessential sentence elements:  “The author, who was born in New York, wanted to write about her city.”  When you leave out the comma after New York, you are separating a subject and a verb with a comma – a big no-no!

I’m sure you have your own pet peeves.  Please feel free to share them.

Posted by Margot Dimond.

Email Marketing: Does it Work?

News PhotoOften neglected or forgotten, email marketing is the stepchild of the social media world, regularly taking a back seat to The Next Big Thing.  Yet, depending on your business goals, it may be one of the best ways to expand your client base.

Email marketing is “one of the most effective means of communicating your brand identity and generating sales,” according to Michael Beaulieu, group manager for digital media at Wayfair – a U.S.-based multinational e-commerce company – who is quoted in a recent article on Digiday.

At our firm, we have had success with e-news – a more subtle form of email marketing that includes newsletters, news announcements and articles on topics of interest to the people on your email list.  Clients who were initially reluctant to try it have been surprised at the positive feedback they get with this means of communication.

Obviously, it’s just one tool in the PR toolbox, but if your firm is trying to reach a specific market, rather than promote to a broad consumer base, it is a cost-effective way to get your message out.  In addition, by using a professional program, you can see who opens your email and how often they do so.  A regular reader might be someone who is interested in hearing more from you.

So while e-news coming from your company will not replace external media coverage, it does offer distinct benefits:

  • Clarity:  Your message is sent – exactly as you want it worded.
  • Frequency:  You can send emails as often as you have news to impart.
  • Targeted:    You can send directly to the decision-makers who can influence your business.
  • Feedback:  You will know if and when your news is welcome – if your email is opened; if you get new subscribers; or if your subscribers “unsubscribe.”

Some cautionary notes to keep your subscribers interested:

  • Keep the content valuable.  If your email is all puff and no substance, people will stop opening it.
  • Don’t send it too often.  You don’t want to overwhelm your audience to the point that you are a nuisance.
  • Make sure everyone on your list is part of your target audience.  Sending information to the wrong person can put you in a Spam category.
  • Have a recognizable design and layout for your email.    You want to look as professional as you are.

Posted by Margot Dimond