For PR, does AP Style still matter?

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2015 at 9:24 am

Starting about the time Noah sent out his, “Ark 1.0 Offers Hope, Segue to Earth 2.0,” one of the basic rules of press release writing has been to adhere to AP Style.

The thinking has been two-fold: First of all, doing so would promote consistency. No more arguing about how to use commas in a series, no more debates about who gets a “Dr.” before his or her name. Check the Stylebook. End of debate.

Second – and perhaps most important – doing so would put our releases in the style preferred by the people receiving them. Most newspapers are pledged to AP style, and reporters and editors who see our releases have tended to be pretty darned dictatorial about the best way to abbreviate states and whether “statehouse” is one word or two.

In other words, adhering to AP Style allowed you to write with confidence.

Lately, though, that confidence has been shaken. These days, a quick read of daily newspapers reveals not only style deviations from paper to paper, but also inconsistencies within a single publication. What once would have been considered a gross violation of the sacred AP Style now seems to be shrugged off as inconsequential nitpicking.  What once would have earned a rookie reporter a smack on the knuckles with a pica pole now is ignored.

Why? Let us count the reasons:

  • Centralized copyediting, which takes copy review from a local desk to a remote location.
  • The rush and hurry of today’s journalism, which requires not only copy for print editions but also blogging, Tweeting, posting and commenting – not to mention video appearances, radio shows, etc.
  • The dumbing down of writing in general, which seems unlikely to recover from the everything-is-OK style of the digital world.
  • And … well, you get the point.

So, with all of that in mind, should PR types give a darn about AP Style? I, for one, argue that, yes, we should. It still will help us remain consistent with what we deliver. It will allow us to be confident that, should our copy fall into the hands of some copy desk dinosaur, it will appreciated. It will allow us to be assured that, should our releases simply be reprinted as submitted (a once-unthinkable event now considered routine), they will be readable.

And, finally, it will give us the satisfaction of knowing that SOMEONE is upholding high standards.

The e-opportunity

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on July 28, 2010 at 7:02 am

What do you call it when three-quarters of your potential customers want something, but only 4 percent get it?

 In most industries, it’s called opportunity. In the case of electronic communications in the field of health care, it’s a dilemma. But it’s a dilemma we all should examine.

A few years ago, a Harris Poll survey revealed that  74 percent of adults would like to use e-mail to communicate with their doctors, but only 4 percent had physicians who offered that service. A similar gap existed — 77 percent vs. 4 percent — between the percentage of people who would like to receive reminders about physician appointments via e-mail and those who were receiving them.

In fact, in question after question — about access to electronic medical records, scheduling physician visits, receiving test results via e-mail, and more — adults overwhelmingly said they’d like to be more connected to their doctors via e-mail and the Internet.

 But few of us have seen any progress on this front.

Of course, the world of health care presents plenty of legitimate hurdles to such connectivity, including privacy and security. And that forms the heart of the dilemma: Physicians, practices and health care organizations generally say that, for those reasons, they can’t engage in e-communications with their patients. But some physicians do, if only on such small matters as appointment reminders. Others go further, by providing Web sites with health tips and wellness information or offering online appointment scheduling.

 In other words, though an overwhelming number of physicians say something is impossible, a small percentage is making it possible.

 Why would that matter? Because more than half of the respondents to that same Harris Poll said their decision about choosing a physician would take into account whether or not a doctor uses e-communications.

 Anybody see an opportunity for tech-friendly physicians?

 But what about the rest of us, in other industries and professions? We all should be asking ourselves: What is it that my customers want that my industry says is impossible? And how can the evolving world of social media help me deliver added benefits to my customers?

 You don’t need a national poll to tell you that answering that question and providing that wanted benefit will boost your bottom line.

Focus your message for greater impact and success

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, Nonprofit Communications on July 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Sometimes, getting your message out there is easy. You know what your organization does and you can sum it up nicely.

When it’s not easy, the problem usually isn’t finding a message. More often, you can’t decide which message to put out there. You do so many things, in so many ways, how can you possibly narrow it all down to one succinct statement?

That’s the dilemma I was trying to address when I put together the slide above for my recent participation in a “Developing Effective Messaging” webinar conducted by Achieve for its nonprofit clients.  I admit it’s a pretty crude, inelegant illustration, but I hope it makes the point: Put too many messages out there, and they’ll get lost in your own clutter, confuse your team, diffuse your impact and, every now and then, crash a couple of metaphoric planes together.

 Why is it so hard to focus the message? Often, it’s because every time you choose to communicate one message, you’re choosing not to communicate others. And every time you choose not to communicate something, somebody says, “Yeah, but …”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve helped a client focus its message – defining objectives, wrestling words, sharpening syntax – only to have an executive or department head come in at the end of the process and say, “Perfect! Except it doesn’t say anything about our … [quality control, customer services, longevity, etc.]. Can you add that? And maybe something about … [cost-effectiveness, environmental awareness, fun culture, etc.]?”

Here’s the deal: I’m not suggesting that an organization can’t have a lot to offer, or that a company can’t provide a bunch of benefits. I’m simply saying that, when it comes to communicating, simple is best. Forge your primary message, and communicate others as appropriate.

How do you choose? By asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • “What are we trying to achieve with this communication effort?”
  • “What message will help us achieve that objective most efficiently?”

Other messages might be true, but if they won’t help you reach your objective, they simply create interference.  

Remember the old Miller Lite “Less filling! Tastes great!” campaign? I can almost guarantee that someone at Miller wanted to add “Incredible bargain!” “American-brewed!” and other messages. But “Less filling! Tastes great!” made the point that needed to be made and nothing more. As a result, it worked.

Choosing is hard, but not nearly as hard as watching a communications effort fail. Make hard choices, focus your message, and you’ll be a lot more successful.