Those of us who have been in PR management for many years know there is a lot of what former Carnegie Mellon University president and good friend Robert Mehrabian calls “block and tackle.” You come to work each day and execute your plan by nailing down the details and simply getting the job done.
Most management consultants will tell you as the manager and strategist you should not get bogged down in those details, but that is the level where precision and quality manifest themselves. A brilliant and creative plan can easily be short-circuited by inept or sloppy execution.
Misspellings, poor grammar, inconsistent style and punctuation, uninspired art and photography, and careless editorial work on headlines, cutlines and other display elements destroy your credibility as a communicator. Fundamental to a sound and effective PR strategy is a commitment to the highest standard of quality and consistency in all of your communications.
I know we have all had circumstances where the message we were trying to convey was all but obliterated by the typo or grammar error that became the center of attention.
Precision in language and grammar continues to decline, and the future looks bleak because so many young people heading into the PR profession are ill-equipped to perform the profession’s most fundamental and essential task: writing. As young people become a greater presence in the communications world, particularly at perpetually cost-cutting newspapers, the problems are exacerbated.
Having watched innumerable TV ads and read a lot of crumby print ads, online articles, and broadcast and print news stories that have butchered the language I find myself ever more sensitive to these mistakes. Here are two that jumped up in just 24 hours as I was pondering this missive.
Justin Klugh, a writer for philly.com, let us know that pitcher Chad Durbin, “an alumni of the 2008 (Philadelphia Phillies) World Series team,” had been released.
The other night while watching ESPN I saw on the ticker at the bottom of the screen that Ohio State University President Gordon Gee had made some regrettable remarks at a meeting of Ohio State’s “Athletics Counsel.” Gee may have shared his views on academics and sports at other institutions with his university attorney, but I am certain his comments were taped at an Athletics Council meeting.
There are so many more examples. So here are some ideas and tools that may help us manage the communication details:
• Create an institutional style guide, refer to it often and ingrain the rules in your shop.
• Use a dictionary, online or in print. If you have any doubt about the spelling or use of a word, look it up. I mean it. Look it up.
• Adopt the venerable inverted pyramid journalistic format when you begin thinking about telling a story or sending a message. First things first. Identify the key ideas and construct your story or message around them. Concise, clear words and sentences, active voice, those are old school fundamentals.
• Build a culture of precision and attention to detail. You don’t need to be a micromanager to instill a commitment to meticulousness in communication.
• Learn from your mistakes. Try as hard as we can, we’re all going to screw up some time. Your response to errors is another measure of your attention to detail.
It’s important to remind ourselves the care we take in crafting our communications and delivering information to people reflects the respect we have for them, our commitment to the highest standard of professionalism and our belief in the value and importance of credibility and trust.